2020 has seen association events cancelled left, right, and centre due to physical distancing protocols. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, social gatherings now restricted to small groups. Hotels, convention centres, and other venues are enacting new health and safety guidelines.

In August, I hosted an online brainstorming session with several event and industry leaders of Manitoba. This brainstorming session welcomed guest panellists from Marriott International. Laura Pallotta, Regional Vice President, Sales and Distribution, Canada and Susan Saganski, Account Executive, Global Sales Organization joined us. We spoke on their company’s handling of event planning amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Marriott International

The hospitality industry has recognized Marriott as a leader for 93 years. They are known for their commitment to quality, their exacting standards, and their rigorous training procedures. Even so, they have faced great challenges throughout the pandemic—as have we all. According to Laura Pallotta, Marriott has implemented many changes throughout hotels and venues to ensure a comfortable and clean customer experience.

“The whole point of this is creating the confidence that people can travel again and have productive meetings again,” Laura said. “We are certainly cognizant of sentiment and where we are at in this crisis. We have all seen numbers and case counts change. With all of that said, we do know that people want to travel and so we need to make sure that our hotels are ready, and we are.”

Laura reported that Marriott has also partnered with Ecolab to update their health standards and cleanliness protocols. “We’ve had a relationship with Ecolab for 40 years, and we wanted to make sure that we partnered with the very best and understood the customers in our industry,” she said. Cleaning staff have moved to hospital grade disinfectants for use on all surfaces. All Marriott staff wear masks in both front and back of house. Marriott is creating an environment that encourages social distancing, and making use of various digital solutions.

“With regards to meeting setup and how we are handling the registration process, we are bringing together all of our digital capabilities—like our meeting services app, QR codes, digital menus, and trying to be as contactless as possible,” Laura explained.

Connect With Confidence

Susan Saganski shared details about Marriott’s “Connect with Confidence” initiative, which outlines the meeting and event protocols for their hotels around the world based on five key pillars:

  1. Commitment to Clean: enhancing cleaning protocols throughout hotels, public areas, guest rooms, and meeting spaces.
  2. Contact Light Experience: leveraging technology to give attendees the choice on how to interact with hotel associates.
  3. Hybrid Meetings: providing options for technology and AV with partners, enabling meeting planners to create custom solutions and designs to best suit their needs.
  4. Physical Distancing: reimagining spaces to enable more distance in accordance with best practices and the local guidelines of the cities.
  5. Redesigning Food and Beverage: Offering a wide selection of Food and Beverage options which include prepackaged, grab-and-go, and plated service.

Susan informed meeting attendees that almost all of Marriott’s protocols are being redesigned and reimagined to fit in with the current state of the world. “We can’t go back to the way it was,” she said. “We’re moving into a place where both partners have to work together to come up with something where everyone is confident in hosting these meetings. We are doing a lot of work to make sure that people feel comfortable coming back to meetings. We realize that with local regulations we will need to get creative in how we service those meetings and how we will work with our customers to make sure that it’s a success on both sides.”

Working Together to Find Solutions

Laura added in regard food and beverage that Marriott is working to redesign the entire experience in the age of COVID-19. This redesign will be in line with service and food safety standards, while offering choices that are palatable to everyone. “We are adjusting all our catering menus now so we have can offer a wide range of selections,” she said. Laura also explained that Marriott will be offering pre-packaged meals. Marriott is also taking note of how the restaurant industry is handling plate service and following suit.

In terms of contracts, Susan shared that Marriott’s customers are requesting more conditional clauses. These clauses will subsequently account for the uncertainties of next year. Marriott is working with their legal team to achieve more flexibilities and ensure that both contract parties are satisfied.

“The basic theme is that we need to share the risk and work together,” Susan said. “It’s important in the short term that the conversations we are having with our hotels result in finding ways that we can work together and make sure that everyone walks away with a plan and a successful outcome.”

Where Will the Events Industry Go From Here?

Marriott’s work amidst the COVID-19 pandemic shows that they are still an industry leader. They continually set a positive example for hotels and event venues around the world.

“As a global company, we have had the opportunity to look at other parts of the world that are in different stages in this health crisis, and we are taking key learnings from all those other parties,” Laura explained further. “Cleanliness and service have always been our hallmarks at Marriott. We want to provide the very best service, accommodations, and meeting experiences. We must be cognizant of the unique safety concerns and have solutions for you to continue to instill that confidence.”

Although our world is rapidly changing and there is no easy solution, we must continue to forge forward. Above all, we must work together to overcome the challenges set before us. Global leaders such as Marriott will make it possible for associations to once again host in-person meetings and events.