Groups are canceling or postponing their meetings and events due to concerns about COVID-19, but hoteliers are finding creative solutions to use technology to host the event in a safe fashion.
Corporate clients are increasingly asking about hybrid meetings, which blend a combination of in-person speakers or presenters and attendees participating remotely. Sources said the trend is in its early stages as clients and tech vendors bring more creative ideas to the table, all in the hope of finding a sustainable method of group business throughout the pandemic.
The pandemic effect
Loretta Macke, SVP of sales at Remington Hotels, said in an email interview that clients have mostly postponed their meetings and events at her company’s hotels for the rest of 2020. She said there is still some meetings business, but it’s common to see much smaller groups.
“At the onset of the pandemic, most clients were hoping to reschedule for late summer and fall,” Macke said. “As the pandemic progressed into the summer, clients are now pushing these meetings to 2021. In some cases, the clients would like to host the meetings. However, the local or state mandates on the number of people allowed to meet or gather have resulted in cancellations or postponements. The meetings that we are hosting are very short-term and small in nature, usually less than 20 people.”
As the hotel industry monitors the performance trends looking for glimmers of recovery, the consistent refrain is leisure demand in drive-to markets has been the first to recover, while group business could take longer. Danny Hughes, EVP and president of the Americas for Hilton, said it’s a priority to come up with solutions to drive group business with guest safety first and foremost.
“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been conducting a series of customer advisory forums around the world to best understand the needs of our customers across various business segments and regions,” Hughes said in an email interview. “These conversations, along with valuable input from our owner community, led to the creation of Hilton EventReady with CleanStay, Hilton’s elevated cleanliness and customer service standards around meetings and events.”
Hughes said meeting planners can use EventReady as a resource to organize safe meetings, including ideas for what a hybrid meeting could look like.
“The events industry has always been grounded in meeting business and engagement objectives—and our customers are still hyper-focused on those goals, especially in these challenging times,” Hughes said. “As technology will better enable them to meet their goals, they are looking to partner with the right companies, firms and vendors to execute, when appropriate.”
Collecting feedback from meeting planners was one of the first things Remington did as COVID-19 gained momentum in the spring, Macke said.