Luxury resort uses learnings to create a “New Normal” for hosting meetings and events

The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Spring, among uncertainty in travel and multiple hotel closures, The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island remained open for several group meetings for regional organizations. The resort has been able to successfully maintain communication with meeting and event planners for short- and long-term needs and apply learnings from the past several months to shift the approach. The resort’s Director of Meetings and Special Events, Scott Berglund, shares five key factors to planning and implementing Group Meetings and Events in the COVID era.

1. Go Virtual for Planning
 The “New Normal” in Meeting and Events requires frequent and clear communication for both start-up and execution. In the early stages, virtual site visits can be an effective vehicle to provide a sense of place and insights to hotel amenities and meeting rooms. The virtual tour is helpful to understand how outdoor spaces can meet the needs of traffic flow. The sanitizing and safety needs should also be discussed as state, local and corporate mandates can impact planning, and attendees will want clear information on what they can expect. The initial planning stage is a good time to learn about Audio Visual capabilities, especially for hybrid shows where the technology platform is critical. The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island has an array of virtual and hybrid solutions including webinars and webcasting that can extend audience reach to stakeholders.  “Today’s meeting planning process requires a clear vision of each individual event and how it flows,” says Berglund.

2.  Physical Distancing and Open-Air Venues Play a Key Role
Outdoor venues can wow guests and provide a comfort level to attendees who will appreciate having more space to leverage during an event. “The Atlantic Ocean vista is a dramatic backdrop for events held on our Ocean Front Lawn, Courtyard and our al fresco restaurant, Coquina,” adds Berglund. Diagram software that presents seating options based on group size and available meeting space is a helpful decision-making tool as well. “The classic classroom configuration staggering tables six feet from side-to-side and front-to-back with one person per table has worked effectively,” says Berglund. To accommodate attendees who request additional physical distance, place small tables in the back of ballroom. For social events, the resort has the opportunity to offer balcony seating, where overnight guests get a beachfront room with balcony to see the festivities from afar if preferred.  

3. Reinvent the Food & Beverage Experience
The Ritz-Carlton is renowned for locally inspired, artful culinary presentations that create elevated experiences. Creative, healthy and local foods will be critical in creating new offerings for customers while taking into consideration their concern for safety. Group food presentations are designed to engage all of the senses, especially at Chef Action Stations, which can be used safely with the chefs behind plexiglass shields to serve and explain the dishes. On other occasions, the food is plated and served at tables. “To eliminate any contact, the kitchens are using creative paper wraps and disposable bamboo bento boxes that can be displayed together for visual appeal but served individually,” shares Berglund.

4. Get Creative with Team Building Activities
A signature component of The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island’s groups program is interactive events for groups for team building and camaraderie. With advance planning, adhering to cleaning standards and using physical distancing, these activities can be offered. “A popular bourbon tasting event was directed by signage, stanchions and floor clings leading to an individual taste experience with the distiller. Guests happily comply, they just need communication and cues,” said Berglund.  One recent group held a skeet shooting activity on the resort’s Ocean Front Lawn, socially-distanced, with an attendant sanitizing equipment between each use.

5. Measure Success
Internally, the events team should take the time to debrief with each other and venue partners before departing, exchanging insights and measuring against objectives. By understanding what worked and what can be improved in real time, best practices and new ideas can be fostered as the industry evolves alongside the ever-changing global situation.

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