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INTERVIEW: Marcus Cornelious, Director of Sales & Marketing at Sheraton Grand Chicago

By Sharon Hirschowitz, Global Head of Media & Communications for The International Luxury Hotel Association
6 January 2021
3 min read
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Insight into their decision to close during the height of the pandemic and preparation for reopening early 2021

Can you tell us about your decision to close in April 2020?
We made the decision to close Sheraton Grand Chicago in April when the City of Chicago put a stay-at-home order in place due to COVID-19. We were hopeful that this closure period would be brief, however more restrictions were put in place surrounding meetings and events and business travel came to a halt. Sheraton Grand Chicago has always been lucky enough to have the space and expertise to host major Chicago conventions and events, so with group gatherings being indefinitely postponed or canceled in the city, it’s impacted our ability to reopen. While there have been peaks and valleys where we have seen optimism, we have not yet seen enough demand return to the business or leisure travel market to reopen.

How have you continued to engage with the community through the pandemic?
While the hotel is currently closed, we still want to inspire our past and prospective guests by sharing inspiring imagery and information about our hotel and great city. Through our social media channels, we have continued to engage with our followers during the closure and serve as a resource for those currently exploring the city or interested in a future visit. Not only does this allow us to inspire our guests near and far, but it gives us an outlet to support the other local businesses that are open right now. We have also been turning the lights on in our hotel to spread cheer to Chicagoans and passersby. We have been flipping the switch creatively to display symbols such as a heart that shows our love to the community and a martini glass to cheers to a brighter year ahead.

When do you plan to open in 2021?
Our hotel has always been a place for gathering, and restrictions on how people can gather in the future means that we’re having to really focus on turning our strengths into new opportunities for reopening. We are aiming to reopen the hotel as early as Q1 of 2021 and begin rolling out new initiatives for our guests. We also have clients who are very eager to host safe events at our hotel and are ready to do so once restrictions are lifted. We are also looking forward to that day. Our biggest opportunity is to see our convention experience and size as an asset, not a hindrance. While people can’t gather in groups of 100, having the capacity to host 100 people means that when we’re able to host 50 they can spread out for safety.

How are you reinventing your F&B programs and guest offerings in line with safety protocols?
We have held a lot of thoughtful discussions on what our F&B might look like upon reopening. This continues to evolve and will likely involve a phased approach to reopening each of our dining venues when the time is right. In the meantime, we are staying informed and making sure we understand the most accurate and up-to-date information. We are also thinking about potential partnerships with other businesses that are hurting, coordinating with tourism boards and the city, and listening to our community as we pave the right way forward. We have options and an operationally savvy team that we know not every property has, and we’re excited to be able to translate that into safe guest experiences.

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