The general managers of the Nile Ritz Carlton and the Hilton Cairo Heliopolis discuss today’s business travel and conference climate, challenges and future plans
Business travel and large conferences were once an important time-honored tradition, now disrupted by the pandemic, and as vaccination programs race to protect citizens and global travel begins its slow trek towards recovery, its future remains uncertain.
With the pandemic’s disruption of everyday life came an accelerated tolerance and acceptance toward online meetings through video conference software such as Zoom, reducing the necessity of face-to-face meetings, and introducing a new challenge for the hotel industry.
Business Today Egypt reached out to two of Cairo’s most popular hotels for business travelers and local conferences, speaking with the general managers of the Nile Ritz Carlton and the Hilton Cairo Heliopolis on today’s climate, challenges and what their plans for the future.
“International corporate travelers and group travel will remain elusive for some time,” says Hilton Cairo Heliopolis’s General Manager Jean-Sebastien Kling, pointing out that we are still in uncharted territory when it comes to mapping a post-pandemic recovery.
“People will be eager to travel just as soon as it’s safe. As more and more vaccines are distributed around the world, I am optimistic that global travel will return, eventually, stronger than ever,” says Nile Ritz Carlton’s General Manager Joe Ghayad.
“Leisure travel has been fueling the industry’s recovery so far, and we expect to see growing demand in that category this summer. However, a return of business travelers is crucial for a complete rebound in the hospitality sector,” Kling added.
The pandemic’s impact on the hotel industry is not one to scoff at, with both international and local restrictions placing pressure on hotels to find ways to engage customers alongside new expectations.
So what new tools or strategies are they planning or implementing to engage business travelers?
Kling: “As we look into the balance of 2021 and what could be the travel forecast, we know that people are still likely to be cautious. It is also clear that how fast the vaccine rolls out will play a key role in future traveler’s behaviors.
Meanwhile, as a company, we have rolled out very strict protocols, with high levels of sanitation and precautions, under our CleanStay and EventReady programs, which have been very well received by our diverse groups of customers, especially business travelers.
It has been critical for us to stay engaged with customers and reassure them about their safety. Maintaining such connections with our key business partners will be rewarded when those customers choose to travel again.”
Pre-pandemic, business conferences were a common occurrence, and as events begin to pick up once more, we asked the GMs their thoughts on the conference and event scene.
Kling: “All business related segments, residential meeting, local conferences and corporate travelers came to a standstill in the early months of the pandemic.
Recovery has been slow but steady since last year, with small and medium size local events returning first, especially in the medical and pharmaceutical sector.
It is clear that the whole conference and event industry has been hit hard by the pandemic and while social events have gradually started to come back in outdoor venues, conference & meeting have yet to fully recover. Many large-scale events were postponed to next year due to travel restrictions and/or obvious health & safety reasons.”
Ghayad: “… for our business executives, we appreciate nowadays the need and urgency to hold virtual meetings, video conferencing and webinars without the expense of travelling around the world.
This is where Hybrid Meetings will be introduced where we will be offering our knowledge and expertise to assist our guests to “Connect With Confidence” and the most secure technology.
…Our meeting packages have already been revised to include this service and introduce the technology used and is available from high speed internet to state of the art connecting devices.”
Ghayad also pointed out that before the pandemic hit, the Nile Ritz-Carlton’s Al Qahira Ballroom would accommodate more than 1,000 guests at a time, which was slashed in half due to government’s event restrictions.
Kling: “As part of the Hilton EventReady Hybrid Solutions, our property partners with the best IT/AV vendors in the market to be able to offer a variety of event technology packages purposely created for small to medium hybrid events. Our hybrid set-ups offer a clean and safe purpose-built location to produce record and/or broadcast a high-quality online event, far exceeding production values available from the typical home or office.
Our bespoke EventReady Hybrid Solutions can accommodate up to 150 in-person attendees in a single meeting space. We recently hosted a hybrid event and enabled participants from 60 countries to connect with their home base here in Egypt.
Once social distancing measures are lifted or at least eased and life around us once again becomes normal, one can wonder if there will still be a place for these new virtual events? It looks like virtual events are here to stay, in one form or another.
In our opinion, such events will become a new norm, incorporating both face to face and virtual components. This is a great opportunity for event planners to increase their reach. They will no longer be limited by the size of their event venue and can accordingly expand their audience to include virtual attendees too, as well as those who prefer to attend in person.”