It’s no secret that hotels (along with much of the rest of the hospitality industry) have felt the impact of the decline in large-scale weddings over the last year. However, while lockdowns and restrictions threatened some hotel’s most dependable summer revenue streams, the industry adapted.
A survey done last year by American Marriage Ministries found that at the beginning of the pandemic, 82% of wedding officiants surveyed said they saw a rise in the “use of non-traditional wedding venues, suggesting flexibility when it comes to venues and ambiance.” With the rise in micro-weddings and “minimonies” in the last year, happy couples have reshaped what it means to have a wedding, and the hospitality industry has been right with them every step of the way. Whether it has been repurposing pools and outdoor recreation areas or increasing staffing efficiency to meet foodservice and capacity requirements, hotels and venues have been flexible enough to offer a special occasion and diligent enough to meet statewide requirements.
On March 22, just in time for wedding season, Washington moved into Phase 3 of the governor’s reopening plan with eased coronavirus restrictions. Going forward, reopening phases will be revaluated every three weeks on a county-by-county basis using specific coronavirus metrics.
The most recent guidance for weddings, events, and funerals, released on March 23, clarifies that in Phase 3 indoor weddings and events may have 400 people or 50% capacity (whichever is fewer) and outdoor gatherings up to 400 people. Social distancing rules do still apply, and venues, vendors and even the host have a range of requirements to follow, including how many people can be on the dance floor at one time. Coronavirus requirements for eating and drinking establishments must also be followed if food and drink are served.
So what does it look like to start hosting events again? Hannah MacDougal, sales director with The Lodge at Columbia Point in Richland, says she is already preparing for additional wedding and event business by moving the restaurant to open up additional venue space. The hotel has also revamped its catering menu and added new audio and visual equipment to venue spaces.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, hoteliers have also used the dip in traffic to strengthen relationships within their company. The lodge has been adding partnerships with employee perks programs MacDougall says. An important way to decrease employee turnover in uncertain times has been to offer incentives to employees that go beyond pay increases and bonuses. While communication has broken down for some companies, maintaining strong relationships with vendors and employees help successful businesses stand out.
For other businesses, lessons learned during the pandemic offer valuable insight. Chris Tudor, owner of Tudor Inns, LLC, says he still does not anticipate a heavy season for weddings. Instead, he expects this summer to be driven by leisure travel, which will be a test for the lessons learned during the pandemic.
“We definitely have learned to do more with less,” he said. Tudor says his staff members have become very efficient, with management taking on more operational tasks such as helping with the front desk. In addition to staff shuffling, some of the age-old norms for hotel operations like housekeeping routines have been challenged by the pandemic. Determining whether these changes are worth keeping moving forward is a question many operators are beginning to ask.
Whether you are gearing up for an increase in weddings or summer breakers, a flexible, yet diligent approach will help hotel operators get through the summer.
“Event organizers have become more inventive and patient,” Tudor said. “We have some events this summer that are still deciding to go virtual, in-person or hybrid.”
But while patience and creativity will continue to play a significant role, vigilance remains most important when it comes to implementing coronavirus restrictions.
Demand for weddings, relationships with event organizers, and the tourism landscape as a whole are always changing, but the new normal has become something that the industry can prepare for. “Even though the phases have been changing, basic protocols need to be in place” Tudor said. “Mask wearing is a must and we have the mechanism in place to police it well. No mask, no service.”
CORONAVIRUS RESOURCES FOR WEDDINGS AND EVENTS