If a single word encapsulates business strategy in 2020, it’s “pivot.”
As the pandemic rapidly accelerated throughout the country earlier this year, with little yet known about the novel coronavirus, events and hospitality organizations were forced to forge a rapid response. And it’s those businesses already set up with an organizational culture defined by nimbleness that were best prepared to do that — and that remain best positioned to succeed amid the crisis and into an uncertain future.
That’s because the ability to develop with innovative solutions quickly and implement them seamlessly is essential to navigating rapid change. A nimble culture allows organizations to work together, be creative, and make effective decisions as a team, without arbitrary obstacles.
One company ready to turn on a dime was Visit Indy. The organization was well prepared to respond to the pandemic, working with numerous hospitality industry partners within the city to swiftly announce a united message and coalesce under a common strategy.
Indy has long invested substantially in its event infrastructure. For evidence, take a look at the city’s upcoming roster of major events: Just next year alone, Indy is slated to host the NBA All-Star Game, the NCAA Final Four men’s basketball tournament championship, and the Big Ten Football Championship.
“Major events like these are not possible without a working relationship and cooperation with all stakeholders, something we’ve become very accustomed to,” says Visit Indy senior vice president of sales Daren Kingi.
To that end, the group was prepared to move quickly and as a bloc in response to the pandemic. Together with the Indiana Lodging and Restaurant Association, Visit Indy rolled out the Hoosier Hospitality Promise, a commitment to adhere to a rigorous set of safety and sanitization standards. And restaurants, attractions, and hotels around the city eagerly jumped on board.
“A safe environment is paramount to welcoming back visitors and reviving in-person events, so our team is working with partners across the city to ensure the promise is upheld,” Kingi says.
In the spring, the city launched the Indy Tourism Recovery Task Force, a team of 63 meeting and event professionals across all sectors who gather weekly to ensure continuing and aggressive actions that promote a safe and healthy environment in the city. Included on the task force are committees dedicated to hotels and other venues. “These have been important as we work with each client on a custom plan to welcome their attendees back safely,” Kingi says.
Indy also worked with hotels around the city, alongside the Indiana Convention Center, to offer zero attrition for meeting groups given the crisis, which hit live events and travel harder than nearly any other business sector. (The U.S. Travel Association estimates that an $400 billion decline in travel spending around the country this year will translate to a staggering loss of $910 billion in economic output.)
“We knew we needed to help our clients recover and reconnect, while lessening the financial risk,” Kingi says. “We were proud to have 22 properties across the city participate and be the first city in the nation to offer zero attrition. This took an enormous amount of collaboration, which can only be achieved when the convention center and hotels are in complete lockstep.”
To say it has been easy for any business in the industry would be clearly false. “It is unfortunate that the meetings and events industry has been one of the most affected industries during this crisis,” Kingi says. But, he adds, “Before I came to Visit Indy, I was a 29-year veteran of the hotel world, and I can tell you I’ve never seen a community work together quite like Indy.”
And that coming together in a time of crisis is driving measurable, real-world results with powerful economic impact. Indy is welcoming back groups, having already successfully hosted medical, corporate, and religious meetings with attendance surpassing 40,000 people across 18 events over 40 days.
“This is a testament to our teamwork and determination,” Kingi says. “If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we cannot sit around and wait for our industry to recover. We must continue to meet every challenge with creative problem solving and teamwork, two things that have recently been super charged during this pandemic.”