How Hotels like Marriott and Wynn Resorts are launching on-site COVID-19 testing to jumpstart their gutted group travel businesses

  • Hotels are eager to bring travelers back to their properties. 
  • Some are offering on-site testing for groups planning events at their hotels. 
  • The hope is that testing protocols will make groups feel confident about booking a stay. 
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Hotels are coming up with all kinds of new ways to jumpstart their businesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic. For some, on-site testing has become the latest tool to get group travel back in full swing.

The hotel industry relies on group travel — a catch-all term for crowds of both leisure and business travelers staying at a property — for nearly a quarter of its annual business. 

But as the pandemic has canceled, postponed or even moved conferences, trade shows, weddings, and other events online, that segment of the industry has seen large declines. Marriott International, for example, said on its quarterly earnings call February 18 that its group bookings are pacing to be down 57% in 2021 compared to 2019.

The would-be saving grace for the group businesses of hospitality brands like Marriott, Hyatt, and Hilton is the continued distribution of the coronavirus vaccine. Executives from each company on respective earnings calls this month said that their group businesses will likely start to recover by the end of 2021 and into 2022, in accordance with those efforts. 

But in an attempt to instill confidence that events can be held safely in the short-term while the vaccine rollout continues, some hotels are introducing testing protocols that event organizers can put in place for their meetings. 

At select Marriott hotels in the US, for example. groups planning meetings can opt in for protocols including “self-administered COVID-19 tests taken by the guest prior to travel, COVID-19 testing administered by a third-party testing provider on site at the hotel, daily and/or pre-arrival health screening questions via a dedicated mobile application and daily temperature checks to enter the event area,” Stephanie Linnartz, president at Marriott International, recently told Insider.

Meanwhile, Wynn Resorts is in the process of building a COVID-19 testing lab at the company’s properties in Las Vegas, in partnership with the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada. The company is envisioning using the testing capabilities to clear guests who test negative to attend events like concerts, conventions, or other meetings. 

“Extensive research clearly indicates that what is keeping people away from Las Vegas is not so much the physical environment, which we work diligently to keep sterilized, but rather a fear of other people. We must alleviate that fear,” Wynn Resorts CEO Matt Maddox wrote in an op-ed in October. 

Pre-event testing has been a frequent topic of conversation as states develop their own policies for reopening business amid the pandemic. 

For example, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced at the end of January that weddings of up to 150 people could take place indoors starting March 15, as long as each guest tested negative for COVID-19 beforehand. 

Companies like Bindle Systems and EventScan provide on-site testing for gatherings like weddings and conferences.

And many hotel chains, including Marriott, Hyatt, and Hilton, have started offering on-site testing in international locations so that travelers can meet the CDC’s requirement that they test negative for COVID-19 before boarding flights to the US.  

Of course, producing a negative COVID test isn’t a foolproof way to prevent spreading the virus at an event with many people, as the test can only indicate a person’s infectiousness at a specific moment in time. Epidemiologists say that when it comes to stopping the spread, testing is best used in concert with masking and social distancing. 

But, hotel executives seem optimistic that testing services can at least partially alleviate worries. 

Kimberly Wilson, senior vice president of global sales for Preferred Hotels & Resorts, told Insider that a “growing number of hotels offering guest testing services” can help to “allay these concerns and enables travel-buying companies to build out new and evolving corporate travel policies that reflect the times.”

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