Caring about our clients has always been a priority – a deeply ingrained duty to ensure they have a seamless experience from beginning to end. When the pandemic halted our industry, we had to ask ourselves; how could we adjust our practices and continue to ensure our clients were taken care of with confidence?
With the slow and cautious re-opening of the hospitality industry, it only felt right to get back out there and see first-hand what our partners are implementing to ensure the health and safety of guests (and our groups!). Our intention for these site visits was to gain knowledge and understanding of health and safety protocols, and to truly get a first-hand sense for what the new onsite experience will look and feel like for the future of meetings and events.
We set out to see four properties downtown Toronto; two boutique hotels in Yorkville and two conference size hotels (the largest downtown). Prior to our visit, we created a checklist of essential items that would follow the industry guidelines and provide a sense of comfort when groups return to travel and meet. The list covered 30 checkpoints covering the entire guest journey – from check-in, to meeting rooms, food and beverage outlets, all the way through to the departure experience. We looked at each site in conjunction to our list.
- Is there appropriate signage upon arrival?
- Is check in contactless?
- Have non-essential items been removed from the guestrooms?
- For meetings and events, does the property have seating plans to adhere and comply with distancing regulations?
Our experiences were overall extremely comforting. We felt safe, we saw things being cleaned, and everyone respected the rule of thumb when it comes to keeping a distance and wearing a mask.
That being said, there was a different degree of attention to detail and thoroughness from one property to another.
Here is a little bit of a deeper dive!
The Westin Harbour Castle
Visible signage and accessible sanitizing stations were present immediately upon entering the lobby. At the front desk, we looked for plexiglass barriers, efforts in contactless check-in (available through the Bonvoy app) and payment, staff wearing PPE and clear floor markers. These items were all in place.
Guestrooms have been cleared of any high touch items such as pens, notepads, and decorative accessories. A disinfectant wipe is available for single-use. There are clean seal stickers on the closets and the fridge as well as adjusted housekeeping schedules to reduce the traffic in and out of the room.
We were greeted by the Director of Events Planning and we walked through the space together. The Westin was remarkable in preparing floorplans and meeting room layouts. Reduced seating capacities were displayed, separate entry and exit doors for meeting spaces were assigned, and creative ideas were shared to support clients with changes to programming.
TIP: Consider moving your speakers from one space to another as opposed to your attendees.
The Sheraton Centre Toronto
It was clear that cleanliness and safety are a top priority for this property. Where there once was a copious amount of seating in the lobby, there are now just a few small lounges.
An accessible grab n’ go station is situated at check-in where small meals, snacks, and beverages (yes, even local beers!) are readily available for purchase. This is intended to accommodate the needs of the guests while restaurant and bar seats are limited.
A key part of the new processes for the Sheraton is the extent of cleaning each meeting room receives between sessions. Linens are replaced, and all high-touch surfaces are disinfected including chairs.
We were truly impressed by the pool area and the measures being taken upon entry. A dedicated staff member is at a registration desk behind plexiglass to share information on the new policies and each guest is required to sign in, complete a health questionnaire, and sanitize prior to enjoying the facilities. Locker rooms remain closed at this time, and meticulous plans to re-open the gym to hotel guests are being reviewed.
GREAT IDEA: seating is adjusted to comply with social distancing and yellow tape is used to create sections so groups who are together can stay within their designated area.
The InterContinental Yorkville
The InterContinental Yorkville expertly created a warm and welcoming environment throughout their lobby. A highlight for us? The hotel provides overnight guests and delegates alike a sealed essentials kit which includes a mask, gloves, sanitizer, and wipes to use during their stay.
In an effort to implement a contactless experience at the food & beverage outlets, dining at Signatures Restaurant and the Proof Vodka bar includes a simple scan of a QR code to view the menus digitally.
Next we walked the convention floor and arrived at the Willard Room where a plexiglass registration desk was set up and sanitizing stations were in place outside the doors. Another highlight – the sanitizing stations are ordered to match the decor of the hotel and blend right in making those clinical displays a little easier on the eyes. The meeting room was set as a hollow square using skinny 6ft tables, with additional space between desks which made it easy to navigate and still felt communal.
All properties shared a system and signage to control elevator traffic, room assignment processes and great use of outdoor spaces when possible.
Kimpton Saint George
Since the publishing of this article, we have removed the Kimpton visit recap as per their request. They have since updated their policies and protocols on health & safety, which can be found on their web page.
Although we are SO ready to meet again, we know the importance of ensuring health, safety and comfort for attendees. We always say there are three sides to be considered: the host’s corporate policy, the individual’s comfort and the government and/or industry regulations.
Our biggest recommendation in finding that happy place? Continue to educate yourselves, communicate with your networks and get creative!
We left our visits with hope and excitement of what the future will bring; innovative ideas to adapt and overcome the challenges we now face, new opportunities to collaborate, and a stronger community on the other side of this.
We strongly encourage site visits ahead of contract signing if and when possible. This can be done in person or virtually – be armed with the details of what to expect for your group and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
We welcome you to use our checklist (linked HERE) and reach out with any questions! Things continue to evolve but one thing will never change: it will also be our duty and our obligation to remain a strong resource for you!