While it will take some time for business travel to rebound, hotel brands across the country are making efforts to reimagine meetings and events so that they can be ready for guests, when they do return. One brand – Hyatt – is rolling out redesigned meeting spaces, piloting hybrid meetings, offering event planners virtual hotel tours, and more. To learn more about what they’re doing, and how they’re using technology, HT spoke with Steve Enselein, SVP of Events at Hyatt.
How is Hyatt piloting hybrid meetings?
Over the last several months, Hyatt has been intensely focused on listening to customers to understand their needs and reimagine the meetings and events experience.
Guided by our purpose – to care for people so they can be their best – we have expanded our robust set of meeting technology tools to offer flexible and hybrid meeting solutions during the pandemic and beyond. These hybrid meetings use multiple locations – either spread out through one hotel or across several properties – to accommodate distancing and use technology to combine virtual and in-person experiences.
We have hosted many successful hybrid meetings since the onset of COVID-19 and as part of this process, we’ve gathered feedback from event organizers and attendees to continuously adjust our approach. As an example, we are encouraging the meeting planner to identify ways to engage the remote audience throughout the entirety of the event – from kick-off icebreaker activities to enhanced Q&A processes at the close.
For those attending meetings on-site, the top priorities are the safety, wellbeing and peace of mind of our colleagues and guests. Along with requiring face coverings in indoor public spaces, we’ve carefully built upon Hyatt’s Global Care and Cleanliness Commitment to reimagine all touchpoints of the meeting experience to provide a safe environment. Examples include creative food and beverage experiences, like pre-packaged foods and buffets with plexiglass coverings and on-site staff to serve each dish, along with signage in meeting spaces to control traffic flow and remind attendees to social distance. Hyatt also created the new role of Hygiene & Wellbeing Leader at each property, who ensures all hotel operations, including meeting elements, follow these enhanced protocols.
What kind of technologies are involved to make these hybrid meetings happen?
We work with a wide variety of technology solutions and vendors to deliver meeting experiences based on customers’ needs and meeting goals. We have longstanding relationships with technology and AV providers and at the onset of COVID-19, we quickly got together to discuss hybrid options and capabilities to support virtual events. We also collaborate closely with customers to understand what technology platforms they use at their organizations and are comfortable with to see if there are opportunities to leverage those platforms during the meeting.
One technology that assists in the planning process is Social Tables, a digital meeting room diagramming tool available at full-service hotels globally. Our Hyatt event planners can use it to illustrate various meeting room set-up options with social distancing – which in turn allows for optimal in-person and virtual attending experiences.
To further help customers with hybrid meeting planning, we have created a package that includes the necessary technology to execute the event and covers details for on-site attendees such as room rate and F&B offerings. This package includes several technology options for planners to choose from depending on meeting size, attendee location and number of presenters, significantly simplifying the planning process.
How is technology being used to combine virtual/live experiences?
We know that some event attendees may not yet be comfortable attending meetings in-person and local restrictions may limit the size of group gatherings, which is why we’ve focused on hybrid options. Through the use of streaming services and interactive conferencing platforms, we are able to bring the in-person experience to life for attendees in other locations. During room set-up, we take great care to make sure the virtual experience is seamless, working with technology providers to place cameras and microphones in a way that ensures virtual attendees can easily follow along and actively participate. Outside of the technology components, we work closely with meeting planners to ensure that attendees know what to expect and how to prepare for the meeting regardless of whether they are attending in-person or virtually.
Beyond COVID-19, hybrid options present many opportunities to extend the reach of meeting programs. For example, if a meeting planner learns that a large number of employees are unable to attend a global event due to scheduling conflicts, the meeting planner may consider a hybrid meeting option so those employees can still participate virtually.
How is Hyatt offering virtual hotel tours?
Hyatt’s virtual hotel tours, which are available for many of our hotels around the world, allow planners to virtually tour and review the hotel’s meeting spaces, room layouts and amenities from the comfort of their home or office as they look to book future meetings and events. Planners are also offered a glimpse at surrounding landmarks in the destination city – for example, Hyatt Regency Chicago is situated along the Chicago River Walk, and planners can see this as they consider things to do outside of the meeting setting. We started developing virtual hotel tours several years ago with key insights from meeting planners about how this type of technology could make their jobs easier. While they are not a direct replacement for in-person site visits, they do provide a highly effective way for planners to see meeting spaces’ design, dimensions and capacities. The virtual tours are pre-recorded, which allows planners to revisit a space multiple times and consider new ways of using the space.
In addition to this immersive experience, many hotels are providing personalized live virtual tours for customers. These tours, conducted via video conferencing platforms, allow hotel colleagues to showcase offerings based on planners’ specific meeting needs and provide planners with the opportunity to ask questions in real-time.
Does Hyatt think VR will become a mainstream way for event planners to visit hotels in the future - as opposed to in-person visits?
Throughout COVID-19, we have actively engaged in conversations and hosted roundtable sessions with meeting planners to gather feedback and better understand and respond to their evolving needs. With the pandemic greatly accelerating digital transformation across industries, we envision that technology that enables virtual experiences will continue to be leveraged in the future. However, we also know that people miss and deeply value face-to-face interaction, and we believe strongly that demand for in-person meetings will return. As part of our recovery efforts, we are staying close to customers and focusing on flexibility to best meet their needs.