Event venues scrub up for a new normal around hygiene

Hygiene and the spread of diseases at mass gatherings will become a major consideration for people attending events in the future
  • Covid-19 pandemic is placing venue cleanliness higher on planners’ list of key considerations
  • Enhanced cleaning and sanitising processes will likely stick around post-pandemic
  • MICE venues and hotels are rethinking event formats to address social interaction concerns as events resume
Hygiene and the spread of diseases at mass gatherings will become a major consideration for people attending events in the future

Health checks and enhanced cleaning procedures imposed by event venues during the Covid-19 outbreak will likely become the new normal when governments lift bans on public gatherings as infections come under better control, opined some operators.

Last week, Hong Kong’s AsiaWorld-Expo (AWE) led the cleanliness charge among MICE venues when it deployed a high-tech disinfection installation and advanced air purification technology in preparation of business resumption.

The CLeanTech disinfection installation and advanced air purification technology can sanitise visitor’s outfits and carry-on items of visitors in 12 seconds, among other features. It is believed that AWE is the world’s first exhibition and event venue to deploy the system.

While venues elsewhere in Asia-Pacific may not yet boast such high-tech cleanliness deployments, they have expressed commitment to maintaining an active clean mode when business resumes.

According to Loy Joon How, general manager of Impact Exhibitions Management, which manages the massive Impact Muang Thong Thani event complex in Bangkok, “comprehensive precautionary and preventative measures” have already been in place since February to “ensure the safety and peace of mind of attendees to our venue”, and these are in compliance with the TIS 22300 MICE Security Management System standard.

Mass public gatherings in Bangkok, and across Thailand, are currently discouraged to curb the spread of the virus, but the Impact team is actively reviewing and adapting its operations to ensure that these measures are able to address “all levels of threats”, said Loy.

“If there is a need, we will definitely explore the deployment of technologies such as cleaning robots, and other effective cleaning solutions available,” he added.

Keeping it up
In China, life is stirring slowly but surely in the business events space as movement restrictions are being lifted in phases.

At Suzhou International Expo Center, which is starting to receive government meetings with no more than 400 delegates, standard precautionary measures are still in place – temperature screening of all venue visitors, the enforcement of a smartphone health code clearance, masks on for all event attendee, and safe distancing – in addition to daily enhanced cleaning.

General manager Wayne Cha said: “There is no increased number of Covid-19 patients in Suzhou.” As such, these measures “are enough” in his city.

When asked if these measures would be here to stay even after the pandemic is over, Cha reckoned that temperature checks may be dropped.

Donaghy: ICC Sydney is ready to deploy even more hygiene measures if necessary

For other venue chiefs, the intense hygiene and disinfection processes now may well be the new normal.

Loy said the pandemic has brought venue cleanliness into sharp relief across the world.

“Clients will now expect higher standards of hygiene and disinfection processes, and we as a venue should rightfully comply in the interest of safety hygiene,” he said, adding that a venue’s hygiene standards have always been a key criteria for clients deciding on which venue to use.

Geoff Donaghy, CEO, ICC Sydney, agreed: “Inevitably there will be an increased scrutiny on venues’ hygiene by clients as we emerge from this pandemic. ICC Sydney is proud to have always maintained highest standards in hygiene to ensure the safety of guests and team members. These – plus any other measures deemed necessary – will be in place when the venue reopens for events.”

Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre (MCEC) will also maintain its clean practices when it reopens after June 30, at the end of its voluntary closure.

Leighton Wood, MCEC’s chief operating officer, said the continuation of hygiene procedures is needed “to assure our staff and customers that we are addressing the needs of delegates to meet safely for their next conference or event”.

Like many other convention and exhibition centres in leading business events cities, MCEC’s preventative measures included provision of hand sanitisers at public areas and enhanced cleaning and sterilisation of high traffic areas and surfaces.

Wood said: “We also work closely with commercial cleaning services to ensure thorough cleaning, practice strict adherence to the hygiene and food handling practices as outlined in the Australian Governments Food Standards Code, and have an active incident response team who are meeting regularly and monitoring the situation, who can respond when needed.”

And as the search for a Covid-19 vaccine continues, UFI believes that government measures to contain the outbreak – and with that, compulsory hygiene procedures at public venues and facilities – will continue even as events and travel resume.

UFI told TTGmice that upholding health and hygiene standards at events in the future is a joint responsibility of venues, organisers and service providers, and that UFI members in the exhibitions industry “bear the stamp of quality” and always “put the health of people first, whether that be venue staff, exhibitors, visitors, service providers etc”.

In late-February/early-March, health, safety and security experts of the International Association of Convention Centres (AIPC) and UFI came together to form the AIPC-UFI Task Force and produced the Good Practice Guidance, Convention and Exhibition Centre Health and Safety: Managing COVID-19 Challenges.

The resource helps members and the convention and exhibition industry at large to address the recent outbreak, providing tips on coping with a rapid facility shutdown ordered by the authorities, managing responses during a suspected virus incident, and communicating during times of crisis, among many others.

While UFI will not say what the critical must-dos are in terms of health safety for attendees and venue cleanliness, the association told TTGmice that both UFI and AIPC will continue to expand the guidelines by “putting together a series of best practice cases, as these become available”.

“It is important that we enable exhibitions to take place as soon as possible (respecting strong hygiene measures) to help boost the economy, by helping SMEs relaunch their businesses,” said the UFI spokesperson.

Clean standards at hotels
In Singapore, hotels are aligned with the National Environment Agency’s SG Clean campaign, which is rolled out across various sectors including schools, government buildings, conference venues, tourist attractions and F&B outlets.

To achieve the SG Clean quality mark, sector stakeholders will need to commit and adhere to sector-specific sanitation and hygiene checklists, covering areas such as management oversight, cleaning methodology, toilet cleanliness, and general public hygiene. Premises will be audited by agencies or appointed third-party assessors.

Hotels expect these enhanced cleaning processes to remain even as life returns to normal.

Cinn Tan, chief sales and marketing officer of Singapore-based Pan Pacific Hotels Group, said the “additional precautionary measures, increased frequency of cleaning, and heightened levels of personal hygiene would be new standards for hotels”.

She told TTGmice that in addition to the usual strict standards of daily sanitising and cleaning, the outbreak has led her team to enhance the frequency of deep cleansing and disinfecting, taking special care of high-touch areas such as doorknobs, lift buttons and handrails.

Accor properties across Singapore are certified SG Clean, which Kerry Healy, vice president sales Asia Pacific, said will reassure guests and make them feel safe to travel again once the pandemic blows over.

The hotel company has also developed its own comprehensive audit process to ensure its hotels are following the highest hygiene and safety standards possible.

Healy said technology could enhance contact tracing, which is in place across Accor hotels.

“Solutions like IDEM Hospitality’s Group Housing solution will allow the hotel to know in real-time what is happening with our group business and allow us to be better prepared as opposed to waiting for rooming lists to arrive. By being prepared, we can better serve our guests and allocate hotel resources to appropriately manage and streamline group guests movements,” said Healy.

She emphasised that health and hygiene procedures are a responsibility of “all departments, from HR to housekeeping, F&B to revenue management”, and that hotels’ hygiene and disinfectant processes will become an even more important criteria among clients following the crisis.

She commented: “Our hotels have always had high cleanliness and hygiene standards but this crisis has allowed us to work with local health authorities to further enhance the group’s existing operating protocols. We will continue these protocols even when the situation has been contained.”

Different interactions
In the initial stages of activity recovery, attendees may still be cautious about social interactions and event formats will need to change to address such concerns.

Loy: the pandemic has brought venue cleanliness into sharp relief across the world

Loy shared that his team is encouraging and helping clients to incorporate social distancing planning for future events, such as modifying seating formats and exhibition floorplans to allow more space between participants.

“We have also re-engineered our F&B menu, offering lunch and coffee break boxes instead of normal buffet lines. We are also working with clients to see how we can help to encourage pre-event registrations instead of on-site registrations,” he revealed.

The same is happening at Accor. Healy shared that her teams and partners are working together “to adapt to the new normal and implement safe distancing measures on meetings and events, rethinking F&B offering, capacity of rooms, etc”.

She said: “We would expect in the next few weeks many of our customers will be amending their RFP questions around hygiene, audience seating standards, etc until proper treatment and available vaccines are in play. Our goal is to create an environment for our clients to safely conduct events in our properties, a new normal in a way.” – Additional reporting by Anne Somanas, Pamela Chow and Adelaine Ng

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