Hotels get creative to attract group business
Having a meeting at a hotel no longer means having to sit in a windowless, overly air-conditioned room and noshing on cold cuts sandwiched between stale bread.
Hotels are finally starting to lure leisure travelers back as the economy improves, but they are still struggling to convince businesses that they should send groups of employees off-campus for face-to-face meetings. To do so, they’re coming up with creative ways to make meetings easier, more comfortable and even more fun. Think lounge-like conference rooms, make-your-own trail mix stations and apps that let you ask for a temperature change.
C. Patrick Scholes, managing director of gaming and lodging equity research at SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, says that for a typical Marriott, Starwood, Hilton or Hyatt, group business represents 30% to 40% of overall revenues. “This segment of the business is still lagging,” he says.
The Global Business Travel Association says that group travel spending will grow 5.3% to $117.1 billion this year. But the total number of business travelers expected to go on trips for meetings, conventions and other group travel will fall 0.3% to 166 million people.
“Meetings is a pretty big business for the hotel industry, and what we felt is that there really isn’t a lot of differentiation in the industry, and there haven’t been a lot of innovations in the last 50 years,” says Peggy Roe, vice president of global operations for Marriott International.
Here are examples of some new amenities hotels are offering:
Marriott Hotels and Resorts recently launched Workspring, a suite that consists of five studios to fit from three to 75 attendees. The suite has work spaces as well as common areas, many with natural light and access to the outdoors. The hotel also provides the latest in technology, wireless access, office supplies and food and beverage.
For even smaller groups, Marriott now has Workspace on Demand, which allows locals and guests to book online any space by the hour. The space can be a table in the lobby or a conference room.
Roe says customers want the spaces “to feel more residential and less institutional.”
Westin Hotels, meanwhile, is rolling out its Tangent flexible meeting space to more than 40 hotels worldwide. The spaces can be booked by the hour and come with technology such as free wireless internet, video-conferencing capabilities and Xbox 360 for games or DVDs.
Instant gratification is what many meeting planners are demanding these days.
Marriott has come up with Red Coat Direct, a new mobile app that will let them make requests ? from ordering coffee and food to changing the room temperature ? without leaving the meeting room.
Hilton Worldwide last month introduced “Connect at Hilton Worldwide,” which lets planners book space and make other requests 24/7 at hiltonworldwide.com/connect.
“The meeting industry can be pretty complex, and nowadays, the responsibility that meeting planners have is greater and greater,” says Mark Komine, head of sales for the Americas for Hilton.
FOOD AND BEVERAGE
When it comes to snacking, coffee and cookies won’t suffice anymore.
At Kimpton Hotels across the country, meeting planners can have smoothie and build-your-own trail mix bars.
Themed breaks at the Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort Bonnet Creek have included a “Create Your Own Taco” bar and a breast cancer awareness break with pink lemonade, red velvet cake pops and strawberry shortcake.
At the Loews Ventana Canyon in Tucson, meeting attendees can scoop out their favorite sweet and salty treats from a buffet of glass jars into little paper sacks, just like at an old-fashioned candy store.
Many hotels have come up with entertaining breaks such as mojito-making lessons and cooking classes.
None of these options is free, however. The Hotel Monaco Seattle’s trail mix station, for instance, costs $8 a person.
But hoteliers say meeting planners are willing to invest in better food to energize attendees during long days of meetings.
“Offering these unique meetings and events experiences is really how we can differentiate ourselves (from) other like-minded hotels,” says Paul Whetsell, president and chief executive officer of Loews Hotels & Resorts.