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Healthy Hospitality

Even as average occupancy slowly climbs, 2020 is projected to be the worst year ever for hotel occupancy in the U.S. In late September, 67% of those responding to an American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) survey said their properties might not last beyond six months if current projections on revenue and occupancy are accurate and no additional government relief is forthcoming.

Hopefully, most hotels will hang on, eventually rebuild their business and bring back the 4 million workers they’ve had to let go. If your organization is back to planning small meetings or events, hotels will no doubt be happy to see you and will welcome your business. As they do, here are a few things to think about.

Cleanliness has never been more important

On the whole, you’ll find hotels supersanitized. The AHLA has created comprehensive COVID-19 guidance called Safe Stay that spells out cleaning procedures and other safety measures for its members. Major chains that host a lot of meetings have developed their own programs. Hilton collaborated with the maker of Lysol and the Mayo Clinic on its EventReady With CleanStay program. Cvent has created a microsite, Source Safely, that shows planners the measures that meeting properties around the world are taking to protect guests from coronavirus.

A hotel stay won’t be the same

From check-in to checkout, attendees will find a hotel stay isn’t the same. And based on AHLA’s surveys of travelers, most attendees will be happy with the changes they see. More than 80% of them ticked off these three measures as the most important to them regarding safety: Face coverings for employees and staff, suspension of daily housekeeping and use of technology to reduce the need to have direct contact with staff. With those measures in place, most of the travelers surveyed said they wouldn’t worry about the safety of staying in a hotel.

Let your crowd know what to expect

Though most will be happy with the measures hotels are taking to protect them, it is still important to alert your attendees about what to expect. Those who work out before or after the meeting will want to know if the hotel gym will be open and, if so, what precautions are in place. Food service is likely to be more limited in many hotels, with bars or restaurants closed, offering carry-out only or limited occupancy. On the flip side, many hotels have stepped up their grab-and-go options, which allow guests to eat safely in their room or outdoors. If an app is needed to use contactless check-in, let people know and send them a link. Groups will also want to know if the hotel shuttle is operating and, if not, what safe transportation options are available. As coronavirus transmission rates rise and fall, safety measures will change too. Make sure that in the days leading up to your meeting, you let your attendees know the latest.

Innovators rise to this occasion

Expect to see some new ideas in action. The upscale Townsend Hotel in Birmingham has installed an ultraviolet light filter in common areas and in its restaurant to prevent the virus and other bacteria from replicating. Other hotels are hiring third parties to do on-site coronavirus testing for clients. Marriott has added online tools that take pandemic restrictions into consideration, including floor plans that integrate distancing requirements and virtual consults and tours.

A recent Forbes story detailed several measures hotels around the country are taking. For instance, the Hyatt Regency in Green Bay asks meeting planners to read the hotel’s face covering requirement to their group at the start of any meeting and has had pins made for employees to wear so guests can see pictures of them without masks. To cut down on service traffic, banquet guests at the Fairmont Austin illuminate a light when they need a server.

Being flexible might benefit everyone

As hotels hang on, they likely will greet your potential business with a combination of relief and enthusiasm. Like hoteliers, your situation might also be uncertain, especially if you are planning for the association sector, where attendance is an option, not a mandate. It’s likely hotel sales teams will be willing to create contracts that are more flexible in terms of attrition and cancellation, given that with cold weather and more time spent indoors, some areas will see positivity rates rise. In times like these, it is all the more important to remember that the best negotiations are those that conclude with everyone feeling that they emerged with a win.