In what now feels like a distant time, when business travelers were jet-setting around the world to attend meetings and events, some would tack on a couple of extra days to explore and enjoy the destination – a phenomenon that (for better or worse) has been dubbed “bleisure travel." I’ve taken a few bleisure trips in my career, and last month while reminiscing about some of the more memorable ones, I felt like packing my bags and getting away. Unfortunately, the travel restrictions in place due to the pandemic meant I had to opt for the next best option – a “staycation” (which, for the uninitiated, means taking a vacation in the city where you live).
With much excitement, I booked a one-night stay at the luxurious Shangri-La hotel housed in The Shard, one of London’s most iconic buildings. The idea was to give my family something extraordinary to remember for years to come. At the same time, I would have the chance to survey the hotel’s meeting and event facilities. I guess you could say it was a bleisure trip in reverse – primarily a holiday, but with a little work sprinkled in.
Without hesitation, I can say the stay was terrific. From the welcome at reception, to the magnificent rooms, and everyone knowing the kids’ names, the attention to detail was impeccable. We dined at the Ting Restaurant, in a socially-distance and hyper-hygienic setting, as we enjoyed breath-taking views over the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and rest of this beautiful city. But if you were to ask my kids, they would undoubtedly tell you that the highlight of the entire experience was swimming in the pool on the 52nd floor!
While the wife and kids were busy having their second swim of the day, I took the opportunity to catch up with Joe Broughton, Senior Event Sales Manager at Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, who gave me a tour of the property and showed me how they are adapting and evolving to host meetings in a post-covid world.
It was a fantastic experience that gave me a first-hand look at how the hotel industry is preparing for travel and meetings & events post-covid.
A socially distanced hybrid event set-up (Photo: Ian Cummings)
Cleanliness has long been a key part of hotels' value proposition, but now many hoteliers have launched new initiatives to step up their hygiene standards as health and safety has far and away become the top priority. Measures such as regularly disinfecting common areas like meeting rooms and elevators, placing hand sanitizers across the property, and requiring guests to maintain social distancing and/or wear masks now appear to be par for the course.
Some hotels are also enhancing their technical capabilities, in anticipation of a greater number of hybrid events moving forward. The Shangri-La at The Shard, for example, can have a TV studio-type set up so that organizers can broadcast an event taking place at the property to the attendees joining virtually. As the events industry emerges from the pandemic, its likely more local and hybrid events will be the first to resume, and we have seen many hotels adapting to provide TV studio type setups.
And finally, we can expect to see hotels being a lot more adaptable in how they allocate space – for example, giving organizers exclusive use of certain sections of the property in order to limit contact with attendees from other groups. During our tour, Joe showed me how they are turning rooms into private lunch or dining experiences for six or eight people, or for a board meeting.
While there can obviously be no compromises made when it comes to health and safety, there are ways to work these considerations into event flows and ensure that we can still be creative and fun with the way we meet. My colleague Michelle Sargent, who leads our M&E team in Australia, was telling me about a hotel that assembled a “gin trolley” of hand sanitizers produced by various local distilleries, and their “Sanitizer Sommelier” wheeled it around the conference room allowing attendees to pick their choice of sanitizer.
Personally, I’m really looking forward to a time when we can meet face-to-face again. We now see some governments ease meeting restrictions, especially in the UK where indoor events of up to 1000 people are allowed. My experience at the Shangri-La makes me feel confident that as in-person meetings resume, we will be able to do so in a manner that is both safe and engaging. In the meantime, we’ll be here to help you create exciting and memorable events that deliver a strong ROI even in today’s “virtual” reality.