It is possible to host meetings in a responsible, sophisticated, cost-effective and enjoyable way. Marriott International proved it this month by hosting “Connect with Confidence,” a hybrid virtual and in-person event as the first part of a global series. Some 30 customers attended in person at The Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner in Virginia and 238 virtual attendees streamed in to see what a meeting looks like today.
“It feels great to be meeting in person,” said Tammy Routh, senior vice president of global sales with Marriott International. “The greatest challenge and opportunity we have is to adapt our world-class meeting and event offerings to the unique concerns of our current time.”
Routh sees three trends meeting professionals are demanding in 2020: a focus on safety and cleanliness, flexibility and technology. “Groups are placing an emphasis of importance on these three key areas and we are working together with our planners to offer more choices for meeting attendees—in person and hybrid meetings, self-park and valet parking options, grab and go F&B and served meals, selecting a specific meeting seat, choosing how many people to sit with at a meal—hotels are customizing every aspect of this new meeting experience.”
The brand’s Commitment to Clean meeting and event protocols built on the cleanliness and service standards that have always been a company hallmarks. “They are more important now than ever,” Routh said. Changes include enhanced sanitation guidelines, new operational training for associates, and increased use of technology to ensure that customers are able to come together and connect with confidence.
The Power of Autonomy
The event, which was moderated by Doreen Burse, vice president of Marriott Global Sales, U.S. and Canada, demonstrated COVID-era F&B, room set-ups, technology and operations. Speakers included Stephanie Linnartz, group president of consumer operations, technology and emerging businesses; David Marriott, president, U.S. full service, managed by Marriott; Julius Robinson, chief sales and marketing officer for the U.S. & Canada; and Dana Pellicano, vice president of food and beverage.
The star of the show, however, was the power of choice. During digital registration attendees could pre-select their “Sanctuary Seats” just as you would a seat on an airplane. Individually packaged amenities included a face shield, mask, hand sanitizer and color-coated bracelets to showcase each attendee’s level of comfort i.e. red for “please keep your distance;” yellow for “respect my space;” and green for “elbow bumps welcome.”
For those who chose to attend virtually, pre-recorded content enhanced the hybrid experience, including infographics outlining pre-event, event day and post-event protocols. Real-time interactive discussion and polling questions, multiple camera views for virtual attendees, virtual games with rewards and a Q&A sessions for both virtual and in-person attendees brought the two audiences together. Polling revealed that a quarter of attendees planned to host their own hybrid meeting in the next three months so the exercise was not just theoretical.
The opportunity for autonomy also reached the table. Creative lunch solutions, including coffee action stations, acai bowls and courses served in elegant three-tiered serving dishes elevated the experience. in-person attendees to dine solo, or with one, two or three others at their table put attendees in the driver’s seat. A food delivery credit for virtual attendees let everyone join in. Those there in person entered and exited in waves to minimize crowds.
“We continue to be committed to collaborating with our valued customers as we navigate this new frontier for meetings and events to ensure they have the necessary tools to confidently connect,” Routh said.