Laura Hartmann, CPCE, PBC, is co-founder of H&F Redefined, an Orlando-based network that supports individuals on their furlough/lay-off & new business journeys from all over the globe. Prior to her own layoff due to COVID-19, she worked in various positions within the industry across brands such as Marriott, Starwood, Hilton, and Waldorf Astoria as Assistant Director of Events.
An Industry Redefined: Event Day, Your Way
Water station, pads, pens, candies.... hand sanitizer? Meeting planner “specs” are looking a whole lot different these days.
I’m honored to have reentered the workforce after being furloughed and laid off for over a year. I am now spearheading the event management department at the DoubleTree by SeaWorld Orlando convention resort. The enthusiasm that our operations team has to push forward with rebuilding and preparing the property to welcome meeting planners and convention attendees back is incredibly contagious. It’s exciting to be a part of the momentum.
However, I have officially found myself chasing a moving target known as “post-pandemic standards and protocols.” Trying to determine which version of the meeting space capacity chart to send to a client is an everyday head scratcher, right there with keeping up with the mask policy for when and where they need to be worn. Every group and every client has their own level of sensitivity, as well as their own timelines they are working around to get back into live events.
It’s important for planners to know that there is truly thoughtful discussion around this every day, especially among our operations teams as we prepare for each new or repeat group that are about to arrive at our property for us to host.
Despite all of the realities of the situation, and knowing that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, my team agrees we must flex as needed with the messaging to our meeting planners that we are here to produce their program with an “Event Day, Your Way” mentality.
“Event Day, Your Way” is a mindset that embraces true customization of how we will execute, as we allow our clients the opportunity to take the lead. Depending on the client perspective, we will be prepared to turn to their organizations sensitivity levels for what needs to be done.
It’s an interesting and new conversation to have that could obviously not necessarily be a comfortable one. So with the climate changing, here are a few discussion points that are imperative for a meeting planner client to discuss with their hotel event manager to ensure all parties are set up for success.
1. Be prompt on deadlines
As planning begins with your hotel event manager, it’s more important than ever to get BEOs and resumes out on time so that the operations team can staff appropriately and start placing orders. Unfortunately a variable about the current climate is that staffing hourly line level shifts is a challenge, as many folks are sadly not as motivated to re-enter the workforce, hence leaving thinner teams to execute the dream.
2. Provide Clear Expectations in Specs
Whether it’s an opening blurb in an email, listed within each specs line or added at the end as miscellaneous notes, be sure you are clear on what your organization's pandemic culture is during the planning phase and especially during the detailing phase. Know from the start if you intend on keeping sets distanced, as well as understand the repercussions if anyone decides to create negativity around this. Remember, we don’t have the beefed-up teams like we used to for room set changes.
3. Don’t Forget Your Virtual Attendees
They want to be included, too! Some areas of the program might seem more straightforward on how to include the remote event guests, however, why not also go out of your way to have them share in on the F&B experience your in-house guests are receiving? You can work with your event manager on local pre-packaged snack ideas to mimic and ship your AM/PM breaks concepts to their front door. Or look into hiring a virtual bartender or bring a remote F&B demo on Zoom into everyone’s kitchens or guest rooms one evening.
4. Challenge us to be creative
Yes, we are asking for you to make us think outside the box, because we’ve learned that there are lots of ways to do things differently than before, especially now that we are looking at the world with a new lens.
5. Trust That We Truly DO Want to “Stop Blaming COVID”
We want to take the masks off, and we desperately want to get back to focusing on setting rooms and serving F&B the way we remember. Keep in mind that we will be diligently writing or rewriting most of our SOPs (standard operating procedures) because it is time for a refresh and we seriously can’t stand saying “because of COVID” every few moments.
The age-old relationship between a meeting planner and an event manager will never go away, as we truly survive off of one another's success. As the meeting planner has to evolve to change the course of the next event, hotel event managers must adapt and be prepared to have a flexible and fluid approach as we all break the mold together and embrace “Event Day, Your Way.”