Hybrid hospitality: Hotels bridge online-offline divide

From multi-hub meeting technology to co-working venues, hoteliers are getting creative to engage event planners in new ways.

While chain hotel groups have received high levels of interest for virtual and hybrid meets, "the concept of delivering a global virtual meeting in various locales is still very new," says Hyatt Group.
While chain hotel groups have received high levels of interest for virtual and hybrid meets, "the concept of delivering a global virtual meeting in various locales is still very new," says Hyatt Group. Photo Credit: Grand Hyatt Seoul

As we navigate a new normal, hotels in Asia Pacific are reimagining the concept of venue and space in new ways — whether it be through leveraging virtual meetings technology and creative catering to bring people together from different locations, or repurposing spaces to meet new remote working needs.

“We have been listening to event and meeting planners, professional conference organisers (PCO), and corporate customers throughout the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic — and what we have learned is that we need to reimagine the event and meeting experience with a focus on hygiene and wellbeing, cost-effective and seamless meeting solutions, and flexible cancellation policies,” said Frederick Wong, vice president - revenue, sales & distribution Asia Pacific, Hyatt Hotels Corporation.

Hyatt is brandishing a new HY-brid Meeting offering, which will cater to both on-site and virtual participants. To create a sense of connection between participants, all Hyatt hotels can arrange for lunch or even a cocktail kit to be delivered to off-site delegates.

“Since introducing our HY-brid Meeting concept, we have been receiving increased client enquiries, and as a result more of our hotels are joining our HY-brid Meeting network each day."

Currently, more than 30 Hyatt hotels across Asia Pacific, Europe and the Middle East have joined the network, where global meetings can take place simultaneously across multiple Hyatt venues, at one flat room rate and a flat day delegate rate, with audio-visual fees calculated based on requirements.

Meanwhile, Fairmont Singapore is working with Encore to enable remote solutions for a variety of meeting needs ranging from AGMs to trade shows. Together with Encore, the hotel is integrating the Live Chime web-based platform and event app to provide a one-stop event service.

“The new meeting solutions take into consideration the requirements for social and safe distancing, and cater to the varied needs of our event clients in this new normal," Jessie Lim, Fairmont Singapore’s Director of Events & Conference Services, told M&C Asia.

Even by the time flying restrictions lift down the line, considerations for safety and budget are likely to see virtual events remain a big part of the new normal, hotels agreed.

“Safety will be a key consideration in the ensuing new norm; as well as budget. It will take time for confidence to resume entirely to pre Covid-19 levels. Also, depending on the target audience, virtual meeting solutions could logically be a more cost-effective alternative to offset the foreseeable high costs of flying if international attendees are involved,” Lim said.

“Not only is [the virtual meeting concept] a practical and cost-effective solution in response to current travel restrictions and physical distancing guidelines, it is a sustainable alternative for a more environmentally-mindful future,“ added Wong.

Virtual events: How do hotels measure up?

Still, there is work left to be done before hotels are considered as go-to providers of virtual event solutions.

Fairmont has seen high levels of interest, but still does not have a pipeline of confirmed virtual events, although it has done some live streaming and filming for clients.

HY-brid Event in Hyatt Regency Sydney Afternoon Tea dessert screens
Dessert screens installed for an afternoon tea break at a HY-brid Event in Hyatt Regency Sydney.

Hyatt likewise has yet to host a virtual event in Singapore. It did, however, host its first large-scale HYbrid event in Sydney recently. During AHICE (Australasian Hotel Industry Conference & Exhibition), 150 delegates were in attendance at Hyatt Regency Sydney, while 200 delegates attended virtually.

“The concept of making a professionally-organised global virtual meeting happen in various locales is still very new,” Wong remarked.

One of the challenges planners face when it comes to selecting a virtual event vendor/platform is the lack of a clear benchmark for price and product in what seems to be a fragmented and emerging market.

An event planner who declined to be named pointed out that the process has been confusing in the absence of a “market rate”, with different vendors quoting anywhere from S$1,800 to S$40,000 for the same event requirements.

There is now a myriad of platform and SaaS providers competing for market share in the increasing lucrative world of virtual events. These platforms cater to a range of different event types and scales. Companies also have the option of holding certain small- to mid-scale meetings and events using readily-available conferencing tools and software.

What would swing some event planners in favour of hotels is real-time, in-person tech support and AV quality in streams. “I have encountered technical problems with merged streams and multiple speakers, and poor picture and sound quality," another event planner told M&C Asia.

"Some platforms include online tech support, but I would pay a premium for an on-site technician as this really helps with confidence that things will run smoothly.”

This, is something that Wong says the Hyatt Group is already providing.

“With all HY-brid Meetings, Encore [Hyatt’s long-time AV partner] arranges for their team to be on-site at multiple Hyatt hotel locations to help manage the technology to ensure a seamless experience,” he said.

Room for improvement

And as hotels sharpen their tools to bring more hybrid meetings to their door, many are also reimagining space in other ways.

The co-working trend has been around for a while. But today, this is expanding beyond the domains of WeWork, lyf and the like, and potentially helping drive use of hotel meeting rooms.

Hotels across Singapore are repurposing spaces like lounges, all-day-dining restaurants, and most commonly guest rooms, to accommodate remote workers.

The Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel last month transformed its buffet restaurant, Food Capital, into a co-working space. The space is now used solely for this purpose.

“The pandemic gave us a chance to think out of the box and innovate our offerings. With no tourists checking into the hotel, the co-working spaces created a new revenue stream. We intend to continue this for as long as there is demand,” said Lee Richards, vice president of operations, South East Asia, Millennium Hotels and Resorts.

Richards shared that the response for co-working packages has been “extremely encouraging”, with the hotel selling 50 monthly packages in just three days.

“A co-working environment lets you surround yourself with professionals from different industries. Having professionals in one space means networking opportunities are endless. I believe in time to come, it will drive the use of meeting rooms as well.”

Other hotels that have opened up shared spaces and meeting rooms to remote workers include Furama Riverfront, which offers daily or monthly passes that include complimentary one-hour use of meeting rooms.