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ADVICE: Meetings and events – what now?

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The MICE market is the final piece of the puzzle yet to find its way back to normality and with a lot of uncertainty on still on the horizon, it’s an unpredictable time to make plans for this side of the business. We speak to Jane Longhurst, chief executive of the Meetings Industry Association (mia) to find out when is the best time to kick start marketing strategies around meetings and events and how staying nimble and transparent will be key to success.

What stance should hotels take towards meetings and events bookings right now?

The current government guidance is that business meetings of up to 30 people indoors are allowed in permitted venues, if social distancing can be maintained and the venue can demonstrate it has followed the COVID-19 guidance.

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Business meetings and events of over 30 people are not currently permitted to resume until 1 October – and this will only be providing the rates of infection remain at an acceptable level and the dedicated number of pilot events that the government is currently undertaking are a success.

When should hotels be looking to market this segment of the business again?

The advice that the mia has been providing hotels throughout the pandemic via our various Extraordinary Matters and wider online events programme is it is crucial that they don’t stop marketing their business meetings and events spaces. Now is definitely not the time to go dark – as it will affect their bookings going forward. Instead, they should be adapting their approach and taking the time to reach out to and listen as well as collaborate with their existing customers to really understand both their future needs and demands. 

Is there anything hotels can ultilise or do while waiting for the meeting and events to be permitted again?

As part of the mia’s ongoing commitment to support business meetings and events, we have launched a complete package of support that both hoteliers and venues can utilise to help their preparations to reopen and operate safely. 

Our Roadmap to reopening and operating safely, which has been signposted in the government’s Visitor Economy Guidance, considers the safety of both a hotelier’s staff and clients throughout the entire customer journey and guides operators through their risk assessment preparations. It has been specifically designed to help operators to consider the best course of action for their own needs. In some instances it details the minimum requirements, while in others it asks organisations to consider taking additional steps to ensure everyone plays their part in rebuilding confidence. Without a thorough risk assessment, hotels will be unable to offer business meetings.

As part of their plans, they need to consider how they will track and trace delegates if someone should report COVID symptoms after attending an event at their hotel. The mia has recently launched a dedicated tool – miaTrustedTrace – enabling operators to safely manage delegate contact information easily and compliantly.

They should also be concentrating on providing reassurance to event bookers that their hotel’s meeting space is COVID-Secure. To aid this process, we have enhanced AIM – the UK’s only national quality accreditation for venues – and our new brand AIM Secure features the vital infection prevention and control protocols. We have already been inundated with applications for the new professional increased quality standard, as hotels and venues recognise the need to clearly demonstrate to buyers their commitment to offering a first-class service safely and responsibly for the health of staff and customers. Shortly we’ll be announcing a further accreditation specifically for small venues.

How about managing bookings in the diary for later in the year? What would be the advice here?

We have developed dedicated contract and cancellation guidance to help mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on future bookings and ensure all parties are protected. We felt it was imperative that hotel and venue contracts and cancellation policies reflect the understandable reluctance of buyers to sign on the dotted line. The intention is there, but the threat of a further pandemic-related business interruption still looms large and, in many cases prevents that final signature.

Our guidance therefore includes a dedicated COVID-19 contract clause, which hoteliers can safely add to their existing contracts. We strongly recommend they do this, or that they work with their own legal teams to have an appropriate clause prepared for their operation.

Are there any success stories of hotels still making money from any kind of small meetings or events?

We’re hearing lots of examples of how hotels and venues are creatively collaborating and developing their offering. Many are embracing technology, for example, offering virtual showrounds to really showcase and capture their adapted offering and key selling points. For the time-poor booking agents and event planners we can see this approach continuing to be popular long-term.

In addition to revisiting their room capacities to meet the social distancing guidelines, some hotels are providing a range of virtual and hybrid interactive online events or packages with limited contact with their staff, while others have been getting creative with the flow of delegates or their food offering, for example, to provide reassurance that they are doing everything they can to offer a safe meeting environment.

What would the key bit of advice be for hotels who usually rely on the MICE market to boost revenue in the winter months?

We’ve been witnessing a whole new emerging market which could be picked up by hoteliers wishing to fill their meeting space. COVID-19 has been a huge experiment for many organisations in the effectiveness of homeworking and its proven enormously successful. So successful in fact that we’re likely to see huge changes on the reliance of traditional office space to house the whole organisation.  However, there will still be the need for teams to meet regularly – and hotels can easily pick this business up by offering COVID-Secure meeting space rates and packages for organisations only requiring a space for a few hours every couple of weeks.

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Zoe Monk

The author Zoe Monk

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