Meeting Venues are Stepping Up Against the Pandemic

How Missouri Properties are Making Technology Work for Them

By Linda F. Jarrett

Lodging Hospitality Management

With the push to get the population vaccinated against COVID-19, businesses are readying themselves to acclimate to the “new normal.”  While some restrictions are being decreased, Lodging Hospitality Management is taking advantage of technology to ensure that meeting planners will be confident in scheduling events to keep attendees comfortable.

Todd Hotaling, Vice President of Revenue and Marketing, says technology has been their big focus in the last year.  Hilton and Marriott properties are among the regional companies in their portfolio.  “We have our own audio-visual company that we operate, and we’re able to scale up what is needed for the virtual events and hybrid meetings,” he says.  “As we look to the future, every event will have to have a hybrid option for our clients, and we have been very encouraged by the amount of attendance that hybrid meetings have gotten.”

As the comfort levels with in-person events increase, having a hybrid option gives attendees who are not at that stage another option.  “If your association normally has 200 to 300 people attending,” Hotaling remarks, “we’re seeing double that with the hybrid option, and, in some situations, we’ve heard of attendance being 10 times that number.”

Contactless check-in is seamless for guests who download the Hilton Honors app. This app has a digital key, allowing guests to check in and access their room using their phone. “That works well with our ‘rooming list’ groups, which is a list of attendees our client will send us,” Hotaling explains. “So we’re encouraging everyone to download that app and enroll, because that’s a big benefit for travelers.”

Guests at Marriott properties can download the Marriott app for mobile check-in.

Our CleanStay program adds to the already-stringent standards we have for cleanliness with disinfecting stations providing wipes and hand sanitizers throughout the properties,” he mentions. “Also, we have distancing posters to ensure people feel comfortable when they meet.”

While buffets are not gone, the look will be different by having a single, masked server at each station, without multiple people in line. Hotaling adds, “Another option that has been effective is boxing individual portions and setting them out so attendees can grab their box and go.”

Hilton’s Event Ready program includes sealing off a meeting space after set-up and cleaning so that the meeting planner or attendee is the first to enter the area.  Lodging Hospitality Management follows the 25 percent capacity limit per local health guidelines.

“We have a network of hotels in St. Louis, and we’re able to move an event scheduled for a smaller ballroom to one of our larger ballrooms, such as Union Station or Hilton Ballpark Village, if necessary,” he posits. “The hospitality industry was hit hard, and demand for rooms is increasing. We’re encouraged that St. Louis is doing mass vaccinations, and we’re excited that, as more people get vaccinated, they will feel more comfortable traveling and start coming back.”

Margaritaville

Ann Walters, Director of Sales at Margaritaville Lake Resort – Lake of the Ozarks, said they have not had the restrictions put in other properties.

“The only restriction that we have at Margaritaville is the mandated mask guidance for indoor public space areas,” she describes.  “We have been very flexible with our meeting planners and will do whatever they are comfortable with as far as COVID restrictions.”

If planners want food served cafeteria-style or would like water pitchers, glasses, pens, paper pads, and candy on the tables, Margaritaville will accommodate them.  “If they want social distancing like one person per six-foot table or rounds of four for meals, we will do that,” Walters says.

The venue’s location in the middle of the state makes it a sought-after location.  “We’re able to be reached easily from all four corners, and we offer 29 meeting rooms and over 89,000 square feet of indoor meeting space,”  Walters declares. She adds they have audio-visual capabilities for in-person and hybrid meetings. “Our staff connects with meeting planners daily to make sure all needs are met.”

The Pandemic may have changed the way businesses hold meetings, but technology is keeping up with that change and makes it possible for groups to continue meeting safely.

MEET

Linda Jarrett is a contributing writer from St. Louis.

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