The meeting and wedding planning industries have been rocked during the Covid-19 pandemic, and they may continue to feel the effects for years to come. While online alternatives like Zoom will put a dent into the events business, many hotels are staying laser-focused on recovery even if the path forward presents unusual challenges.
Over the past several months, hotels have proven they can conduct successful conferences and weddings while navigating local (and oft-changing) coronavirus safety guidelines.
David Sacco, director of event management for Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center near Denver, says there’s pent-up demand, and Gaylord properties have already hosted several events from two dozen to 2,000 attendees safely and effectively.
All major hospitality brands have detailed health and safety protocols for their hotels, many of them branded like Hyatt’s Global Care & Cleanliness Commitment, Marriott’s Commitment to Clean, and Hilton’s CleanStay.
Ever-creative hoteliers are taking things beyond the expected social distancing and mask requirements, however. They are finding smart and creative ways to help people gather, and many of them just may surprise you.
Some may prove so popular that they stick around for years to come. Here’s how hotels are reinventing meetings, social functions, and weddings during Covid-19.
Weddings and meetings are back, but different
Wedding events are big business although, these days, they look a bit different. Most have been rescheduled with a reduced head count and reorganized dining rooms and dance floors. Corporate and social functions are seeing changes, too, to keep guests from getting within six feet without a face covering.
At the start of any function at the Hyatt Regency Green Bay, the meeting planner or DJ reads a message from the hotel about the face covering requirement when social distancing cannot be observed, including on the dance floor.
Fairmont Austin recently hosted a succesful bio-tech conference with assigned seating that grouped people based on common interests for improved networking. Assigned seats also kept people from using multiple seats and tables throughout the event.
The hotel also used a bracelet system to display peoples’ confidence with being approached so guests know when to “elbow bump” or steer clear altogether. And a group-imposed nightly curfew discouraged post-dinner mingling outside of the event’s regulated safety protocols.
At socially distanced meal tables, guests illuminated a light when they needed assistance from a server, which was also a signal that table members had all put on wearing masks before the server approached.
In the Upper Florida Keys, Playa Largo Resort & Spa, an Autograph Collection Hotel and part of Marriott Bonvoy, also is using a color-coded bracelet system at weddings with some couples choosing to monogram their names and wedding date on them. They can also be coordinated to match the colors and design scheme of the wedding.
At Bahia Mar Fort Lauderdale Beach – a DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Florida, guests attended a vertical concert where they watched the band’s parking lot performance from their balconies rather than from a crowded audience.
Balboa Bay Resort, a member of the I Prefer Hotel Rewards program, in Newport Beach, California, has hosted a few weddings recently with creative solutions like “pod dance floors” where the DJ invites guests to the dance floor by family or table. The wedding couple then cuts a “show cake,” which contains one real slice for the couple. The guests later enjoy the same type of cake, which has been pre-sliced in the kitchen and is distributed by servers.
Paradise Point Resort & Spa in San Diego is working with wedding parties to seat them by household and reminding guests that they cannot change seats.
For one wedding at The Founders Inn and Spa, Tapestry Collection by Hilton in Virginia Beach, the hotel divided its ballroom into three separate rooms, each with a dance floor and food stations. Guests had color-coded bracelets indicating which section they were assigned. The wedding couple moved between rooms for their first dance. Three dance floors also permitted ample space for the guests to practice social distancing while dancing, too.
The property also has used the balcony of its Presidential Suite, which overlooks the gardens where many weddings take place, for guests that want maximum social distancing, but still want to attend in person.
When large events conclude, Gaylord Rockies is taking the added step to station staff by elevators to space people out and keep elevators to their limited capacity for social distancing.
Convention centers are taking note, too. Huntsville, Alabama’s Von Braun Center is using electrostatic sprayers to sanitize its interiors. For an upcoming conference, it is partnering with the Alabama Department of Health to use the GuideSafe App, which conducts contact tracing for event attendees.
Hospitality and safety go hand-in-hand
Guests of Omni Hotels & Resorts should have no qualms approaching someone if they need something. The staff wears “I’m Cool” stickers indicating their temperatures were taken when they arrived to work.
Hyatt Regency Green Bay instituted a clever idea for its masked associates. With masks making personal interaction less transparent, the hotel made face pins for staff to show what they look like when smiling even if their face is covered for the time-being.
Look to the wrist of those same Green Bay hotel staffers as they wear a band that indicates they had their temperature checked when arriving to work. The band can be color-coded for events like weddings so as not to clash with a group’s overall theme.
At a recent wedding at voco Kirkton Park Hunter Valley in Australia (the same hotel that hosted the finale episode of The Bachelor Australia), the wedding couple opted to forego the traditional flower bouquet toss. Instead, the hotel taped a photo of flowers under an unsuspecting guest’s seat.
Many hotel brands offer digital keys and mobile check-in via their app so that guests have reduced touch points. Still, they can make special requests, often via the app, for things like extra towels or toiletries so there is little lapse in onsite hospitality.
Buffets are not gone entirely from events with many being served by staff behind the protection of glass shields. Tables are not pre-set with items until guests take their seats to prevent contamination. Some hotels are choosing to wrap “rollups,” which contain silverware wrapped with a cloth napkin, with an additional layer of plastic. Condiments are individual-use packets rather than shared containers.
Food is often at the heart of great hospitality, and hotels recognize that boxed meals won’t always cut it.
Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek and Waldorf Astoria Orlando are using an innovative Aero Glove dispenser that allows guests to seamlessly don a plastic glove at buffets. Items on the buffet are sealed in plastic, but the glove adds another layer of protection. The machine blows air into the glove as someone places their hand in the dispenser so that it requires no additional effort to put it on if your other hand is holding a briefcase, purse, or plate.
Omni guests use staffed coffee stations at many events rather than a self-service option. This model is being used at many hotels to prevent multiple people from touching shared handles.
21c Cincinnati hosted a “Covid-safe” rehearsal dinner with all attendees spending the night in the hotel and enjoying the same three-course room service dinner as the wedding couple. They were joined together via Zoom for the dining experience that they enjoyed in their rooms.
Nonprofit fundraisers are also being affected. Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis has invented a “gala-to-go” offer for groups where guests can pick up pre-organized meals (or have them delivered) packaged neatly into a heat-safe box. It’s the same food served at the in-person event and comes with wine, gala programs, and even online fundraiser auction instructions. Guests can watch the live event from their home if they prefer not to attend in person (although there’s no requirement for the same formal attire).
The Hay-Adams in Washington, D.C., part of The Leading Hotels of the World, has created a new option for catering by delivering meals in bento boxes instead of using buffets or pre-plated options. Since social functions are skewing smaller, the hotel can also get more creative with menus. One recent wedding featured dishes from the couple’s favorite restaurants around town from when they were dating.
Montreal’s Hotel Monville is using robots to deliver room service and housekeeping items as well as helping with food delivery for meetings and group functions.
Hybrid and in-person meeting innovations
“The biggest trend we’re seeing these days is in hybrid meetings, where some attendees join in person and others are looped in virtually,” says Maggie Weaver, director of marketing for the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa in Florida.
Big Sky Resort in Montana is launching its Hybrid Mountain Meetings program where guests can tune into events from their room while speakers broadcast live from the Yellowstone Convention Center. They still benefit from the opportunity to connect in smaller, in-person groups, like on the ski lift or by a fire pit, without being in a larger space at the same time.
Hyatt’s hybrid meetings strategy includes the option for 360-degree panoramic cameras to give viewers the entire landscape experience as if they were there. Each Hyatt hotel around the world also has a hygiene and wellbeing leader on staff who oversees Covid-19 protocols.
LondonHouse Chicago is offering small meeting groups their own “hotel bubble” with a dedicated floor of rooms. It includes access to the meeting space via private staircase and contactless check-in and check-out so guests only interact with their group.
The Godfrey Hotel Boston is treating its meeting room with an ultraviolet light purification system, and guests can order food via app for contactless delivery.
The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island in Florida is staggering tables to guarantee six feet in all directions with one person per table in classroom setups. For social functions, it can organize an oceanfront balcony room for guests to participate in an outdoor event from the comfort of their balcony.
In India, the Sofitel Mumbai BKC, which has hosted a number of weddings this year, is housing its staff at the hotel in one-month shifts to add a level of security that they’ve not left the “hotel bubble.” They must undergo a thorough check-up by the hotel doctor before beginning their one-month shift.
Grand Hyatt Vail is moving the speakers between meeting rooms rather than having attendees change conference rooms to limit movement. Live streams can also connect meeting areas to easily allow for question and answer sessions no matter where people are sitting.
Staff at the Gaylord Rockies can sanitize the podium after each speaker. For groups with back-to-back presenters, they can set up two stages so one is being cleaned while the other is used so there’s no break in presentations.
The hotel can also organize plastic pouches with the group’s logo so that attendees keep their phone and mask from touching any table surface; when they put them down, they go directly into the pouch.
The exhibit hall during a recent convention at Puerto Rico’s Condado Vanderbilt Hotel used high-top tables to promote social distancing at already spaced-apart exhibit booths where meetings were by appointment only.
For added assurance, guests at Montage International properties automatically receive one-month access to One Medical, a digital and primary care organization that can provide all-hours virtual support, as part of their stay. Immediate video chats provide medical advice and assistance to guests both during their stay as well as once they return at home.
These clever ideas demonstrate the enthusiasm of hotel teams around the world to power through tumultuous times with a spirit of innovation in hopes of a speedy recovery.