Coronavirus and Meetings
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Updated June 4, 2020, 11:30 a.m. EDT.
For the time being, event planners have been forced to move their meetings online. But research from Northstar Meetings Group shows many industry professionals are eager to get back to face-to-face events as soon as it is safe to do so. In fact, 42 percent of planners who are rescheduling their events said they are doing so for 2020 and for the first time in nearly months, more planners are booking meetings than just looking.
A new certificate program from the Global BioRisk Advisory Council, a division of the worldwide cleaning industry association ISSA, could help the industry safely resume face-to-face events and assuage attendee concerns.
A growing number of cities and event venues across the nation have already signed on, including the country's two largest convention centers: Orlando's Orange County Convention Center and McCormick Place in Chicago. In addition, Hyatt and the Leading Hotels of the World, which represents more than 400 hotels in 80 countries, have committed to the GBAC program. Convention and visitor bureaus, including Las Vegas and Dallas, have also signed on.
Palm Beaches County in Florida is the latest destination to seek GBAC accreditation. The county announced plans this week to have the Palm Beach County Convention Center, Palm Beach International Airport, various cultural institutions and more than 150 hotels in the area GBAC Star certified.
"The Palm Beaches' tourism and hospitality community is committed to the highest standards of cleanliness," said Jorge Pesquera, president and CEO of the city's CVB, in a statement. "Guests and employees should feel confident to return to their favorite hotels, restaurants, shops and attractions, which is why Discover the Palm Beaches, in collaboration with other Tourist Development Council agencies, has established this unique destination-wide opportunity for the vast majority of our hotels and most popular venues to earn the GBAC Star accreditation."
What Is GBAC Star?
The GBAC Star program is designed to teach venue-cleaning professionals how to prepare for, respond to and recover from infectious diseases and biohazards. GBAC's scientific advisory board, who are experienced in the area of microbial-pathogenic threat analysis and mitigation, created the program. The experts hail from Harvard, Penn State and Emory universities, as well as governmental agencies. Many also have experience working with or consulting with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Facilities will gain accreditation when they show they are implementing the industry's highest standards of cleaning for COVID-19, and are safe to welcome guests and hold events. The program is backed by 10 industry organizations, including the International Association of Venue Managers, International Facility Management Association, International Association of Exhibitions and Events, Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association and the Go LIVE Together Coalition.
"We recognize that safety is a primal instinct and people are not going to get on the plane, go to the airport, travel to the hotel or go to the convention center unless they feel safe," said Richard Simon, CEO of United Service Companies, which provides cleaning, staffing and other services to hotels, venues and trade shows. The company has been working closely with GBAC and ISSA on the new sanitization standards. "Having the GBAC Star program is kind of like having a universal seal of approval that a facility is subscribing to the highest standards in the industry and they've been prescribed by infectious disease control experts."
How Do You Get Certified?
In order to be considered a GBAC Star facility, a venue must have at least one staff member complete the GBAC fundamentals certificate course. The online course, which takes two to three hours to complete, covers everything from proper procedures and training to the chemicals, equipment, tools and personal protective equipment that are necessary for preventing and responding to infectious diseases. The course is available to ISSA members for $150 and to nonmembers for $300.
Facilities must also complete an online application and demonstrate compliance with the 20 GBAC Star program elements, which include risk-assessment and risk-mitigation strategies, personnel training, and inventory control and management. Applications will be reviewed and approved by the GBAC Accreditation Council.
According to Simon, the GBAC protocols will be updated regularly. In addition to the fundamentals course, the organization has compiled specific standards for hotels. Protocols that have been tailored to convention centers are expected to be released shortly.
"As you subscribe to GBAC, you will be getting real-time information that attendees need to wear a mask when they come to the convention center and social distancing is in effect," said Simon. "GBAC will be telling the event organizers in the facilities that hand sanitizing units should be placed at every x hundred feet and that there should be so many per meeting room based on meeting-room capacity. They will also write a complete protocol for taking the temperatures of employees and everybody coming into the facility."
Hotel Companies Seeking GBAC Star Certification
Hyatt was the first hotel brand to commit to the GBAC Star accreditation. In coordination with GBAC, the company plans to roll out a performance-based cleaning, disinfection and infectious-disease prevention program at its more than 900 hotels worldwide. According to the hotelier, every Hyatt property will have at least one hygiene manager on staff. Hygiene managers will be responsible for ensuring the hotels adhere to the company's new protocols, which include increased cleaning frequency, enhanced food safety and hygiene standards, and ongoing training and certification programs.
"The world as we knew it has been fundamentally changed by COVID-19 and when we are all ready to travel again, we want to make sure that every Hyatt colleague and guest feels confident that each aspect of our commitment is designed with their safety in mind, and that we're putting their well-being first," said Hyatt CEO Mark Hoplamazian, in a statement. "To do this, we must critically examine the hotel experience from every vantage point -- from our rooms and our lobbies to our spas and dining -- bringing in the latest research, technology and innovation to make that happen."
The Leading Hotels of the World, a luxury hospitality organization that represents more than 430 hotels and resorts worldwide, has also signed on. The hotel brand will pursue GBAC Star certification as part of its new "Healthy Stays" initiative. The company is also working with medical experts to develop enhanced hygiene standards and best practice guidelines for its member hotels.
Committed Convention Centers, CVBs and More
The list of organizations committing to the GBAC Star accreditation continues to grow. Nearly a dozen convention centers have announce plans to pursue the program, including the Phoenix Convention Center, Los Angeles Convention Center, San Diego Convention Center, Georgia World Congress Center and the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.
According to David Dubois, president and CEO of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, the GBAC Star designation is particularly attractive to convention and visitors bureaus. Cities that can boast a convention center, as well as multiple hotels and event venues that have been GBAC certified, will likely be more attractive to meeting planners, especially in the early phases of resuming face-to-face events. Thus far, Dallas; Las Vegas; Columbus, Ohio; and Palm Beach County, Fla. have signed on.
Visit Dallas and the Dallas Tourism Public Improvement District announced in early May that the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center and several city-owned venues will be part of its GBAC Star certification efforts. Las Vegas followed suit, with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and Las Vegas Convention Center announcing plans to pursue the certification.
In Columbus, Ohio, a city-wide initiative is underway. According to the city's CVB, Experience Columbus, at least one partner in the event venue, transportation, lodging and attractions sectors has signed on. Meanwhile, the Palm Beaches plans to have more than 150 hotels GBAC Star certified, along with the local convention center, airport and a handful of cultural institutions.
Other organization that have committed to the program include the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Garden, Fla, and Harry Caray’s Restaurant Group. More venues, hotels and industry associations are expected to join in the coming weeks, according to Simon.
"It'll be a gold standard, and it should be because it's scientifically based and endorsed," said Simon. "We've already certified dozens of technicians and we're certifying more every day. What we're doing here with GBAC is making people feel safe, so they actually come to an event. Announcing you're going to have an event is great, but without exhibitors or attendees, it can't happen. They're the lifeblood, so we need to make sure the exhibitor and the attendee feel safe to come."