Insight; New York Hospitality Professionals - This Episode: Andrew Barnes
“Insight; New York Hospitality Professionals”, an interview series with professionals from the MICE industry in New York.
These are uncertain times for our industry – yet we believe that now is the moment to bring our industry closer together by strengthening our ties and relationships on a more human level. It is for this reason that Shackman Associates is undertaking a series of interviews with other New York hospitality professionals to learn how they are managing during this time.
In today’s episode; New York Hospitality Professional Karen Shackman, President and CEO of the Shackman Group talks to Andrew Barnes, Director, Account Development, Global Sales, Meetings & Incentives
Karen: Hi Andrew, thank you for your time. please introduce yourself, your role in the company, and how long you have been with the company.
Hello Karen, Thank you for this opportunity. I will have been with Accor for a year on December 2nd. Previously I was with the St. Regis New York for 5 and ½ years and before that the Grand Hyatt New York. I am part of the Global Sales team and my role at Accor is Director of Account Development with a focus on business development. At the beginning of 2020, Accor’s focus was growing it’s account base. The company has grown so much over the years, it was time to make sure that we were positioned correctly in order to assist all of our clients, current and new.
Karen: Congrats on the new job and the one-year anniversary – even though it certainly has been a challenging year in your new position. I didn’t realize how many hotels Accor has in its portfolio. How many hotels do you have in New York?
Andrew: We have 4 hotels in the city. Currently, the only one open is the Mondrian Park Avenue. The Plaza, Sofitel and Novotel Times Square are currently closed, looking to open in April 2021.
Karen: I actually did not realize that these were all part of the Accor brand. Here’s hoping that they will all open in April 2021. What is your current situation? Are you working remotely? And if so where?
Andrew: I am currently fully employed. The role has always been a remote role and I am based in Stamford, CT.
Karen: What is the norm for you these days?
Andrew: My days have been filled with staying in contact with my clients, ensuring they are up to date with everything that is going on with Accor. I have also been attending a lot of virtual conferences and trade shows. I am on the Board of MPI Greater New York, so have been involved with the events that the chapter has been hosting.
Karen: I must say that MPI has been doing a great job of keeping members informed and active during the time by means of their events and webinars. The info shared has certainly been invaluable and I too participate as often as possible. How do you connect with your team members?
Andrew: We have a weekly stand-up meeting where we discuss what our week looks like and share any information, we have gathered that would be beneficial for everyone to know. We also have a monthly team meeting that a Director is responsible for running. The Director has free reign on the topic of the meeting. One of the meetings started with some improv which was a lot of fun and something different, took us out of our comfort zones. Other than that, we have a WhatsApp group text which keeps us all connected, but the group is only for things outside of work, for instance sharing pics of the team's children or dogs, trips we have been on, jokes/funny memes etc. We also have a “Keep Calm it’s Friday” team happy hour which is an opportunity to unwind and share some laughs with the group. Someone from the team is assigned to lead the call each week and they have to provide the content; we have done a lot of trivia from the different area/regions of North America. Nice way to end the week.
Karen: Wow. Clearly, the Accor team is very inventive with your meetings. So many fun and creative ways to keep connected with the team on so many levels. I am sure the improv was quite a blast! I am presuming you participate in several external webinars as well. Anything specific that has come up in the past few weeks?
Andrew: I have been participating in several webinars over the last 8 months. Topics range from continuing education, leadership, state of the industry, industry recovery etc. There is a clear message in all of the Industry/CV19 webinars, everyone is ready to get back to traveling and meeting in person. Leadership teams see the benefit of meeting in person and want to do so as soon as possible, it just has to be done safely. In the last few weeks, there is a lot of positivity due to the announcement of a vaccine being made readily available mid-2021.
Karen: I completely echo what you are saying about where we are as an industry right now. We all need to get back to meeting and travelling and doing business – but safely! What are you doing from wellbeing, mental health perspective in order to keep sane during this time?
Andrew: Daily walks! I make sure I am taking time to get out of my apartment and walk every day.
Karen: Is there anything you are reading or watching that has been inspiring?
Andrew: I have been watching Below Deck on Bravo every week. I used to work as a Deckhand years ago so it’s a nice reminder of what I used to do and experience. Makes me miss being a yachtie!
Karen: So interesting. It must have been quite a transition from being a yachtie to working on land. What is the first thing you want to do, or place you want to go after travel restrictions have eased?
Andrew: I want to go home to London and visit everyone. I normally go back for Christmas every year and sometimes get a chance to go sometime during the Summer as well. The last time I was home was December 2019.
Karen: Hopefully the “travel corridor” between New York and Heathrow will be operating sometime soon. So many expats are missing family. Who knew this would go on so long. Are you still dealing with cancelations, rebooking?
Andrew: Cancelations and rebooking has slowed down for the time being. It seems that the majority of my clients have already taken care of moving or cancelling programs.
Karen: I think that is a big relief to so many that the cancellations have slowed down and rebooked, in many cases. It will be interesting to see how the next 6-8 months pan out. Are any of your clients considering virtual or hybrid events?
Andrew: All of my clients have gone virtual through Q1 2021. There is talk of that extending into Q2 and there are discussions around hybrid events taking place Q2 & Q3.
Karen: How has the company sustained itself over the past few months, and what are your plans going forward – specially as we enter the early holiday season?
Andrew: Flexibility and agility are key in responding effectively to a crisis of this magnitude. And our people have always been and remain at the heart of what we do and who we are. The Accor family has responded to every challenge thrown at them over the past months with an incredible amount of resilience, spirit, compassion and professionalism. Their ability to pull together and support each other in times of unimaginable stress and challenge has been truly admirable. This time apart has only reaffirmed the power of human connection, and taught us that even in times of separation, it is possible to adapt and find ways to stay connected with our family, our employees, guests and clients.
Looking ahead, we must work together as an industry to rebuild and maintain consumer confidence. We must be rigorous in our efforts to safeguard those who entrust us with their care, and yet flexible as we face fragmented governmental restrictions and ever-evolving regulatory guidance.
One thing remains the same – our unending commitment to meeting the needs of our valued clients and guests and hosting flawless, memorable, extraordinary stays.
Karen: Very well said and kudos to the Accor team for adapting so well to this ever-changing landscape. I am sure your clients and guests are most appreciative of your approach and focus. Any thoughts about social vs. corporate events coming back soon?
Andrew: I think everyone is waiting on the vaccine being made available to the public. Once people are getting vaccinated, I think we will see in person events coming back. That’s what everyone I speak to is waiting for. We must get the number of cases down for the local and state governments to increase the group sizes, a vaccine will help in decreasing the infection rate. I would hope by Q4 2021 we are in a better place, and the number virtual meetings & events will have decreased and in person meetings & events increased because of what I just mentioned.
Karen: I imagine you are developing new protocols for social distancing and health and safety measures – how will these be implemented?
Andrew: We have always maintained high standards of hygiene and cleanliness across our brands and hotels, and the COVID-19 pandemic demands that we elevate these standards even further. We have partnered with a team of expert advisors to guide our efforts and ensure maximum efficacy in the prevention of COVID-19 , including Bureau Veritas, a world leader in hygiene and cleanliness inspection; Dr. Amesh Adalja, Senior Scholar at the John Hopkins University Center for Health Security and fellow with the Infectious Diseases Society of America; and Ruth Petran, PhD CFS Senior Corporate Scientist, Food Safety and Public Health with Ecolab, global leaders in cleaning and hygiene and trusted advisors to the CDC. We launched a global cleanliness label, ALLSAFE, which represents some of the most stringent cleaning standards and operational procedures in the hospitality industry and indicates to guests and clients when those standards have been met. At each touchpoint along the guest journey through our hotels, extensive measures are being taken to protect guests and employees, including physical distancing; mandatory screening for all guests and employees, which may include a temperature check; face coverings mandated for all employees and guests in all indoor public spaces; 48 hour “resting period” for soft goods (i.e. pillows & duvets) between guest stays; increased frequency of cleaning & disinfecting, with a focus on high-touch points; and continued use of EPA registered disinfecting chemicals, proven effective in preventing the transmission of COVID-19. Cleanliness, care, and consistency are key in reinstalling traveler confidence. Guests need to know the measures being implemented are not just for show but are grounded in science and medicine and validated. They need to be reassured that extensive hands-on training has been conducted with all employees, that regular audits are completed to ensure initial and continued compliance. Words are only words: it is critical that we all act and continue to deliver a safe environment to protect the loyal employees and guests who keep our business going. To learn more, visit ALLSafeAndWell.com, an interactive platform that takes visitors on a journey through the hotel, detailing the health and safety measure being taken at more than 20 touch points throughout their stay experience.
Karen: This is all very impressive!! I too will take a look at the website to experience further what Accor is doing. What will your pricing structure look like going forward? How flexible are you being with regard to booked/postponed groups, and, hopefully, new bookings?
Andrew: Since the beginning of COVID-19 Accor has taken a client centric approach to be a good partner. Currently, we do have an offer that allows for flexible attrition and cancellation when contracting new business. Now more than ever it will be important to understand the customer needs when negotiating. Let us know what is important at the beginning of the sales process so we can work together.
Karen: This is probably one of the key positive changes in this industry as a result of the pandemic….the necessity and willingness for hotels to listen to the customer and to work together to secure business in the best possible format. Collaboration on all levels is essential right now. Where do you anticipate an increase in costs ?
Andrew: From my discussions with some of our hotels, there hasn’t been an increase in pricing that has been passed onto the client due to the addition of the safety measures. The only area that there could be added cost is if a client wants a buffet during a meal time and an attendant is required at each station, there could potentially be additional labor fees associated. As with most things at the moment, everything is evolving and with the increase in meetings & events and the number of attendees at these meetings & events, added costs will have to be reviewed depending on what is required.
Karen: What are the priorities you are focusing on in order to get back to business?
Andrew: First and foremost, safety is our number one priority. We have to make sure it is safe for our guests and employees to stay and work at our hotels. Our hotels are ready to welcome our guests back and in my role in Global Sales, it is my job to enforce this message and keep my clients informed of any updates from Accor as well as find out and discuss what is important to them. I am very confident that we can keep everyone safe at our hotels with the procedures that are in place.
Karen: You are certainly in a very interesting position right now. Communication and brand messaging will be key as customers reassess their confidence levels when considering travel and getting together for in-person meetings. Any parting words or insights you want to share?
Andrew: Over the last 8 months it has been great to see everyone working together. Whether you are a planner or a supplier, we have all come together to figure out how to get through this. I have been able to strengthen relationships and also learn new things. I made the conscious decision early on in this pandemic to focus on the positive rather than the negative and feel it has helped me improve myself. As we come through this I think it will be important to remember the togetherness as we will need to be flexible and continue to work together to rebuild our industry.