Karla Pearce, senior marketing manager at Cvent, highlights what boutique hotels need to know to deliver and support hybrid events, including best practices independent venues can learn from bigger brands.
As recovery continues across Europe and restrictions start to lift, in-person events are top of mind. So, why are event planners still focused on offering virtual and hybrid events when cities and regions are starting to reopen? For one, restrictions are not guaranteed to be lifted if recovery starts to go in the wrong direction as we’ve seen happen, and regulations such as event size limits will likely still remain in place for the next several months.
Second, as events return, some attendees will be keen on the idea of connecting with their peers in-person, while others will be less so – which is where hybrid events can be extremely helpful in accommodating attendees’ needs – key for maximising the potential and satisfaction of the event. In fact, in Cvent’s 2020 Planner Sentiment and Souring Report: Europe Edition over three quarters (76 per cent) of surveyed planners stated they would consider hosting hybrid events in 2021.
So, if we look long-term, even beyond the pandemic, we believe that virtual and hybrid meetings will play an important role in MICE programmes in 2021 and beyond.
“When you consider the purpose of an event, to get the message out, the scope of virtual and hybrid meetings is much greater for extending the reach of your message and in this sense, hybrid is positive and unbeatable,” said Diane Pentaleri-Otto, director of international sales from the four-star Estrel Berlin.
The venue and venue selection process has always been top of mind for event planners. But for a hybrid model where engaging a virtual audience is essential to event success, the venue can play an even more crucial role. So, let’s take a look at what boutique hotels need to consider and the ways they can expand their offerings to include helpful resources, tools and technology to attract and support virtual and hybrid events.
Meeting space planning
Social distancing requirements mean that spaces must be configured to meet current safety guidelines. Since these guidelines are constantly changing, it’s critical that sales teams understand how their meeting space can be used in this new normal and are familiar with capacity limits and different layout options. On top of this, a hybrid event requires extra space for cameras and other AV requirement necessary for the production of virtual content.
Utilising event diagramming tools
Technology that shows realistic 3D diagrams of event space can be used by hotels to offer virtual tours, giving planners a chance to experience and interact with the space digitally – without ever having to leave their home or office. Using online event diagramming tools also allows you to collaborate with planners in real time and map out how their event vision can come to life. Both hotel teams and planners benefit from the technology as accurately mapping out the various event spaces can determine optimal layout options which factor in equipment needs while also compensating for any requested or required safety measures.
“We have a large amount of meeting space and utilise 3D diagramming and floor maps to show what fits and what doesn’t fit in the space, walking routes, social distancing and other safety points. Event diagramming also helps to boost planner confidence as they can see the various meeting room setup options with social distancing in place. I think smaller hotels would find event diagramming tools even more beneficial to make optimal use of their space which is usually rather more intimate in scale,” said Lex Visser, director of sales and marketing from Mövenpick Hotel Amsterdam City Centre.
Offering studio solutions
With the expected demand for hybrid meetings to grow, an increasing number of hotels and venues have invested in creating specific studio spaces to offer clients the option of hosting high-quality virtual and hybrid events.
“Many hotels have set up studios to bring a level of professionalism to online content. These studios are equipped with very powerful communication technology. Although we have pre-existing in-house tech competency, which made our transition into virtual and hybrid events easier, for our studio solution we partnered with local tech experts who have specialised broadcasting knowledge. Investing in a studio or teaming up with an expert could be beneficial for boutique hotels (particularly with minimal event spaces) to offer the service and create an additional revenue stream,” added Pentaleri-Otto.
Planner expectations and supporting hybrid events
In this new environment, event planners expect more from venues. In the 2020 Planner Sentiment Report, over two-thirds of planners stated that they looked to venues to provide support for connectivity, AV equipment, room design, and overall hybrid event guidance. Many hotels have examined their event spaces, AV equipment, preferred suppliers, and more and taken steps to adapt them to suit the unique needs of virtual and hybrid events.
“Before the pandemic virtual and hybrid events weren’t an area of focus for us, but the situation made us look at how we could attract more business as there was an increasing appetite for virtual and hybrid events and we could see a future in virtual meetings. Our first step was to create an open day to understand the most important requirements for virtual events with employees and our chosen event technology partners (who have extensive experience in delivering hybrid events) so that our team could confidently discuss with planners how we could host their virtual event,” said Clara Ferreira, associate groups sales director at Dom Pedro Hotels & Golf Collection.
For example, a high-quality video camera and exceptional WiFi is no longer optional. Venues need to be equipped with enough bandwidth and speed to cater to the advanced digital needs of virtual and hybrid experiences. It is essential that hoteliers ensure that they have the digital infrastructure in place, and importantly with the emergence of 5G, should consider if the investments they make now will still be relevant when 5G becomes more widespread. To give themselves a competitive edge, boutique hotels should consider partnering with AV and tech experts, in addition to training their sales and event teams in the unique needs of hybrid and virtual events.
“We have conducted training within the team to support hybrid events, starting from the very beginning in terms of what a virtual/hybrid event looks like as there are many types and different platforms. Fundamentally it’s all about what the client wants to achieve and the ways in which we can keep the quality of their meetings and make this happen in the hybrid world. Our in-house IT professional was critical to event success as they ensured we would have dedicated internet lines for robust connectivity throughout virtual and hybrid events,” added Visser.
With the right tech and AV partner, you can conduct an audit of your infrastructure and uncover how your hotel can cater to virtual and hybrid events. Once you know what you can offer, it’s critical to communicate the details of your initiatives and technology capabilities through your marketing efforts, regularly sharing messaging that puts your virtual and hybrid event expertise at the forefront.
“The responsibility of the planner and the responsibility of the hotel/venue hasn’t changed much compared to a normal event. When it comes to safety we ensure we are following the correct guidelines and we work with clients to let them know what needs to be done by law as well as our internal processes. If our client is working with an external contractor we also provide them with the information. In the run-up to the event we have similar conversations that we would have had pre-pandemic, but perhaps with more emphasises on safety to ensure guidelines are followed and implemented,” Visser continued.
This too can be done with a digital-first approach through simple marketing tactics, among them:
• Developing client testimonials. Capture guest interviews that speak to their satisfaction with your safety protocols, technology support, and event delivery, providing insight to future guests and planners about what they can expect
• Building a meetings and events microsite. Highlight your key safety messaging, technology expertise, and other amenities that set your property apart, and tell this story directly to planners through a dedicated microsite that makes your group offerings clear
• Using social media. Showcase what a successful meeting or event looks like, assuring planners about your ability to execute. By posting on your social media channels, you will be reinforcing the message that outstanding experiences (with health and safety at their core) are a priority for your venue
Hotels that promote their ability to deliver incredible virtual and hybrid events, while keeping attendee health and safety top of mind, will likely be well on their way to attracting more group business in the months and years ahead.