Journey of a Meeting Attendee

Video credit: Isabella Blansfield and Javier Mosquera
How has business travel changed in the era of COVID-19? What are hotels, airlines, airports and other suppliers doing to help keep us travelers and meeting attendees safe? Join Northstar Meetings Group on a documented journey beginning on Aug. 3, 2020.

As a member of Meetings Mean Business, an industry-wide coalition formed to demonstrate the value of face-to-face events, a Northstar representative traveled to Washington D.C. for MMB’s board of directors summer meeting, one of the first industry hybrid in-person/virtual meetings since the pandemic began in March.

We invite you to follow along as David Blansfield, Northstar Meetings Group executive vice president and group publisher, journeys to D.C. for his first trip in nearly five months — a personal record in his more than 30-year meetings-industry career. Track and share the journey on all major social media platforms with the #MMBMeetSafe hashtag.
Follow Along on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook:

Suppliers want us to be prepared for a safe journey – and they’re telling us how to do that. The notices above are just a sampling of the info I received before the trip -- from the meeting organizer, venue, airline, rental car company and others.

Ray Graham, owner of Ray’s Transportation Service, disinfects his car before every pickup, wears gloves and a mask, and makes sure his passengers do too.

Walking through LaGuardia Airport on Monday morning, July 28, at 6:30 a.m, and a half-hour later in Terminal D. Empty.

TSA allows one hand sanitizer of up to 12 ounces per passenger – an exception to the standard 3.4-ounce max for liquids -- but it was flagged and tested at both LaGuardia and Reagan National, causing some delay.

Check out breakfast at the Delta Sky Club. All the food here -- and everywhere in the airport -- is individually wrapped, including cups and cutlery.

An impromptu meeting – masked and physically distanced – with Congressman Jim Himes, D-CT. Congress is back in session, and we talked about prospects for the stimulus package and relief for the travel industry.

I got a goody bag from Delta! It’s not fancy but it has all the essentials: wipes, hand sanitizer, bottled water and some snacks. Wipes were provided when we boarded and when we were seated.

Here’s a TSA agent wearing PPE as we arrived at Reagan National. All staff we encountered here and also at LaGuardia wore masks and gloves. Sanitizing stations are everywhere.

Arriving at Reagan National Airport, Monday, July 28, 9:15 a.m.

We picked up our rental car, which had been thoroughly disinfected prior to our use, and arrived at the Grand Hyatt Washington. Valet staff wore masks and gloves, and the entire parking experience was touchless, via an app. No tickets were exchanged, and even tips are paid electronically. When we picked up the car, it had been disinfected and the steering wheel and gear shift were wrapped in plastic.

Guest rooms are cleaned and disinfected between guests. The things we like to touch – like magazines and decorative items – have been removed. TV remotes are sanitized and wrapped in plastic. To minimize traffic in the room, there’s no turndown or daily housekeeping, but it’s available upon request.

“When 'i' is replaced by 'we,' even illness becomes wellness.” We found signs like that on every floor of the hotel, along with social-distance markers everywhere, including in the elevators. Elevators have a 3-person maximum, with decals marking where each rider should stand.

The restaurant and bar were closed, but the kitchen was open for takeout. To minimize contact, there’s no room service. Food can be ordered at the front desk and picked up at a table off the lobby.

Before the MMB board meeting, I met with Majed Farah, general manager of Grand Hyatt Washington (pictured here), and Jonathan Wheatley, the hotel's hygiene and wellbeing leader, to learn about the hotel's protocols. In addition to Hyatt's Global Care & Cleanliness Commitment, the Grand Hyatt Washington is working to achieve a GBAC Star Facility accreditation.

The emphasis is on "safety first, wellbeing always." Face coverings are required everywhere. The lobby is deep-cleaned multiple times per day, and the front desk is sanitized every two hours (it was being wiped down when I checked in).

"This is not just a new normal, it's a new opportunity for us," said Farah. "It's always been our mission to take care of people when they're traveling for meetings so they can be at their best. We know our role is essential in the recovery, and we're excited to be stepping up and delivering on it."

At this historic time in our lives, we found time to take a walk around Washington, D.C. The governmental ideals the district was designed to represent, and the monuments representing those ideals, are truly inspiring. We visited Black Lives Matter Plaza, just a few blocks away, on the day John Lewis was lying in state at the Capital Rotunda.

The Grand Hyatt Washington has engaged Cintas for deep cleaning. Here, a Cintas technician applies an electrostatic disinfectant on all surfaces in the meeting room the day before the event. Using a hospital-grade disinfectant, electrostatic sprayers coat hidden and hard to reach surfaces.

The PSAV team, which provided physical/hybrid event support for the MMB gathering, was busy the afternoon before the meeting as well. Note the extra space between technicians, who wore masks and kept their distance from each other at all times.

The diagram above represents the room design for the MMB summer board meeting at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, Washington, D.C.

Each in-person participant had a microphone to promote safe, open dialogue. Bottled water, hand sanitizer, cups, notepads and pens — all wrapped in plastic — were at each table setting.

Gregg Caren, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, checks in. Here, he’s signing U.S. Travel’s waiver and release of liability for communicable disease (as seen in the next image).

Everyone wore masks upon arrival, and physical distancing was painstakingly practiced. Above, Brian Stevens, founding president and CEO of Conference Direct, greets (l to r) Marian McLain, vice president, global sales, Marriott International; me (David Blansfield, Northstar); Jerry Cito, executive vice president, NYC & Co.; and Fred Dixon, president and CEO, NYC & Co., and co-chair of Meetings Mean Business. Note the decals on the floor, which were placed throughout the hotel and the meeting room as markers for physical distance.

Here, I network with Mike Gallagher, CEO of Intrepidity, and Philip Kent, external affairs director for CopernicusMD and the COVID Consortium.

All kitchen staff and food servers at the Grand Hyatt Washington have been trained for safe gatherings to reduce the spread of COVID-19. “Our commitment to cleanliness, wellness and hygiene has always been number one,” said executive chef Ary Schalick. “Now it’s amplified.” Here general manager Farah (left) and Chef Ary (right) inspect the lunch setup.

All food and beverages were prepared, packaged and served safely. Variety, health, wellness and good taste were not sacrificed.

Attendees picked up their lunches from the F&B table and returned to their seats to eat. Masks could be removed only for eating and drinking. Pictured here are Elliott Ferguson (left), president and CEO of Destination DC; Fred Dixon of NYC & Co. (standing); and David Audrain, executive director of SISO (Society of Independent Show Organizers) and CEO of Exposition Development Co.

Networking while eating without masks was allowed. Otherwise, it was masks and physical distancing at all times.

“On behalf of U.S. Travel and the Meetings Mean Business Coalition, I want to welcome and thank everyone involved for making the meeting happen and showing it is possible to meet safely with the proper physical distancing, personal protective equipment and heightened health and safety protocols,” said Nan Marchand Beauvois, senior vice president, Membership and Industry Relations, U.S. Travel Association.

“Meetings may look different than we are used to during this time, but I know we will continue to see more confidence in business events in the future because of MMBC and the industry’s commitment to sharing examples, best practices and lessons learned,“ said Roger Dow, president and CEO, US Travel Association.

The particpants who joined the event virtually via Zoom appeared on the screens to each side of the podium, and they participated in the discussion via chat.

Sherrif Karamat, president and CEO of PCMA, presented remotely during the meeting. His video feed and slides were seamlessly integrated into the meeting.

Each time a different speaker went to the podium, the microphone cover was removed and replaced, and the podium was sanitized. Here PSAV tech support is preparing the stage for Philip Kent of the COVID Consortium.

When the meeting adjourned, checkout was touchless and done via smartphone — as was retrieving my rental car, which had been sanitized, with the steering wheel wrapped in plastic. Returning the car at the airport was touchless, too. My receipt was sent to my phone.

This is the walkway from the airport garage to the terminal at Reagan National on a Tuesday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. We didn’t have to wait for people to come and go to get this shot.

I hate to admit it, but it seems like only yesterday I was flying some of these airlines.

I think the previous time I traveled, the WiFi password was “happy.” For this trip, it was “wearmask.” Truly a sign of the times.

We learned that Washington, D.C., had been added to the list of destinations that would require a 14-day quarantine upon returning to the New York area, apparently due to a recent rise in cases in Virginia and Maryland.

When we got off the plane, the New York State Department of Health required us to submit a COVID-19 questionnaire that included our travel details and basic personal information. The following day I received a call from a contact tracer confirming the details, notifying me of my 14-day self-quarantine requirement, and telling me what to do if I developed symptoms.

Upon arriving at New York LaGuardia, Terminal D, at 7:15 p.m. Tuesday, we explored a bit to see if any flights were going outbound. The main security checkpoint was empty, and my driver was the only car at the curb on the departures level.

Pre-pandemic, my trip from LaGuardia on a Tuesday night to my home in Connecticut would take at least 90 minutes. Today, it was 40 minutes.

Working from my home office after the 14-day self-quarantine, never having exhibited any symptoms associated with Covid-19, I’m feeling good and looking forward to traveling and meeting again.

"What does travel in 2020 look like?" That is the fundamental question being asked today by prospective travelers worldwide, especially those looking to organize or attend meetings.

The answer is complex, as dynamics across the industry continue to evolve. But several organizations have already seen success in hosting live events when following proper health, safety and security measures. Northstar Meetings Group has been documenting how such events have been carried out.

Meetings Mean Business — an industry-wide coalition to showcase the value that the events industry brings to people, businesses and communities — held its board meeting on July 28, 2020, in Washington, D.C. To keep the industry informed on what meetings travel looks like in this day and age, Northstar Meetings Group's executive vice president and group publisher, David Blansfield, has chronicled his experience attending the event.

Follow along using the hashtag #MMBMeetSafe to see the people, processes, technologies and protocols being used by the industry to protect travelers' health, safety and security. You will get a glimpse into:

• Airport safety protocols
• Air travel safety processes
• Technologies being used to protect travelers' health
• Modern meeting processes
• New event layouts and design
• Hotel cleanliness protocols


Participating Partners