Mr. Borja Martínez Junquera in your role as Director of Meetings & Events Europe at Palladium Hotel Group you can share some insights how you experienced the last months since the beginning of the pandemic. Will you share that with us?
We had a very quick reaction in Spain once the situation in early March started to look very complicated but no one could expect that this would last for almost 8 months now and still with some long months to see the beginning of the recovery. It was very sad to close all the 48 properties and was difficult to understand why we had underestimated the virus.
Palladium wanted to contribute to fight against this virus and being a hotel, the best way to do it was offering one of our properties in Madrid to become a medical extension of one of the hospitals, helping the H&S with the first wave, allocating there some mild cases from Corona, and donating food and drinks to those who needed as many people lost their jobs due to the pandemic. The company was very keen on helping, not just to protect the cash flow and the employees, but on showing as always, the social responsibility which is one of our core values inside of the company DNA.
As the first lockdown was over. What were your first steps afterwards as a company?
In June, after the first lockdown, we reopened some of our properties.
Only You Atocha in Madrid and in early July, Grand Palladium Palace Ibiza, Hard Rock Hotel Ibiza and Bless Hotel in Ibiza. Of course, the majority of the events we had on the books were postponed and some of them were cancelled. But we were lucky to host a couple of small meetings and even a large wedding in August for 200 people. A lot of new protocols were put in place, social distancing, masks, hydroalcoholic gel, contactless check in and check out, assisted buffets and limited services to maintain the same quality, but keeping both employees and clients safe. And it worked perfectly!
Let´s say this is really easy for hotels as we are used to have dozens of HACCP and other protocols as part of our daily tasks, not just for kitchen and restaurants, but for all departments at the hotel. The Spanish hotel industry is recognized for offering very high standards and this is only possible if you have the right procedures and a proper quality control implemented, so it wasn´t difficult for us to incorporate some more to our daily routine.
Unfortunately, the second wave arrived way too early and we had to close the properties in Ibiza. Was a difficult decision, but a question of responsibility. European countries went back to lockdowns and the situation in Spain mainland was starting to look as well very bad.
What are your plans for the future? Especially in terms of events?
With this new situation, it was the moment to think ahead about the future of the events and we have taken decisions and explored together with end clients and top agencies what we have to do in order to bring confidence again to the industry.
There are 3 main facts that we all need to have present on the new normality in order to remain competitive: Flexibility, Technology innovation (hybrid events) and Safe environment.
You mentioned flexibility. What have you done in this sector?
We have reviewed all our policies and the most important change has been to waive the cancellation or attrition charges when booking an event with us. If the client doesn’t feel comfortable, we convert these potential expenses into credit to use in future events and inside our portfolio.
We have also introduced cashback as a new instrument for loyal clients. So, the more events you confirm, the more money you earn to use in future events within the company.
What about Hybrid and virtual events? Do planners have possibilities there?
Of course, Hybrid and Virtual events are an alternative to face to face meetings that we have all discovered or just implemented but can’t be a substitute of live events. This is an industry designed from human-to-human so, it is perfect to have discovered the power of tech and to implement it in some of our events but won’t last forever as a tendency (perhaps yes for trainings and some other type of events).
In Spain we are recovering now and doing some events, showing the audiences that safe events can be done. We, as an industry, must believe first in this point and then showcase the country that we are ready to host events again.
Even if virtual is the thing to do right now. How can we get back to live events?
The antigen quick tests are key right now. They are quick, reliable and costs are coming down as pharma companies are investing more time and efforts to investigate these new tests. It will take some time for all the European countries (I consider Europe as our domestic market) to stick to this practice.
Once airlines, hotels, venues and all the players within the event´s industry start with this practice as a routine, our industry will start to recover. Don’t see this is going to happen before June 2021, as we, as Europeans, need a bit of time to take same regulations in the common area.
It is just a question of time; the solution is already here, and all stakeholders involved must learn how to communicate it, not just to our industry audience, but to all citizens and institutions. Events are safe. We know how to run safe events. Vaccine will come too late and if we wait 2021, it will be again very difficult for the meetings industry. Palladium Hotels