This Week in Event Venues: Flexible Contracts, Contact-Free Technology, the Rise of the Drive-In, and More

Rounding up the latest news from hotels, convention centers, meeting spaces, restaurants, and other event venues across the United States and Canada.

The 123-room Compass Hotel Anna Maria Sound opened in Florida on July 15.
The 123-room Compass Hotel Anna Maria Sound opened in Florida on July 15.
Photo: Compass Hotel Anna Maria Sound

As hotels and event spaces begin to cautiously reopen after coronavirus-related shutdowns, we're here to round up the biggest news of the week—in one convenient place. Got a tip? Get in touch!

Here are five things to know this week.

1. More venues are receiving GBAC STAR accreditation.
Last week, we brought you news that two convention centers—the Georgia World Congress Center and the Anaheim Convention Center—had received GBAC STAR accreditation from the Global Biorisk Advisory Council, which demonstrates best practices for cleaning and infectious disease prevention. In the past week, several more event venues have gotten the accreditation, including the Los Angeles Convention Center, the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, and the Overland Park Convention Center in Overland Park, Kan. 

It’s not just convention centers, either. The Staples Center in Los Angeles and the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, for example, both received the accreditation on July 9, and many other stadiums and hotels are working towards it.The Los Angeles Convention Center has 720,000 square feet of exhibit hall space, plus 64 column-free meeting rooms and a 299-seat theater.The Los Angeles Convention Center has 720,000 square feet of exhibit hall space, plus 64 column-free meeting rooms and a 299-seat theater.Photo: Courtesy of Los Angeles Convention Center

2. Venues are showing more flexibility with contracts and meeting-space options.
As event and meeting planners cautiously begin discussing in-person gatherings, venue contract flexibility is top of mind. To help address this, Hilton has launched its EventReady with CleanStay program. In addition to expanded cleanliness protocols, a focus on health and environmental concerns, and a proprietary Hilton EventReady Playbook filled with curated resources, the hotel brand is offering flexible pricing, flexibility with space options, and simplified contracts. 

“First and foremost, we have to be responsive to the needs of the customers right now,” Frank Passanante, senior vice president of Hilton Worldwide Sales—Americas, told BizBash. “So we're providing flexible pricing, and flexibility with the space options to accommodate the new norms and social distancing requirements based on local regulations. In contract terms, we realized that customers need language in their agreements that addresses some of the issues of today. We've also created a simplified agreement for small meetings that really streamlines the booking process.”

Meanwhile, The Hoxton—which has hotel locations in Chicago, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, Portland, and throughout Europe—has introduced "Flexy Time," which allows guests to check in and check out whenever they'd like at no extra charge. The hotels are also offering a "The Floor Is Yours" special, where guests can book an entire floor of the hotel for a discounted rate—allowing for small, safe gatherings and reunions. This week, Hilton announced EventReady, the next phase of its CleanStay program that focuses specifically on meetings and events.This week, Hilton announced EventReady, the next phase of its CleanStay program that focuses specifically on meetings and events.Photo: Courtesy of Hilton

3. Custom apps and other technology are assisting with social distancing.
Hotels and other venues are also finding ways to cut down on physical contact between staff and attendees. One method is by developing custom apps that allow for no-contact experiences. For example, Hyatt Hotels—such as the 220-room Hyatt Centric Downtown Portland—is rolling out enhanced digital amenities through the World of Hyatt app. The new mobile features allow for scheduling housekeeping, choosing between pick-up or knock-and-go food orders, contact-less check-in and check-out, and more. (The Portland property, which has 2,000 square feet of event space, is also offering a collaboration with Headspace that has mindfulness exercises, guided meditations, and sleep content via the app or on in-room TVs.)

The idea also applies to restaurants, many of which are offering digital menus via QR code, plus a ban on cash payments. Los Angeles's 268-room Hotel Figueroa, for instance—which this week launched a new outdoor dining experience called Veranda Al Fresco—is offering contact-less ordering via the hotel's new app. And in Toronto, a new contact-less patio experience is opening in the city's Distillery District. Similar to Vancouver's Patiotown, it offers 12 patios, more than 250 socially distanced tables, and 1,000 total seats. The district's Distillery.Menu web platform enables visitors to order and pay for menu items from multiple district restaurants and have them brought directly to their tables. 

4. Small meetings and events are already happening.
In certain parts of the country (in accordance with local regulations, of course), in-person events are cautiously coming back—and venues are ready. Last week, the Mohegan Sun resort in Uncasville, Conn., hosted its first in-person meeting since the pandemic began: a 20-attendee corporate event that incorporated a larger virtual audience. The 5.5-million-square-foot, 1,600-guest room venue has added thermal scans at the entrances, UV lighting, and other enhanced sanitation protocols; it has also created three documents that provide a thorough framework for large and small meetings as well as food and beverage service. 

Meanwhile, the 261-room The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay in Northern California is advertising its series of "do-over celebrations"—small, safe, and festive gatherings for birthdays, anniversaries, or weddings. For weddings, for example, the resort is hosting mini, in-suite ceremonies that include sparkling wine and French macarons. Typically, the luxury hotel offers more than 35,000 square feet of event space including a large ballroom, various meeting rooms, and outdoor lawns that overlook the ocean.The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay, is offering in-suite microweddings.The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay, is offering in-suite microweddings.Photo: The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay

5. Drive-throughs are still the hottest thing around.
As most movie theaters and performance spaces remain shuttered, drive-in theaters are getting more and more popular. This week, Live Nation kicked off its first-ever U.S. drive-in concert series this week, taking over parking lots at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Ruoff Music Center in Indianapolis, and the Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre in St. Louis. Each vehicle got a designated tailgate area, where guests could exit their cars and dance along to performances from the likes of Brad Paisley, Darius Rucker, and Nelly.

In Canada, the city of Toronto has also launched a drive-in entertainment program. Taking over four locations throughout the city—including Ontario Place and Downsview Park—the DriveInTO program is offering movie screenings, concerts, sports broadcasts, and other free events. And in Southern California, CBF Productions has launched Concerts in Your Car at the Ventura County Fairgrounds. The pop-up concert and entertainment series comes from the team behind the Boots & Brews Country Music Festival; headliners this summer will include Third Eye Blind, Sublime with Rome, and more. 

The concept also extends to the Toronto Zoo, which has begun offering "scenic safaris" that allow guests to tour the zoo from their own cars.

On July 10, Brad Paisley performed at the Hollywood Casino Ampitheatre in St. Louis as part of Live Nation's new drive-in concert series.On July 10, Brad Paisley performed at the Hollywood Casino Ampitheatre in St. Louis as part of Live Nation's new drive-in concert series.Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Live Nation

Bonus: New and Upcoming Openings to Know About
The first Compass by Margaritaville—a new addition to the lifestyle brand's offerings—opened on Anna Maria Island in Florida on July 15. Compass Hotel Anna Maria Sound is part of a 220-acre private island community, and it has 123 rooms including 10 suites. Other on-site amenities include a meeting room and a fitness area that overlook the marina, plus two on-site eateries. 

Lotte Hotel Seattle is slated to open Sept. 24. The new 44-story, 189-room property—located in Seattle's downtown business district—offers floor-to-ceiling windows in each room, along with a mid-century modern design inspired by the city's natural landscape. There are 12 spaces for events, including the Sanctuary Grand Ballroom located inside what was previously America's first United Methodist Church; it seats 320 banquet-style or holds more than 900 for receptions. 

Compound—a new nonprofit dedicated to the intersection of art, wellness, and community—is slated to open a 15,000-square-foot complex in Long Beach, Calif., in September. The space will consist of two buildings connected by a courtyard and sculpture garden; one will serve as an art gallery, while the other is a multi-purpose space for exhibitions, public programming, and other events.The 15,000-square-foot Compound venue is slated to open in Long Beach, Calif., in September.The 15,000-square-foot Compound venue is slated to open in Long Beach, Calif., in September.Photo: Courtesy of Compound

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