By Kristi White, VP of Product Development at Knowland
Hoteliers have been cautiously preparing to re-open, carefully following guidelines when putting into place COVID-19 mitigation plans. Transparency throughout this process is critical, particularly when it comes to communications with meeting planners.
Below are five steps to implement and share with meeting planners.
1. Define and Document Duty of Care Standards
This process may be dictated by the hotel’s brand, while others might be dictated by government authorities. Duty of Care (DOC) procedures should be well documented and communicated, not only to outside meeting planners but to the hotel staff as well. Train employees so they can discuss these standards comfortably with guests. Ensure all cleaning and sanitizing practices are well documented both onsite and online.
Once a clear DOC policy is in place, make it easily available to external meeting planners, local convention and visitor bureaus (CVBs), the local chamber of commerce, and businesses within the hotel’s market. Communicate these new standards to clients who may still be on the books.
2. Work with F&B Staff to Reimagine Banquet Menus
Buffets will likely become a thing of the past, at least for the foreseeable future. Trays of cookies and muffins are still viable but will need to be individually wrapped. This might mean pre-packaged items or freshly baked items that are wrapped locally. All of this will need to be reflected in the hotel’s menus and pricing. Update online menus, including those on Google or Yelp, so that customers can find new menus easily.
3. Revise and Publish New Capacities for Banquet Space
New capacity rules might be in line with local restrictions, but customers will likely have their own requirements. Prepare for a variety of options—whether six feet, seven feet, eight feet, or 12 feet of distancing. What are the capacities of the property’s meeting spaces in the new social distancing spectrum? Document those capacities in advance to help guide meeting planners as they book or look to re-book.
4. Work with Revenue Management Teams to Better Equip Sales
Before reaching out to meeting planners, CVBs, and local businesses, work with the hotel’s revenue management team to better understand how to price and optimize meeting space with the new social distancing guidelines. Create a plan for each social distancing protocol (e.g., six, seven, eight, or 12 feet). How many rooms will be required? Will meeting room rentals be required for all groups? What will new room setups look like, and what will be the capacity for each? Sales teams that understand this in advance will have the advantage of selling without friction from the beginning.
5. Communicate and Update Often
After completing steps one through four, it’s time to communicate any and all policies and procedures to key stakeholders, both internally and externally. Internal teams should be well versed in DOC and food policies, and front-desk staff, operators, and sales teams should understand any limitations or space restrictions. Update them often.
Externally, work with website teams to ensure new policies are front and center or create a visible link to the information—don’t make busy meeting planners or potential guests have to search for new policies. Creating a landing page that allows guests and meeting planners to easily view DOC and other policy changes will make it more efficient to share online and in advertising efforts. Guests, planners, and others will have many questions, so gather those together and create a detailed “FAQ about COVID-19.” Add to the FAQ as new questions come in and update this page as changes occur.
Update the hotel’s Google business presence and social media, include links to policies and FAQ pages. Advertising should tout the efforts the hotel’s team has made to ensure the safety of incoming groups.
Finally, as mentioned above, don’t forget to update all channels regularly. As the world moves forward, these policies will need to adjust as well. Keep pace with government and local restrictions and update all forms of communication—both internally and externally—as changes happen.
Ramp Up Sales
Once policies and procedures are in place and there’s a better idea of new food standards and available meeting space, it’s time to ramp up sales. As businesses begin to re-open, corporate travel and small local group businesses will need facilities. They will want to book with hotels that have taken precautions and extra efforts to ensure their safety.
Bringing sales staff back, even a little at a time, is imperative to begin working with meeting planners who may be looking to book locally, likely into 2021. Expand beyond key accounts with existing relationships to all local accounts that have booked in the hotel’s market in the past.
Reach out to those customers on the books and confirm they are committed and discuss new space requirements and new COD policies. Adjust all meetings still on the books to new capacities and communicate with those customers. Will the new capacity require a shift in the meeting space? If so, now is the time to block the new space as necessary.
The time for active outreach is coming—touting a property’s flexibility and resilience to meeting planners is going to mean a lot as sales teams build those relationships.