Austin has long been known for capitalizing on its innovation and creativity. And as the COVID-19 pandemic brought unprecedented challenges to the destination this past year, those assets proved indispensable in helping organizers find a solution for their meeting or event, whether they chose to postpone or pivot to a virtual or hybrid format.
“COVID gave us an opportunity to redefine how we support group business,” said Linda Atkins, Visit Austin’s vice president of services. “Visit Austin now serves as the main source and conduit of information for how to meet safely in Austin by connecting customers to local health and safety resources. Our priority is to provide up-to-date local and state guidelines, while supporting customers meeting in-person or virtually by helping to cultivate a uniquely Austin experience. We appreciate every group’s willingness to partner with us and our local supplier community to get creative and produce a memorable experience.”
The Associated General Contractors of Texas (AGC of Texas) is one such group. The organization held two hybrid board meetings in Austin this past fall, bringing together 35 attendees at the Hyatt Regency Austin on Sept. 30 and Nov. 3. “We typically host our board meetings at our office, but we wanted to practice social distancing during our meetings,” said Tracey Borders, who is in charge of chapter and government affairs for the AGC of Texas. “We found hosting these meetings at the Hyatt allowed us to be properly spaced out and able to meet in a safe manner.”
Ahead of the meetings, Borders sent hotel guidelines and safety expectations to attendees several times, “so that there was no confusion about what to expect from the hotel and from ourselves,” she added. They provided grab-and-go meals for lunch, along with extra face masks and individual microphones for each attendee. The latter was especially important for ensuring audio clarity, as some attendees opted to tune in remotely.
Borders said that working closely with the Hyatt team proved integral to pinning down the right room set — specifically hollow square, with each person seated six feet from others. “Melanie [Pockmire, senior event sales manager at Hyatt Regency Austin] provided us with a diagram that showed how the socially distanced tables would be placed in the room. She worked really hard to reconfigure the tables until we were able to get it to the number we needed for our board meeting.”
When the time is right to gather again, Austin is ready and waiting. The city’s more than 42,000 hotel rooms and LEED Gold-certified Austin Convention Center, which recently earned the GBAC STAR accreditation, have instituted new health and safety protocol to ensure visitor safety. Destination-wide, organizers can expect to find an abundance of options for physically distanced activities, from outdoor live music venues to the wide-open spaces of the Texas Hill Country. Not to mention Austin’s perpetually pleasant climate — the destination sees more than 300 days of sunshine and an average temperature of 68 degrees, making outdoor functions possible almost any time of year.
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