Comment: Building the ‘Post-COVID-19’ hotel conference room
Sennheiser Middle East director of sales and marketing Mig Cardamone talks about the future of the MICE sector for hotels
The global pandemic has deeply impacted the hospitality sector. Middle East hotels, that until are recently as February looked on track to welcome the 26 million travellers who were expected to visit the region for Expo 2020, have seen a dramatic turn of events. Government measures to contain and control the spread of the virus translated to the temporary suspension of services which hotels are still struggling to bounce back from.
Even as restrictions ease, the severity of the COVID-19 threat has left an indelible mark on global society. Cultural norms that have rapidly evolved in recent months are likely to persist for the foreseeable future. A recent study by Harvard disease experts suggests that social distancing practices may indeed persist until 2022. Hotels must therefore prepare to accommodate modifications to guest behaviour, including a preference for social distancing.
Another consequence of the outbreak has been the wide-scale adoption of audio and video conferencing – in the context of both personal and professional settings. This has proven vital in keeping communities connected, and employees collaborating. There is no doubt that with individuals and businesses now becoming so accustomed to this proven means of communication, conferencing will remain a vital tool for the modern business.
Against this backdrop – hotel owners and operators must ask themselves how to prepare for the proverbial ‘new normal’. While current low occupancy rates no doubt present their challenges, they also offer the opportunity to renovate facilities as guest services are reimagined for the post-COVID future.
One such opportunity is undoubtedly the overhaul of conference room facilities. While it is unlikely that organisations will soon host large scale conferences owing to travel restrictions and the challenges of maintaining social distancing when large numbers of attendees are present, smaller scale meetings and conferences are likely to be one of the first services to see a resurgence.
Through the crisis, many businesses have realised tremendous costs savings, owing to the ‘grounding’ of executives who would otherwise relied on air travel to meet with their peers. With the efficiency of virtual meetings now having been proven, we are likely to move to a future wherein teams within a country meet in-person, and then connect virtually with their overseas colleagues and customers. Few businesses have conference room facilities that meet the world-class standards required to ensure these engagements are productive and issue-free. And fewer still will be able to accommodate recommended social distancing guidelines. Many will therefore be drawn in by the appeal of hotels that can offer such facilities, with the added assurance of stringent sanitisation practices being followed.
The experience of conference calls let down by hard-to-use technology and poor sound quality is a familiar frustration, but such second-rate experiences are no longer acceptable, especially in purpose-built hotel meeting rooms. Beyond making conferences easier to join, there is a clear need to prevent against remote attendees becoming second-class participants in meetings where they can’t hear what is going on in a room, or when longer calls produce fatigue due to poor sound. Therefore, the best possible sound is increasingly recognised as being essential for effective virtual conversations.
For the hospitality sector, one of the audio solutions that stands out as being particularly relevant is the astatically appealing and user-friendly ceiling microphone system. A well-designed ceiling microphone can ensure that remote participants get excellent audio quality that is free from distracting ambient noise. Conferences can thus be enhanced by stress-free, easy interaction that ensures more productive meetings.
Moreover, with ‘dynamic beamforming’ – an innovative approach which enables these conferencing systems to intelligently determine the position of the speaking person at any time, regardless of whether they are sitting, standing or moving around – social distancing can effectively be maintained, without any impact on the fluidity of participants’ position and movement in the conference facility.
Looking into the future, the hospitality sector will have to explore new ways to remain relevant and attractive to both leisure and business guests. Enabling customers to embrace and excel at new ways of collaboration will be one such opportunity. The innovations hotels invest in today, will position them for success when the industry inevitably bounces back.