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Navigating the new normal: How Interstate is helping people get together again in the post-Covid era

Navigating the new normal: How Interstate is helping people get together again in the post-Covid era

October 14, 2021 | Community, News, Openings, Our Team, Signings

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The Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly changed the way we do business. The meetings and events industry took an enormous hit almost overnight and, for the last 18 months or so, we’ve all had to become accustomed to networking and meeting with clients and colleague online, rather than face-to-face.

Here, Carol Dodds – senior vice president – commercial at Interstate Hotels & Resorts, takes a look at how Interstate is navigating the post-Covid world of meetings and events:

As restrictions gradually ease around the globe, the meetings and events (M&E) sector has found itself seeing something of a resurgence.

Here at Interstate, we’ve seen a substantial increase in new enquires, with one channel alone (Venue Directory) seeing an increase of more than 377% in inbound M&E enquiries, from January to July 2021.

This is encouraging to see after more than a year of little to no activity within the sector.

Covid-19 put a firm halt to face-to-face meetings in a matter of days and the continued uncertainty of changing guidance and multiple lockdowns meant many businesses just didn’t feel confident booking space.

However, the positive trends we are seeing in enquiries also come with a challenge: What do meetings and events look like now, in this post-Covid era? And how do we ensure our people – many of whom have been away from the M&E sector for more than 12 months – have the skills they need to deliver a quality customer experience against this new and unchartered backdrop? These are all topics we explored at our Meetings Centre of Excellence conference, which took place at the Eastside Rooms in Birmingham this month.

Flexibility is key

If there’s one certainty at present, it’s that different organisations have drastically different wants and needs when it comes to booking meetings and events post-Covid.

Big businesses, such as major banks and high street brand names, are looking for the most stringent Covid-19 measures, with enforced social distancing in place and in many cases, face coverings being worn, too, by both attendees and venue employees.

Whereas smaller companies are keener to book a space and be left to it, only calling on the venue for support as and when they need it.

Whatever the organisation, it’s key that meeting and events venues work closely with their customers to determine their expectations and requirements.

Venues need to ensure they are offering flexibility when it comes to meeting their needs – while also informing the customer of the Covid-19 measures they already have in place as a venue themselves.

We are ensuring this flexibility is in place across our portfolio at Interstate by streamlining the booking process, enabling organisations to either book directly with the venue themselves, or through our M&E teams.

Our clients are given the opportunity to share their requirements with us in advance and can opt for as much or as little contact as they wish, streamlining the booking journey as much as possible and offering ‘express’ routes that enable smaller meeting organisers to book with just one or two clicks.

Equally, we are working with our clients to ensure delegates can attend meetings and events however they wish and, while we’ve not seen the spike in requests for hybrid (online and in person) meetings, there is certainly still an appetite for this.

Our Eastside Rooms property in Birmingham caters for businesses looking for a space to hold hybrid conferences, with a virtual studio providing state-of-the-art broadcasting technology for clients to use, with the assistance of a professional studio team on site.

Healthy focus

The pandemic has also shifted focus onto healthier habits with people more conscious than ever before of their wellbeing.

At Interstate, this is something we’re reflecting in not only our Covid-19 systems and processes, but the food and beverage offering we provide for our M&E clients across our portfolio.

Gone are the days when beige buffets reigned supreme. These days clients want a healthier range of options, with fresh fruit, vegetables and salads on offer, focusing on nourishment – with the occasional sweet treat of course!

Alongside this, all dietary options such as vegan and gluten free need to be catered for, too.

Sustainable thinking

Unfortunately, due to the nature of the Covid-19 pandemic, single-use plastics have made their way back onto the menu across much of the hospitality sector and, as the industry struggled to keep its head above water, the vital work to increase sustainability and reduce the environmental impact of the sector has slipped.

However, as things return to normal, sustainability needs to become a key focus. For Interstate, it’s no different.

Pre-pandemic we had made significant headway in this area, working closely with our owners and brands to introduce initiatives such as banning plastic straws across our portfolio and increasing the amount of recycling our hotels carry out.

We are already seeing sustainability featuring high on M&E clients’ priority lists as enquiries increase and so, in the coming months, we as an industry need to pull together to get back on track in this area.

Keep on evolving

As society continues to find its feet post-Covid 19 and, with uncertainty still on the horizon with winter approaching, it’s crucial that M&E venues continue to offer flexibility wherever possible, and a willingness to keep on evolving.

In this ‘new normal’ it’s about finding solutions that work for everyone, prioritising health and wellbeing as well as ensuring delegates – from near or far – can either get together in person or dial into a meeting or event quickly and easily.

We’re continuing to invest in this area at Interstate, upskilling our teams through events such as our Meetings Centre of Excellence conference, where we explored topics such as marketing and winning new business, so that our people are well equipped to work in the sector as it stands today, finding new ways to cater for our clients, whatever their M&E requirements are.