It will be a while before group meeting and event revenue streams have fully recovered for hotels, but plans like Hilton's are needed to give clients confidence to begin thinking about returning to the kind of in-person events that also boost hotel occupancy rates.
Hotel analysts expect group business travel will be among the last sectors to recover from the coronavirus-related plummet in travel demand. But that isn’t stopping Hilton from making a play to once again host events and meetings at its hotels around the world.
Hilton EventReady with CleanStay launched Monday and is a new heightened health and safety protocol for meetings and events. An offshoot of Hilton’s CleanStay program for guestrooms, the new protocol aims to show potential clients it is safe to host events while respecting preventative measures against the spread of coronavirus.
“In today’s new normal, we know that people planning and attending events of any size are focused on their health and safety,” Hilton CEO Christopher Nassetta said in a statement. “Hilton EventReady delivers innovative solutions for the entire event experience — from flexibility in planning and physical distancing protocols to transparency in cleanliness policies and inspiring catering options.”
The EventReady program centers around three key tenets in appealing to potential clients: cleaning, flexibility, and solutions.
Cleanliness protocols stem from the Hilton CleanStay program. EventReady emphasizes enhanced cleaning measures around ten high-touch areas in a meeting space like tables, light controls, and audiovisual equipment. Thirty minutes before the event room is to be occupied, cleaning staff will put a seal on the door — just as housekeeping currently does on Hilton guestrooms — to signal event planners the space has been sanitized.
Hilton promises flexibility with the new protocol “from the time you search to booking to billing,” said Danny Hughes, president of the Americas for Hilton.
Event planners are also working on flexible space arrangements to enable social distancing and hybrid configurations of in-person meetings with web infrastructure to handle hundreds of attendees tuning in from remote locations. While there isn’t a universal cancellation policy at this time, a Hilton spokesperson told Skift flexible cancellation and contract terms are offered to each meeting and event client individually.
The final aspect of EventReady focuses on “safe and socially responsible solutions” around hosting a meeting or an event, especially with respect to food and beverage. Rather than hot buffets, meals will be individually prepared and plated. Meeting spaces will be arranged in accordance with social distancing and public health guidelines.
“We absolutely do not think this is going to be a one and done,” Hughes said. “We’re taking the attitude that this is live, dynamic, and constantly developing. This is why we talk about it as a live playbook.”
A Long Road to Recovery
Hilton’s new standard for meetings and events isn’t necessarily a sign the group business and convention travel segments are beginning to recover. But it is the latest acknowledgement the hotel industry needs these two lines of business to return in some capacity to have a shot at rebounding to pre-pandemic performance levels.
Accor launched its own health and safety initiative aimed at meetings and events, All Meet Well, earlier this summer. The Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau also released a plan in accordance with several hotels in the New England city to appeal to Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker to allow indoor meetings at hotels for as many as 250 people during the state’s economic reopening plan.
The variety of protocols and pitches may promote health and safety, but, if businesses respond with event bookings, they stand to also give the hotel industry a much-needed financial lift.
Companies like Facebook have cancelled large physical events until at least June of 2021, when a coronavirus vaccine is expected to be available. But that doesn’t mean it is a futile mission to introduce a program like Hilton’s EventReady months before a coronavirus medical treatment is approved.
Hilton properties are booking events and meetings for later this year and the early part of 2021, Hughes said.
Group business travel accounted for 51 percent of room nights at convention hotels and 40 percent at resort hotels in 2019, according to CBRE. Group business travel generally hovered between 22 and 24 percent of overall U.S. hotel occupancy between 2012 and 2019, according to STR.
“There are a whole bunch of hotels that have suspended operations,” Hughes said. “Some of those incredibly reliant on the meeting business just won’t open until the demand comes back.”
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Photo credit: Hilton's new EventReady standard aims to safely host meetings and events with coronavirus preventative measures in place. Hilton