As the pandemic caused the meetings and events industry to quickly adapt to fewer in-person events, Meeting Expectations’ in-house Site Selection team remains on the front lines, supporting our clients and working closely with our convention and visitor bureau (CVB) partners across the country.
In the third of our guest post series, Tyson Lybbert, managing director of sales at Visit Salt Lake, goes in-depth on both the lessons learned and the steps the city’s hospitality community has taken to move ahead safely for meetings and events.
1. What key learnings have come out of the past few months for Visit Salt Lake?
We recognize that has been difficult for businesses to plan for an uncertain future, not just with the pandemic, but also with what regulations might be in place. For example, we have had hotels uncertain if they can, or should, book small groups for later this summer. In the absence of timelines, many have turned business away due to the uncertainty, while others booked business in hopes that it will be safe to resume. We do expect to have a much clearer understanding in the next month about how the reopen will go.
Our strategy as a community came together in April and May with one of the key outcomes being our decision to forgo cancellation fees in lieu of rebooking events in later years. Customers have responded favorably to this approach. At the same time, virtual events have become more pervasive and will likely continue to be so for the rest of this year and into 2021.
2. What is the city doing to build trust in the return of events?
Currently, we are in a tentative phase of recovery; for the next couple of months, it is uncertain if City officials want business to return in order to maintain the safety of our residents. For those groups arriving further into the future, the Salt Palace Convention Center and area hotels are establishing safety measures that will give travelers and groups peace of mind. For example, the Salt Palace Convention Center has established a comprehensive operating plan, approved by health officials. Some specifics include:
- Salt Lake International Airport: We are still on track to open our new airport on September 15, 2020. In the meantime, the airport has taken steps to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus, increasing use of disinfectants in high-touch areas such as moving walkways, handrails, doorknobs, light switches, elevator buttons and seating areas. The shops and concessions that are open are implementing social distancing and other measures recommended by the Salt Lake County Health Department. Only individuals with an airline ticket, airport badge or airport authorization are allowed in the public areas, so all drop-offs and pick-ups are done curbside or in the parking garage. For those needing assistance, one individual may accompany a ticketed passenger.
- Salt Palace Convention Center: The SPCC is pursuing the Global Bio-risk Advisory Council’s START credential to showcase its commitment to attendee safety. Visitors to SPCC can expect a range of enhanced health and safety protocols, from wide availability of hand sanitation stations, to signage indicating social distancing, hand washing and sneeze etiquette; to enhanced cleaning and sanitization schedules, along with facility-wide posting of cleaning duties and chemical usage. We have also increased training for staff surrounding proper PPE and chemical cleaner usage.
As events are planned, specific safety measures will be implemented as deemed necessary – from temperature checks to face mask requirements, social distancing guide markers and room sets, monitors or advisors; and increased presence of public safety and medical personnel.
All of these details and more are outlined in our COVID-19 Operating Guidelines & Procedures.
3. How is the hotel community responding?
Area hotels are still hosting events at their respective locations. Many of these events are small; however, the hotels are working with planners to find common sense ways to accommodate group needs. In most cases, this has resulted in socially distanced room set-ups. Many planners have moved to theater-style seating, or one person per six-foot table classroom seating. Set ups under these guidelines mean hotels can accommodate groups about one-third the size of traditional capacity charts. As we move forward, we should rely upon the expertise of meeting planners and hotels (or other venues) to determine how best to set up events and to determine how many people they can accommodate.
Both large and small hotel operators have created extensive cleaning and safety policies and protocols to provide guests with transparency and peace of mind, among those are Marriott’s commitment to clean, Hilton’s Cleanstay, Grand America and Little America’s policies.
4. How can we best support each other?
It will continue to be important for us to communicate the flexibility of venues for existing groups and promote early success stories so that attendees can feel confident to move forward.
I am optimistic about the future! It is important for us to realize these difficult days will end.