How will your hotel or venue ensure in-person events in a post-COVID-19 world are as safe as can be? As hotels reopen their doors worldwide, the safety of guests is paramount – from food and beverage to accommodating hybrid events, social distancing and sanitation protocols.
Safe in-person meetings and events will take precedence and, in a time where winning MICE business is critical for a successful restart, event planners will be looking for venues that take health and safety seriously.
What can you do, as a hospitality sales and marketing professional, to ensure that every opportunity turns into a step toward restart – and recovery?
Safe in-person meetings and events: where to start
The answer differs for each venue, but the concept remains the same. It starts with adaptability, focus and flexibility, as well as strengthening relationships with event planners.
There must be a priority on efficiency and careful data-driven planning. Chances are, profitability will be more difficult in a post-COVID world. As a result, investments will need to be proven through data insights before they are put into place.
Event planners will face unprecedented challenges, priorities, and responsibilities in a post-pandemic world as they ensure a safe environment at in-person events for attendees. The following are key areas hotels and venues must focus on when accommodating safe in-person events.
#1) Be prepared for “hybrid events”
As COVID-19 took hold on the world, digital events became the norm. The word “virtual” seems to be everywhere: virtual pub quizzes, virtual happy hours, virtual meetings – we’ve even heard of a few virtual weddings!
While we may feel drained at times and tired of technology (who’d of thought we’d be saying that!), it’s allowed us to work from home, stay entertained and most importantly, connected to family, friends and colleagues.
This demand for “virtual” seems destined to accelerate demand for hybrid events. The idea of blending virtual and in-person makes a lot of sense. Budgets are tightening, travel restrictions are likely to last post-lockdown, and there’s a global hesitance to travel due to health risks.
According to PCMA Convene, planners are already incorporating digital elements such as peer coaching, sending gift bags to all registrants, virtual networking lounges and award ceremonies. All to accommodate safe in-person meetings and events.
We started seeing this problem on the horizon, the Coronavirus, and we decided about that we were going to flip the switch and move to a virtual event, it’s a little extra work, but in the long run it can service more people.
– Danny Silva, director of technology integration at an education non-profit CUE
There are two types of hybrid events that can take place, internal and external:
Internal hybrid events
These are town halls, sales kick-offs, companywide events, training and more. For organisations that span countries or even continents, these events are held to connect entire companies without the physical boundary of travel.
External hybrid events
These are those held outside of your organisation. These can be user conferences or industry conferences and require higher levels of video production so that virtual attendees are provided a similar quality to in-person attendees.
Both types pose the same challenges, but to run safe events, you need to look at how to streamline these. It’s harder for virtual attendees to engage and network on the same level as in-person attendees and there may be technological difficulties. Here are some ways to provide a high standard to both in-person and virtual attendees at hybrid events:
- Technology capability
Your venue must be able to support a virtual experience. That means adequate internet, a quality AV setup and 4G data, at least.
In-person events hinging on a virtual experience shouldn’t be taken lightly – tech glitches, background noise and keeping all attendees happy means ensuring a realistic, tested environment for live streams is critical.
Dennis O’Brien, former project manager with Vimeo, sheds light on how event planners and venues can accommodate: “You need a venue with adequate power, enough to power all the cameras, lights, and audio,” he says. “We might plug in a few things, and all of a sudden, it trips the circuit board, and now we’re pulling our hair out,” he adds.
- Keep attendees engaged with flexible formats
Hybrid events are more complicated than the live stream of a presentation, and venues able to help planners create a compelling format will have a distinct advantage.
For example, while speaker presentations may be simple, breakout sessions are likely to leave virtual attendees feeling left out. Consider holding separate video breakouts for this audience, as well as virtual networking activities, polls and Q&As.
- Partnering with virtual experts
May hotels may not be able to meet the virtual needs of a hybrid event. If so, consider partnering with a virtual technology partner who will help provide the platform and guidance for proper integration with the live event.
- Communicate with event planners
Communication has always been at the forefront of a fruitful venue–event planner relationship, but in times like these, it’s all the more critical.
Connect well ahead of time to understand your planners’ requirements, their equipment needs and to assess if you have adequate power and internet bandwidth.
- Test, test and test again
This includes primary and backup equipment, audio and video quality and internet connectivity. Have your staff trained to deal with technical hiccups.
#2) Have food and beverage strategies in place
Having the right food and beverage strategies in place for safe meetings and events is imperative, and this is where most venues and hotels are going to encounter the most difficulty. Some setups such as self-service buffet dining or hotpots are a no-go. Double-dipping and designated serving spoons will create anxiety.
Reducing risk is central to safe in-person events – but they’re also about putting attendees at ease with the knowledge that you’re doing everything in your ability to keep them safe.
Food and beverage ideas
Seated dining will likely become an ideal way to ensure the safety of guests, assuming staff members are trained in sanitation and food-handling measures.
These extra steps and layers of caution could tack on added costs to food and beverage, so the best move may be to offer cost-effective solutions. One option could be pre-packed meals that attendees pick up from fridges or multiple locations, or boxed meals already placed at their seats.
Some other ideas from The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture in US include:
- Keeping the amount of food on display low and restock more frequently to reduce the amount of food touched by different clients.
- Offering a menu-only option and have staff pre-pack the meal bags or boxes.
- Restricting the number of people in the kitchen space to encourage social distancing and limit the number of people handling food.
- Temporarily postpone any food demos or cooking classes and don’t offer food samples.
Guidelines for food and beverage from the Victoria State Government
The Victoria State Government, alongside National Cabinet, recently submitted a 34-page document to government ministers. It detailed how the food and beverage industry will restart and gives some guidance on how safe in-person events can take place in accordance with the easing of restrictions.
Some of these COVID-19 food and beverage guidelines include:
- Minimising the use of salt and pepper shakers on tables and disinfecting them if in use
- The number of condiments available on tables should be reduced where possible.
- All cutlery, crockery and beverage containers to be used with appropriate hygiene, cleaning and sanitation processes in place
- Using either laminated use or single-use paper menus and sanitising them after each use
#3) Prioritise health and safety
There’s little doubt that event planners will be looking for hotels that meet stringent requirements, which means health and safety protocols need to be taken into consideration. Your RFP process must adapt to consider sanitisation and cleanliness, how you handle social distancing and the steps you take to keep attendees safe.
The Madrid Hotel Business Association is working on a proposal to provide hotels that meet requirements with a “COVID Free Hotel” certification. Similarly, it’s possible that in the future hotel rooms may come with certifications to assure sanitisation.
It’s likely that many hotels and venues will be equipped with thermal scanning, as this is a must-have layer of security for event attendees.
The Victoria State Government’s guidelines on the resumption of hospitality
The Victoria State Government’s guidelines on the resumption of hospitality apply to all future phases of business recovery. The following are relevant to in-person events:
- Ensure the venue is set up to adhere to patron and table size limits
- Optimise physical distancing in the layout by reviewing entry and exit points, the flow of staff and patrons, location of hand sanitiser
- Remove waiting area seating or space each seat in the waiting area at least 1.5 metres apart
- Place hand sanitiser at entry and exit points so staff and customers can use it when arriving and leaving
- Consider reducing the number of touchpoints for staff. For example, leave internal access doors open where appropriate
- Remove, or prevent access to, any self-service buffet-style food service areas and communal condiment and drink stations. Drinking water should be supplied free via table service
- All current staff should complete infection prevention and control training. Any new staff being engaged also need to complete this training
The Hilton’s new program to maintain sanitisation and cleanliness
The Hilton recently announced their new program to maintain sanitisation and cleanliness in their properties across the world. They outline eight ways in which they will maintain standards:
- Adding room seals to each room door notifying that the room has not been accessed since its last thorough clean
- Disinfection of the most commonly used guest room areas
- De-cluttering paper amenities
- Improved guidelines for the disinfection of fitness centres within the hotels
- Increased frequency of cleaning
- Guest-accessible disinfecting wipes
- Contactless check-in
- Innovative disinfection technologies
#4) Using digital tools to operationalise social distancing
When it comes to planning and hosting safe events at your hotel or venue, digital event diagramming tools and virtual tours are essential to accommodate social distancing. Room and seating configuration is becoming a hot topic, and its one that hotels and venues need to get on top of.
Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) recently posted a discussion about how to manage social distancing at future events, and a few of the participants had suggestions for how they plan to tackle this challenge when it comes to room setup:
- Keeping tables two to six metres apart
- Creating wide aisles to allow freer, safer movement
- Putting tape on the floor to indicate how close people should stand or sit
- Setting up columns of two chairs each with six-foot aisles in between
Giving planners and venue sourcing managers this sort of transparency allows them to view, from the comfort of their own home, the layout of your venue or hotel space in order to ensure attendee safety.
All of this got us thinking: how can hotels and venues use virtual tour and diagramming tools to help planners with the sourcing process?
Even before COVID-19, hotels and venues were adopting these tools to increase collaboration with planners, ease workloads and bring meeting spaces directly to their offices. Now, it can be used to accommodate safe events.
Provide floor plans
The ability for event planners and sourcing managers to look at floorplans before submitting an RFP is essential. This gives them the ability to see whether your venue space will be big enough to accommodate safe events.
The best way to ensure floor plans are visible on sourcing networks is through tools such as Social Tables.
Virtual tour technology
According to Google Trends, searches for “virtual visits” and “virtual tours” have skyrocketed. Offering planners, a 360 view of your meeting space is a great way to give them a comprehensive view.
Many hotels are already offering the ability for planners to have 360 video tour through zoom or specialised technology. NH Hotel group’s properties are already doing this.
Will banquet or cocktail rounds style seating work best? Theatre or classroom? Diagramming tools give hotels and venues the opportunity to provide planners with a simple, collaborative way to design meeting space while keeping safe events in mind.
When it comes to safe events, this has never been so important. Here are a few ways diagramming can help your hotel or venue create safe events:
- Give attendees who may be anxious about the changing nature of events a peace of mind
- Satisfy all safety guidelines and set up spaces in accordance with social distancing measures
- Provide contactless check-in
- Ensure the room is big enough for expected attendance and avoid overcrowding
- Show the flow of attendees with arrows
- Set up hand sanitiser stations