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by jcp

A Surrey country estate hotel kickstarted its return to the business conference world by hosting its first large event post COVID. Wotton House re-opened its corporate event doors, after 18 months, and welcomed 75 guests back to a ‘new normal’ conference for SITE GB, Society for Incentive Travel Excellence in Great Britain. 

Here, Leighton Reid, Director of Sales at Wotton House, explains why protocols and balance will be instrumental in the recovery.

After 18 months of working remotely and networking virtually there is certainly a pent up demand for people wanting to meet in person. The pandemic has certainly shown the importance of human connection and the role it plays in helping colleagues and peers engage effectively and build rapport. Humans naturally crave that physical interaction with other humans – we’re hardwired for that. You can’t replicate those coffee break conversations virtually. Being face-to-face with people forms relationships; it makes our brains thrive.

However, while there is a thirst out there for real life interaction, event organisers must recognise that everyone feels differently about life after the pandemic and there will be many people seeking more reassurance than ever before about their safety, regardless of government guidelines relaxing the rules. To recover in the event space hotel businesses must implement measures to suit everyone and that’s where balance and additional protocols come in.

Let’s take food and beverage offerings as an example. The format of how this is delivered must be well thought through with consideration of the sensitivities. Creating an inclusive environment for everyone to enjoy the event is key.

Having recently hosted The SITE GB summit for 75 people at Wotton House we offered an assisted buffet format and staggered the delegates going into our large restaurant and breaks were taken out doors. We have 20 meeting rooms and extensive outdoor spaces including terraces and beautiful gardens so for us this was very easy to accommodate. Of course, however you plan your meeting or event for the next few months, it is a bit of a change from the usual style of networking we’re used to, but this is a new normal for the time being and this format worked for both the cautious and the more relaxed guest.

Even though there are no longer any restrictions in place, event organisers must put in place guidelines and processes that they believe their audience will feel comfortable with. The SITE GB Summit ‘Tooling up the return of incentives’ did just that. Chris Parnham, President, SITE GB explains: “We understood the audience attending our event were open to travel and therefore getting out, but equally, this was likely to be one of the first events post COVID they’d been to so there was going to a degree of nervousness.

“We wanted a venue outside of London so guests could drive rather than rely on trains and tubes; again, a consideration for the future is how guests feel about travel options.”

SITE GB created a safety bubble with the help of company called Cignpost Diagnostics. Those with a vaccine passport took a lateral flow test on the day and those who hadn’t been double vaccinated took a PCR test prior to the event, or were tested on site prior to accessing the conference. This was all complimentary for the attendees.

This instilled additional confidence in those attending the event. The safety bubble meant people could shake hands, stand next to each other and network without a face covering if they wanted to, with confidence.

Laura Barton was one of our attendees and speakers from Santen Pharmaceutical, and commented that the measures in place created a safe environment where, as a group, guests could feel comfortable with being present in person at an event.

It is without question that hospitality has been one of the hardest hit industries during the pandemic but the summit we hosted demonstrates that this is the start of a new dawn – the return of the conference. We must adapt our approach and embrace it.

People are at very different stages of comfortability at the thought of attending in person meetings and events. Balancing those needs and giving reassurances can be achieved by introducing additional protocols. For me, those two considerations will help hoteliers and event planners as they look to recover in the meetings and event space.

For more information about meeting and events held at Wotton House visit https://wottonhouse.co.uk/meetings-events/


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