It's a situation virtually any meeting planner could encounter: You work hard to find the ideal hotel for your meeting, only to find that it will be making renovations during your group's stay. What do you do? Panic? Start the entire search process all over again?
Don't be alarmed. The truth is that hotel renovations probably don't have to mean major changes to your plans. Your meeting can still run like clockwork if you take the following considerations into account.
All Renovations Are Not Alike
There are many kinds of hotel renovations. If the hotel you've chosen will be undergoing what the industry calls a "soft-goods renovation," that means they will be changing items such as carpeting, draperies, and upholstery. This will cause virtually no excessive noise or disruption.
Similarly, renovations only to the hotel's guest rooms can be contained on certain floors of the hotel. Again, there's little chance you will even notice the renovations. And if renovations are planned for the hotel's common areas or meeting rooms, just be sure to discuss with the management team specifics about what plans they have to ensure they minimize noise and other disruptions. Chances are good they will have a plan in place.
Trust in Communication
Any reputable hotel will have a large stake in being open and honest with you. Meetings and conventions are the lifeblood of many hotels, and the last thing management wants is to disappoint a customer who may be a prospect for future repeat business. The hotel should be able to clearly and precisely convey the scope of the renovations and any effect they may have on your meeting.
Be sure to ask plenty of questions. The better the hotel, the more transparent and forthcoming its management will be. Ask how the hotel will keep you and its other customers updated on the renovations. Typically, website updates, newsletters, and personal communication will keep you informed. Remember, the hotel has a reputation to protect, especially if it represents a major national or international brand. Hotel managers want -- and need -- to build trust.
Check Out the Hotel's Backup Plans
When renovations are being made to common areas such as lobbies, restaurants, fitness centers, or meeting rooms, ask the managers how these facilities will be replaced during the renovation. For instance, it's relatively easy for a hotel to move exercise equipment to another area while the fitness center is undergoing work.
Hotels are typically creative and eager to find alternatives to facilities that are unavailable during renovation. My own hotel recently underwent a year-long, floor-to-ceiling guest room renovation. During the process, we hosted an organization that had a tradition of kicking off its meetings with a pool party. Unfortunately, our rooftop pool was unavailable at the time, so we came up with an alternative. Because the hotel has terraces overlooking a scenic downtown river, we brought in hot tubs and other items for a party with a great river view. Attendees found it to be a refreshing variation on a traditional theme. It's not unusual for other hotels to exhibit a similar kind of innovation and flexibility.
Look for a Better Deal
It's an economic reality that a hotel's rates typically rise after a renovation, especially an expensive one. However, if your meeting coincides with a period of renovation, it's likely that you can lock in pre-renovation rates. This can mean substantial savings for your organization, while also providing access to the new guest room product as rooms become available but at pre-renovation rates. Be sure to ask about this.
See for Yourself
If you're able to make one, an in-person site inspection is always a good idea. You can discuss the renovations in detail with managers and take a tour of the affected areas. If the hotel's renovations are expected to generate noise, you'll be able to see for yourself where that noise will come from and how well your activities will be isolated from it by either distance or physical barriers. A site visit will give you a better idea of what to expect, and can also help build rapport and enhance communication with the hotel team. Needless to say, you'll also have firsthand experience as a hotel guest. As an alternative, modern technology allows many properties to offer virtual tours of their spaces for meeting planners. Ask if this is an option if you're not able to make an in-person visit.
Put It in Writing
Many contracts include a "what if" or renovation clause. This can be a good idea when you're dealing with a hotel that will be undergoing renovations. With this type of provision, everyone involved will know what to expect and what contingencies may be available if unforeseen events occur.
In short, when you're dealing with a reputable hotel that has an open, communicative management team, there's no reason that your meeting can't run smoothly -- with plenty of happy guests -- even during a renovation. Just be aware of the points raised in this article, and never be afraid to ask plenty of questions.
Gino Caliendo is general manager of the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville, Northeast Florida's largest convention hotel. He has more than 33 years of experience in the hotel industry, all with Hyatt, and he is an active supporter of "Hyatt Thrive," the company's global corporate-responsibility initiative. Caliendo grew up in Pittsburgh and studied at Duquesne University