Live Webcast Q&A Session with Knowland 

The COVID-19 crisis has fundamentally changed the hospitality industry. Managing Today’s Challenges While Preparing for Tomorrow is a multi-part webcast series that examines how things have changed and how we can move forward from both the hotelier and the meeting planner perspectives. Below are attendee questions posed during the live webcast answered by our moderator Knowland’s VP of Product Development, Kristi White, and our panelists Kristin House, Senior Vice President at ConferenceDirect, and Allison Ahrens, President of Hospitality Revenue Solutions LLC.

Part 1: Perspectives on Taking Action Today to Stabilize and Protect Your Business | View the Recording

      1. How do we have meetings in the future with social distancing measures in place? (i.e. recommended room setups, banquet setups, etc.)
        • It’s probably just a bit early to really answer this question as we simply don’t know what we don’t know. However, it’s probably safe to say that you need to be prepared. This starts with planning what that means for your hotel. A great website that can help you understand how many people your space can accommodate is Start there and work with your teams to determine how you would set each room in each set-up, so you are prepared.Realistically, there may be some set-ups that are no longer possible with social distancing rules. But if you don’t plan that out in advance, you won’t be able to guide customers.
      2. What are you expecting your events/meetings to look like from a sanitation/spacing/COVID safety standpoint?
        • We think as restrictions lift and people can freely travel again, there will still be restrictions on the size of meetings held as well as a restriction on spacing. However, at the moment, we have no way of knowing if that’s possible. The best way to prepare for it is to plan. Plan what those set-ups will look like, which are possible, etc. From a food & beverage perspective, assume menus will need to be flexed. Buffets are probably not possible. Work on how you can change your menus in a way that increases the sanitation possibility for your clients.
      3. What do large meetings look like with social distancing? Have planners set up standards for social distancing meetings and events?
        • There may not be a good answer for this yet. As shelter in place orders lift, states may still choose to impose restrictions on meeting size. Additionally, companies and organizations might choose to impose their own spacing restrictions. Hotels should be prepared for all of this as well as prepared to offer advice on how to do this. The only way you can do this is to be prepared for what that would look like at your hotel so you can guide them through the process. A great website that can help you understand how many people your space can accommodate is Realistically, there may be some set-ups that are no longer possible with social distancing rules. But if you don’t plan that out in advance, you won’t be able to guide customers.
      4. For Kristin House, Senior Vice President at ConferenceDirect – is the Force Majeure from ConferenceDirect standard or something a client requested? 
        • It’s both. All of my clients will require a more robust clause, in many instances, their attorney has provided me with the verbiage. ConferenceDirect provides extensive training to all associates, we have been on many webinars with attorneys to provide us with basic guidance, but we always tell our customers to seek their own legal counsel.
      5. Have you seen any changes with a “Hold Harmless” clause?
        • I am seeing big changes with Force Majeure, which sometimes has been titled Hold Harmless, or now more recently “Inability to Perform”. Legally, I am not sure how the three line up when compared, but I am seeing a mix of these three being interchanged and mixed together. I honestly prefer straight Force Majeure with an additional “Inability to Perform” section. Also, “Frustration of Purpose” is commonly referred to, many times under Inability to Perform. John Foster has been an excellent legal reference.
      6. What does prospecting look like for suppliers to reach out to planners who are in the process of planning future meetings? 
        • It will depend on the source of the reach out. If you are responding to a request from a meeting planner, then move forward as you normally would. If you have an existing relationship with that planner, reaching out to check on them is appropriate. However, if you have no pre-existing relationship, now is probably not the time for a hard sales spiel. If you must reach out, and we know you need to preserve your jobs and livelihood, please come up with something creative. There are awesome ways to do this, brainstorm with your team. I am playing online bingo card with a hotel in Napa Valley right now. Trust me, I won’t forget these ladies and I never even knew them before, so get creative!
      7. Why would Force Majeure clauses change, since the current Force Majeure clauses worked with groups that had to cancel due to COVID-19?
        • It would help to define Force Majeure more broadly than we have in the past, for both the hotel and the planner. After 9/11 we added terrorism and after COVID-19 look to references for the World Health Organization, and CDC being referenced, plus identifying a certain amount of attendees that won’t be able to attend (50% for example). Not everyone has gotten through this with a straight Force Majeure. Some hotels held firm on cancellation fees and so many times it was not clear cut at all. Planners will be tightening up the Force Majeure as a priority moving forward.
      8. Outside of revised cancellation and force majeure clauses, what are the other deciding factors for booking hotels?
        • The deciding factors are much the same as they have always been. However, flexibility in F& B spend, flexibility with meeting rooms sets and space allocated. Room block review clauses and rate integrity clauses are all something we will be asking for in the future. Additionally, it won’t hurt to communicate your preparedness. Showing you are as organized as you can be promoting new Duty of Care, Updated Banquet Menus and Policies, Meeting Capacities with anticipated social distancing will showcase your preparedness. Communicate this online via RFP resources and all on and offline collateral.
      9. What is the best way to let people know that our hotel is still open? 
        • This question depends on what segments you are trying to impact. If you are talking about transient, keeping your distribution channels open is your best option. Branded hotels can’t typically do email campaigns to transient customers, so your best bet is keeping your inventory open. However, if you have meeting planning contacts for your hotel you can reach out to planners to let them know you are open. However, don’t try to sell, keep the communication casual and FYI.
      10. What’s the best way to communicate that we are open and our policies in bulk to our third arty meeting planners (i.e. ConferenceDirect, HelmsBriscoe, etc.)? 
        • For now, I would stick with email which allows them to respond as they have time. However, be respectful of their time and have a measured cadence and a reason to reach out beyond selling.
      11. Once there is a vaccine for COVID-19 do you think we could go back to 3 per 6 for classroom tables?
        • Eventually, that will likely happen, one good thing about our industry is we tend to have a short-term memory. However, I wouldn’t look for it immediately. There will still be some trepidation.
      12. Do you think if hotels had tele-presence function rooms / event space available to allow better/efficient streaming of events and meetings – would this be something that planners would want? 
        • Being able to facilitate this and successfully pull it off will be a huge selling factor. However, you need to make sure you have the bandwidth to support, the staff to manage, and the expertise to manage the process. Doing it badly is as bad as not doing it at all.
      13. Do you see more meetings going virtual moving forward? 
        • For a bit, I think it will be a novelty to tick a box. However, as a people, we enjoy meeting. It’s ultimately how we move forward. So, it’s a good thing to have in your pocket but keep in mind the further we get from the pandemic, the less it will likely be needed.
      14. From the point of the client, what are they expecting in the way of meeting room pricing, since more meeting space would be needed, due to social distancing? At the hotel level, we are accustomed to charging a F&B Minimum or Rental. Since more space will be needed, hotels may need to have both a minimum and charge rental now. What are your thoughts about this? Have you seen any meeting room pricing changes at this time? 
        • There won’t be a one-size fits all approach here. This will need to be measured against the profit needs of the hotel. Ultimately, however, it will be what the market will bear. Hotels will likely need to have multiple scenarios. Hopefully, what will come is a better optimization of meeting space in general. I see this as an emerging cost to Groups. The question is, can our already depleted associations afford to pay it? To me, this is one of the largest issues into the very near future.
      15. As a hotelier, how do you politely ask or tell clients to be flexible with their setups going forward? They may not be able to do the same sets they’ve had in the past.
        • This is part of the ‘be a good partner’ concept. You are the expert on your hotel. If they are asking for a set that won’t work, it is incumbent on you to explain the why and how. It’s not our jobs to tell, it’s our job to explain why.
      16. Out of the 60 meetings that Kristin had to cancel, approximately how many groups rebooked to Q3 or Q4 in 2020? How many rebooked to 2021? And approximately how many just flat out cancelled and did not rebook? 
        • Roughly 10 rebooked (more to come), of those, most went into 2021 and 2022, only 2 remained in 2020. Fifty were full out Force Majeure, with no cancellation fees paid out by my customers.