There’s No One-Size-Fits-All Approach to Conference Safety

By Erik Waldman    

It’s hardly a secret that COVID-19 has delivered a ferocious blow to the hotel industry, especially when it comes to conferences. From team members to guests, health, safety and efficiency are top priorities for hotel conference operators as they prepare to reopen, but knowing where to start can be tough. Who should be at the table? What does a seamless reopening plan look like?

Facility managers, owners and operators have a lot to gain by engaging an architect and combining their collective knowledge and tools to create a detailed and thoughtful reopening strategy. By leveraging your experience with crowd management alongside the drafting technology that designers use, you can generate compelling queuing diagrams that will help communicate the recommended six feet of distance between guests.

These COVID-19 conference reopening teams can take their plans and turn them into visually appealing diagrams to help promote expectations, and can be used in your presentations to stakeholders or even to promote expected behavior of guests coming into the venue. Diagrams of your conference space can be blown up and posted even further in high-traffic areas. As the conversation on reopening our meeting spaces evolves, one thing is clear: having a proactive communications plan in place is critical, especially when it comes to visually conveying new safety protocols.

The suggestions below are based on operating at a reduced capacity. All venues are unique, and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to instilling confidence in all your stakeholders that the appropriate steps to reopen are being taken.

Check-In and Prefunction Space
The entry and prefunction experience into a conference space sets the expectation for the guest. To keep guests at the desired six feet of distance, floor decals are used to let guests know where they can stand. Setting a designated time window of arrival for the conference attendee can also help with the flow of traffic. Guests are able to select a 15-minute window to check in and find a seat at the conference to avoid crowding the prefunction area.

Rather than hotel- or conference-provided meals, opting for a grab-and-go concept will help ensure that all food is prepackaged and placed on the counter for guests to take. Payment is stationed at the end of the line before guests are directed to exit around the queue. All condiments will be distributed from behind the counter or as part of the prepackaged offerings.

Consider how and where guests will eat after picking up their boxed lunch or covered plate of food, and that there is ample space for guests to maintain a safe distance from others. Assuming the next generation of conferences and events will be operating at a reduced capacity, multiple spaces within a hotel, including the lobby, breakfast area, bar area and outdoor courtyard, can easily transform into designated dining zones during breaks.

Premium Experience
For after-hours or VIP experiences, a buffet-style queuing system for premium guest events can help elevate the feel of a modified event. Taking into account the spread of germs, the food services team can plate all meals from behind the counter at the guest’s request. Once the meal has been plated, the food services team will cap the plate before delivering to the guest.

Vertical/Concourse Circulation
When maneuvering through the event space, it will be important to establish lanes to prevent people from bumping into one another. With vertical circulation, we took into account that the escalators will be in the up position for ingress and down for egress. They would be loaded keeping guests six feet apart. It is also recommended that elevators give priority to guests with disabilities. Once inside a cab, floor markings will help define where guests may stand. The flow direction of stairs should also be clearly defined.

Guests tend to congregate around restrooms during conference breaks. Similar to the other areas of the hotel or convention center, use decals to help keep physical distance between guests.

These tips can help tie together your months of planning for easy communications, but be sure to engage an architect to evolve your plan into a striking visual that is clear and thorough. A personalized reopening plan for hotel meeting and event spaces will not only instill confidence in stakeholders as they start to return, but support your team as you continue working hard to get it right and stay safe.

Erik Waldman is VP of venue services for tvsdesign. He has more than 20 years of experience overseeing guest services, operations and events at some of the country’s top public assembly facilities.

This is a contributed piece to Hotel Business, authored by an industry professional. The thoughts expressed are the perspective of the bylined individual.

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