What Hilton’s EventReady program means for event organisers

Hilton Australasia Vice President of Operations Heidi Kunkel at Hilton's Marble Bar in Sydney.

Hilton unveiled EventReady back in July but is ramping up the program as restrictions nationwide begin to ease. The cornerstone of the EventReady program is one of building confidence, for both planners and delegates, that Hilton is ready to safely hold events again in a clean, flexible, safe and socially responsible way.

CIM spoke with Hilton Australasia Vice President of Operations Heidi Kunkel and Australasia Commercial Director Shaizeen Contractor to learn more about EventReady and how the hotel group was managing the fallout from the pandemic across the region.

Do the extra hygiene standards mean increased labour – and how are you managing the costs of that with lower occupancy?

Heidi: Hilton EventReady with CleanStay builds upon the already high standards of housekeeping and hygiene at Hilton – hospital-grade cleaning products and upgraded protocols are currently in use. As such we do not expect necessarily an increase in labour costs, rather it’s a change in what cleanliness means; it’s much more than just cleaning dirt off surfaces.

Does that cost get passed onto the event organiser or are you cutting costs in other areas?

Heidi: As with more highly customised events pre-COVID-19, we anticipate overall banquet and meeting related prices and related charges and fees may increase based on the revised protocols. The exact cost differences will vary by property, region and type of event.

Which regions in Asia Pacific are showing the strongest performance at the moment?

Heidi: Across Asia Pacific region, a positive momentum is gaining ground, led by domestic markets in tandem with countries in which the virus is well-controlled. China is performing strongest in the region and October marked the Golden Week holiday in China, which saw an incredible 625 million domestic trips.

Within Australia how is the market performing along state and city/regional lines and what’s driving that demand?

Heidi: STR has shared some good data on city versus regional market performance over the last several months which is available on their website. Whilst we do not have many hotels in regional locations, we have definitely seen our leisure hotels perform well above our city hotels. Hotels in Cairns and Surfers Paradise are trading over 50 per cent. While city hotels are performing better on Friday and Saturday nights, they have a challenging time getting occupancy mid-week.

How has Covid affected the pipeline of new hotels?

Heidi: In Australasia Hilton operates 27 hotels and has 16 in the pipeline. Despite the difficulties of 2020, we remain on track to double our footprint in the region in the next five years and look forward to sharing more announcements in 2021.

Will the EventReady program be a permanent feature?

Shaizeen: Hilton EventReady with CleanStay will be a feature of our business for the foreseeable future.

Are you seeing an increase in satellite hybrid events that take place across multiple Hilton properties – and is this trend here to stay?

Shaizeen: We launched a Virtual Meetings offer in August which allows our clients to book multiple venues and connect them together via virtual technology provided by audio visual partners Encore. In the last month we have seen an uptake in this offer as meeting planners start to look to 2021 and book in their annual meetings. We believe this trend will continue into the future with companies being more cautious with their travel spend and being more focused on the safety and security of their team while travel restrictions remain in place. Hilton Australasia is perfectly positioned to cater to this market as we have hotels across most major cities in ANZ and have the technology to support the virtual interaction

Hilton is always across the required social distancing regulations – is that a big selling point for planners?

Shaizeen: Yes, it’s definitely a selling point. To clarify, hotels are responsible for ensuring that all meeting spaces, public space and food & beverage are set up to adhere to current government imposed physical distancing guidelines and orders. The hotel is responsible to place ample, visible signage to remind guests to maintain appropriate distancing. Hotels are also responsible to ensure that the number of guests gathering in designated places within or on hotel premises does not exceed the number permitted by current government-imposed guidelines and orders. It is the responsibility of the planner or customer to monitor physical distancing with respect to its attendees while inside the meeting space.

How do you manage booking flexibility – and are planners being realistic about numbers for future events?

Shaizeen: Yes, event planners have been asking us for innovative solutions for the entire event experience and our Hilton Teams work hand-in-hand with customers to align on our shared objectives. We’ve responded by being flexible on pricing, space options and contract terms – especially with our simplified agreements for small meetings.