Group and business travel have been some of the hardest-hit segments of the hotel industry throughout the pandemic. Business meetings and major conferences have moved online, and STR reported that group occupancy at the properties that most commonly host large events dropped 66.9 percent in 2020. And while vaccination numbers are promising, not everyone feels safe being in a room with lots of people quite yet.
But the hospitality industry is always ready to rise to a challenge, and hotel companies and individual properties have begun to implement hybrid meeting programs that allow for both in-person and virtual participation. One of those companies is IHG Hotels & Resorts, which unveiled new enhancements to its Meet with Confidence groups program in March, including two hybrid meeting options. LODGING connected with Ginger Taggart, VP of brand management, global Crowne Plaza and voco for the Americas, to discuss what hoteliers need to know about running successful hybrid meetings.
This is not a flash in the pan.
The first thing that Taggart mentions is that she doesn’t anticipate hybrid meetings will go away when COVID-19 is no longer a focus. “Even before the pandemic, there had been ongoing demand from our corporate customers, our B2B clients, and our guests about the ability to connect virtually and in-person at the same time. A virtual option is more convenient and allows teams around the globe to connect for big events and meetings. The pandemic accelerated our timeline and helped us move more quickly to meet our guests’ evolving needs. Hybrid meetings are here to stay,” she explains.
Your team is just as important as your text.
Having reliable technology is key to a successful hybrid meeting, but Taggart notes that having a well-trained team that knows the ins and outs of what makes a hybrid meeting work is also critical. “We know one of the core stress areas of meeting planners is whether the technology will work correctly. We covered that by working closely with our current technology partners. But, even with the best set up, issues can occur, so we made sure our teams are specifically trained in virtual and hybrid meetings as well. This means that they are equipped to troubleshoot, and meeting planners are reassured that their events will be seamless.”
Think beyond business travelers.
While many people think hybrid meetings are purely for business travelers, that’s very much not the case, according to Taggart. “We’ve seen huge demand for micro weddings,” she notes. “Even couples having a super small celebration because of COVID-19 restrictions – just themselves and three or four guests in person – still want to have real-time wedding parties with their family and friends. Everyone is really connected now and attending a virtual wedding party isn’t new anymore. And, as leisure travel starts to come back, so will leisure celebrations. After such a hard year, people really want to embrace the celebratory times in their life. I think we’ll see demand for these types of events continue to grow.”