The Covid-19 crisis has impacted the everyday lives of billions of people globally, numerous industries and is posing the biggest challenge the travel industry has ever faced. However, we know that people’s appetite to explore, travel for work, or bring people together hasn’t changed, but understandably their confidence in when it’s safe to do so has.
Whilst the meetings and events industry is seeing a slow recovery, we are seeing a number of companies currently, or looking forward to, holding safe and responsible meetings and events – though of course they look and feel different in today’s environment. We’ve seen customers looking to host smaller gatherings and looking for virtual or hybrid opportunities to connect colleagues around the world — with their top concern understandably being the safety and wellbeing of their travellers and meeting attendees. Larger groups, such as associations, are also re-looking at their plans for 2021 and onward to see if they can break apart the larger annual meeting, into smaller, regional meetings. According to Cvent, 71% of meetings sourced in recent months (Mar-August) are less than 50 person meetings, with over 34% less than 10 people. There has been relative strength across the Education, Association, and Government segments.
The new priorities
As the world adapts to new expectations and plans for responsible gatherings, IHG Hotels & Resorts has enhanced its Meet with Confidence (http://www.ihg.com/meetwithconfidence) programme to provide appropriate and creative meeting and event solutions, without compromising on the experience or the flexibility that meeting planners require.
Cleanliness, health and safety are now top priorities for many customers, and while the wellbeing of our guests has always been important to us, we’ve enhanced this part of the guest experience to further reassure them. We want all guests and B2B partners to feel confident in booking an IHG hotel, comfortable in the knowledge that we can consistently deliver a clean stay, meeting or event, whenever they are ready.
In June we announced the IHG Way of Clean (www.ihg.com/clean). In partnership with industry leading experts Cleveland Clinic, Ecolab and Diversey, we introduced new science-led cleaning protocols and service measures. The strengthened procedures throughout IHG hotels redefine cleanliness and support guests’ wellbeing, from enhanced cleaning of high-touch areas to social distancing measures and sanitizer stations in high traffic areas
We’ve recently taken this a step further by enhancing our procedures for meetings and events. This includes customized social distancing space layouts and floor plans, using outdoor spaces where possible, new ways to manage attendee flow with signage, staggered breaks and additional space, reduced contact at check-in and check-out, and modified dining options and servicing of rooms. Our hotels are also focused on contactless payment options, thoughtful food and beverage options such as pre-packaged, plated meals, grab-and-go and modified, attended buffets adhering to cleanliness guidelines.
Flexibility is another important customer priority at such an uncertain time, which is why IHG moved quickly at the onset of this crisis to introduce our Meet with Confidence offer providing meeting planners and bookers the flexibility they need when it comes to contracting their next group, meeting or event. Until the end of the year, for bookings of 10 – 50 room nights on peak to meet or stay by 30 June 2021, planners can book with no cancellation or attrition fees, and enjoy up to 5% off the master bill at participating hotels.
To respond to the desire for more virtual and hybrid meetings (combining in-house and virtual attendance) we’ve rolled out technology best practices for IHG Hotels, including minimum bandwidth guidance and a bandwidth calculator to support meetings of all sizes, whether it’s a small meeting with basic web surfing, to large scale meetings with web-casting and video streaming. We’re continuing to explore how we can further enhance the virtual and hybrid meetings offer for IHG hotels around the globe, leveraging our network of 5,900 hotels in more than 100 countries to help our customers connect across the world, when travel is not possible.
What’s next for meetings and events?
We believe that virtual and hybrid meeting solutions will continue to play a pivotal role in meetings and events. But one thing we know, is the power of face to face communication, so while technology plays a vital role, we believe in-person meetings will be back - and stronger than ever.
Meetings and events will come to life in this ‘new normal’ through 2021, and we believe by 2022, we’ll start to see the meetings and events industry back to where it was last year, with larger-scale face to face and international events returning.
For some customers, there are specific meetings, such as training and research meetings, that simply have to happen face to face. One example of this scenario is in the pharmaceutical industry where we’re expecting multiples of smaller, more regional and local events, so that participants can drive to the meeting destinations. Our focus will be on leveraging customized programming to support customers who are booking multiple meetings across a broad range of hotels.
This is where IHG can support our customers best, allowing them to ‘Meet with Confidence’ at our 5,900 hotels around the world – perfectly primed to host small, medium or (when the time is right) large sized meetings.
Whenever and wherever you travel, IHG® Hotels & Resorts is ready to meet you there.
Jonathan Kaplan, Vice President Global Sales Strategy, IHG® Hotels & Resorts