Now seven months into the COVID-19 pandemic, hoteliers have seen drastic changes in their industry and have had to learn and adapt quickly to the challenges brought on by the crisis. Mary Desrosiers, director of sales and marketing at Hotel Viking in Newport, Rhode Island, tells LODGING how she and her staff have maintained revenue, accommodated events, and are planning for what’s ahead.
What changes have you been making during this time?
Rhode Island as a whole has been pretty cautious moving back into things. There are definitely restrictions, but people are taking them seriously and it is making a difference, which is great. I feel that where we are is very safe. We’ve taken precautions with all the CDC guidelines, and then with our state guidelines as well to ensure that public areas in hotels are safe. We are doing outdoor dining as well as 50 percent [capacity] indoor dining right now. All employees are required to wear masks at this time and we request guests wear masks.
Did you have to cancel all of your events from March until now?
We did decide to close the hotel at one point—we closed on March 23 and reopened on May 21. Of course, when we were closed, we didn’t have any events going on. When we eventually went into phase one [of Rhode Island’s reopening plan], we had a capacity of five people per gathering, which made hosting events a little difficult. Currently, we are at 15, but we are expected to go to 50, if not more.
We had a lot of groups scheduled—we’re a seasonal property and we were ramping up with weddings bookings and corporate association groups. We’ve been working with our clients to make sure that we come to a mutual and compatible agreement. A lot of times, we’ve been able to push them later into 2020, which is great. For really large events, we’ll push it a little bit further out into 2021. We’re working with the planners to try and keep what we can in 2020, and make it safe for our guests, clients, and staff. If it’s a smaller size, we can certainly accommodate it.
How are you making sure that the groups that are coming in now are able to socially distance and keep themselves safe?
We are doing six feet apart between individuals and between the tables. We do have guards up where we need to have them in the hotel to create socially distanced spaces. We are steering away from buffets at this point. We have guidelines that we put together for all of our hotels, specifically for banquets and catering. Our rooms do not have coffee stations or anything that is left out—we have everything individually packaged at this point.
How have you had to adjust your operations to make sure that this is maintainable for your staff and from a financial standpoint?
We have ramped up a lot, to the point where our staffing is very close to what it normally is for going into the season. We make sure our staff is able to facilitate the changes that we made and still be able to serve guests in the safest way possible. We have unique spaces available, too—the courtyard, and our chapel for breakout space. We have also gone through and redone our floor plan to be able to socially distance people at each table and then take those tables apart by six feet as well. It’s nice to have a lot of flexible space within the hotel.
How have you made sure that the Hotel Viking’s team has stayed at the cutting edge of recommendations to keep guests and attendees of these meetings safe?
We are very active in the Rhode Island Hospitality Association. We are staying abreast of what the requirements are and having these conversations with our planners so that we can talk through it: “What are your concerns? What are you most worried about? How can we take this group that you have and make it work? How can we bring everyone onto the property safely?” When we stay up to date with the CDC guidelines and state guidelines, planners can go and convince their attendees and their stakeholders that they are confident that we are doing everything to keep guests safe.
Has anything about the past several months surprised you?
What impresses me is that these two groups of people—hoteliers and planners—are coming together to say, “This is what we have right now, this is our new norm, so how do we have a conversation and make sure the company is still achieving its goals?” I’m impressed with the fact that we can get together as hoteliers and planners to talk about these things and come to solutions that make everybody feel comfortable. We might have to make a few tweaks, but you can see it brings people together because we’re all working together towards the same goals.
What has been your experience with the recovery process?
There are companies that might be too cautious, and I completely understand that. But my hope is that people don’t hold back from booking events because of that. Everybody’s after the same goal—we just need to work together, be flexible, and find a way to come to that conclusion so that it doesn’t get completely put on the back burner. It’s okay to have events of certain sizes, where people can do it safely and still accomplish the goals that everybody has. I hope we continue to see that increase as we move through this.