It's one thing to read about a venue's safety protocols and imagine how they'll fit into your event's vision. It's quite another to actually walk into a built-out space and see the socially distanced seating arrangements, safe food and beverage setups, and hybrid technology for yourself.
With that in mind, hotel brand Marriott International has been hosting a series of Hybrid Event Learning Labs (90-minute immersive sessions designed to educate planners on how to plan and execute a hybrid meeting) at locations around the country. At the pop-up events, attendees can step inside a fully designed hybrid meeting space, where they’re guided through 15 different stations including an on-site rapid COVID-19 testing center, the temperature screening process, socially distanced general session and breakout room set-ups, redesigned food and beverage areas, virtual streaming capabilities and more. In each area, attendees meet with experts who walk them through the brand’s protocols in detail and answer questions.
“We executed several hybrid events last year and in early 2021, but customers were still reluctant to travel or their employers had policies in place that prevented them from attending in-person meetings,” explains Tammy Routh, senior vice president of global sales at Marriott International. “Our goal was to have customers experience our new meeting protocols in person—so rather than wait for customers to come to us, we decided to go to them.”
The brand chose key cities throughout the United States; since February, the events have popped up at Marriott hotels in Denver, Chicago, Houston, Atlanta, Dallas, Boston and more; future events will take place in New York, Philadelphia and eventually, globally. Over 3,000 meeting professionals have attended so far.
From conversations during the labs, Routh says, she’s learned that clients are eager to get back to business travel and events. “At the core of business travel and meetings is building relationships and engagement,” she notes. “For this, nothing replaces face-to-face. For those meetings that will be hybrid, we look forward to continuing to help our customers drive the maximum attendance for the face-to-face component while partnering to make those who can only attend virtually have a wonderful experience as well.”
Routh is also conscious that many meeting professionals have never organized a hybrid meeting, and others are reluctant to do so—and she hopes these Marriott events can help. “There are so many new things to consider, including the fact that hybrid is generally more expensive and time-consuming to execute,” she says. “With that said, there are obviously upsides to having a virtual component for those who cannot travel to the face-to-face meeting.”
Routh hopes that the Marriott Hybrid Event Learning Labs can help not only illustrate and educate on the principles of Marriott’s Commitment to Clean and Connect With Confidence meeting and event protocols, but also encourage a return to in-person meetings by providing content, resources and education. “We are ready to partner and support our customers in this journey to bring back face-to-face meetings,” she says.