While the pandemic dealt a hard blow to companies that arrange childcare at events, forcing some of them out of business, those who survived are now seeing a surge of demand as live events return. However, given staffing shortages and soaring costs, those seeking childcare at events must be prepared to plan in advance and stretch the budget.
While the pandemic wreaked havoc on the event industry, companies that provide childcare at meetings are among those who suffered the most from the lack of live events. Those still in business say that demand is booming again, but staffing shortages and soaring costs on everything from wages to shipping mean that childcare services are much more of a big-ticket budget item than before.
“The costs have gone up 20 to 25 percent since before the pandemic and, because of things like rising transportation costs, we expect them to go up even more next year,” said Diane Lyons, founder of Accent on Children’s Arrangements, a 30-year-old New Orleans-based company that serves meetings across the country. “We are telling clients this is the new reality. You can have what you want, but you will have to budget for it.”
Both Lyons and Christine Tempesta, owner of San Diego-based KiddieCorp, another long-time event childcare provider, say a major hurdle has been in retaining and finding new childcare staff, something that is difficult throughout the childcare industry. Both say they have substantially increased compensation as a result.
“The biggest challenge for us was getting back our staff after a long absence,” Tempesta said, adding that another was finding fully vaccinated people against Covid. “You would think all childcare workers are vaccinated, but that’s not true. It was tough at first building new staff pools in over 35 cities, but it has brought unexpected benefits.”
According to Tempesta, higher wages and vaccine requirements have raised the level of professionalism among her staff.
“We’re seeing that people are more committed. They are less likely to cancel days or shifts,” she said. “We’re able to attract more experienced people.”
For the most part, KiddieCorp’s clients have been understanding of the rising costs, particularly the need to pay fair wages. The clients, who are frequently national associations, usually subsidize all or part of the childcare expenses for the attendees.
“It’s actually not a bad thing when the parents have to pay some of it because they are far less likely to sign up for it and not show up,” Tempesta said. “It gives them an investment in the program.”
Difference Since the Pandemic
How has childcare at events changed since pre-pandemic days? While most of her pre-pandemic clients have returned, the groups of children in each program have been considerably smaller, which is a benefit for following Covid safety protocols, Tempesta said.
“Now a program that once had 200 kids is more likely to have 125,” she said. “Before the pandemic, there was much less concern about spacing the kids, making sure each one has their own supplies, but now this is important.”
Lyons said that most of her returning clients are association and government organizations, with corporate business lagging. “Corporations haven’t been traveling, so that business really slowed down,” she said. “However, I expect that to resume once we get used to the new normal.”
Tempesta, who has picked up some contracts from competitors who went out of business, said anyone entering the event childcare business these days faces steep challenges.
“It’s really difficult to get started now, particularly because of liability and security issues,” she said. “It’s taken us many years to establish the connections we have.”
Women Drive Demand
Despite the difficulties of the business, both Lyons and Tempesta, who have seen demand for event childcare grow over the years, believe demand will continue to increase. A significant factor stems from women entering once male-dominated professions, especially science and technology.
“The membership of women in scientific organizations has really grown over the years, and those women have been especially strong advocates of childcare at meetings,” Tempesta said. “In general, it’s the growth of women in professional organizations of all kinds that is driving demand.”
Lyons noted that more people, particularly working couples, are deciding which meetings to attend based on factors such as childcare and what the destination offers families.
“Childcare and other family-friendly factors are important drivers of attendance at events,” she said. “More people are combining business travel with vacations. I see this in my own family – my daughter and her husband are both surgeons, and their decisions on which medical meetings to attend are determined by what’s available for the kids.”