In light of current travel standards and expectations brought on by the global pandemic, we must embrace enhanced cleanliness and physical distancing requirements to do our part in stopping the spread of COVID-19. Many industries have pivoted and adapted to new ways of working. The professional sports industry, in particular, has been successful with professional basketball, hockey and soccer teams playing in restricted and carefully regulated “bubbles.”
As meetings professionals strategize to deliver on a new set of requests from clients, ensure company due diligence and abide by hotel and site protocols, one consideration is creating your own “bubble” through a hotel buyout.
Benefits of a Hotel Buyout
A hotel buyout can provide a number of benefits including security, personalization and attention to detail. In a normal environment, health security is always a priority. However, in today’s climate, controlling who enters and leaves the hotel or site is an important advantage of a hotel buyout. The planning organization may also have the ability to monitor and request touch points as needed, and depending on the facility and staff structure the organization may also be able to request the same hotel or site team members to work on all facets of the event.
Questions to Consider for a Hotel Buyout
Here are some key areas and questions to consider for your next event:
- Are hotels open to a buyout of the entire property or portions of it? If so, does the hotel have flexible cancellation policies? Defining these parameters ahead of time can alleviate any headaches in case of uncertain circumstances.
- What does property buyout mean to all parties? Some hotels or sites may not traditionally facilitate hotel buyouts but are willing to accommodate it in this new environment. Ensure everyone is on the same page as to the definition of a “buyout” so your clients aren’t surprised by possible transient guests upon arrival.
- Can the hotel displace existing groups and reservations to accommodate a buyout? Displacements are often calculated and involve leaders including the General Manager, Revenue Director, Operations Director and Sales in this decision process. Sometimes ownership can be involved in this process as well, especially if the hotel is currently closed. If they plan to displace existing groups or reservations, make sure to discuss the guarantees your own group has regarding displacement.
- Does the hotel have the capability to add appropriate staff? This can also provide the opportunity to request staff continuity for the entire meeting or event.
- Can the hotel offer rooms dedicated to isolation and, if so, what plans are in place? Many hotels have dedicated and thorough COVID-19 protocols for cleanliness. With a buyout, hotels may be willing to work more closely with you to satisfy any additional needs you may have.
- Do they offer any kind of concierge service that could help those in quarantine secure items (pharmacy, etc.) so they wouldn't have to leave the hotel? Most hotels have a statement of purpose for guests with COVID-19, but this is a specific region-by-region issue to ask about during your initial consultation.
- Does the hotel have its own culinary team? If not, what access could be given for dedicated food and beverage facilities? Hotels that have the appropriate food and beverage outlets should be able to curate whatever needs you may have. If not, it is important to determine the security around bringing in an outside party or if another location with F&B outlets would be a better fit.
Behind the Scenes – Delivering the Bubble
Hotels are continuing to evaluate opportunities on a lead-by-lead basis to determine if a full buyout of an entire property, or even portions of the hotel, is possible. Logistically, there are a number of moving parts, so when a request comes in, the hotel must weigh a variety of factors to ensure it can fully satisfy the client’s needs. These include:
- If a hotel is currently closed, how fast are they able to open and staff accordingly?
- Facilities not managed by the hotel, such as restaurant outlets, spas and gyms, may need to be negotiated for a separate fee.
- Can the hotel meet client expectations for room cleaning service, F&B and parking? For example, does grab-and-go breakfast satisfy client needs? Are room service or self-parking options needed, and can the hotel deliver on those requests?
- The hotel must prepare not only for the event itself, but also for any client site visits or scouting trips. Proper health and security protocols need to be in place for all interactions in both front and back of house spaces.
Work with hotels to understand their capacity and capabilities to find the best fit within a specific market. Depending on the hotel you are working with, it is always best to loop in your global sales team as they are your best advocate, especially if the negotiations involve ownership.
Examples of Successful Bubble Buyouts
- Production Crews – some production companies have opted to buy out hotels so that crews can safely quarantine and work together to film television shows or movies.
- Incentive Trips – some companies have planned incentive trips for their colleagues by creating a bubble for the entire awards team within the resort and they are the only individuals on property.
- Weddings – while many couples choose to downsize their guest lists, some of IHG’s Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants have had a property buyout, from couples, to cater their special day with all the guests staying onsite the entire weekend.
Know Your Value
When selecting services for your meeting, it is easy to think only as a buyer, but do not forget you are also selling yourself as a potential client. Before you can move into the specifics of negotiating, you should sell yourself as a desirable customer. Do not forget that even in a seller’s market – even in a pandemic – hotels count on groups and meetings business. Be prepared to give estimates of the amount your group will spend. Offer a picture of prior spending by bringing the numbers from previous events. This is valuable not only with hotels, but with airlines and venues as well.
Key Account Director – Banking & Financial
Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG)
FICP Education Committee