Hottest New Convention HotelsJune 1, 2015

These Game-Changers Are Putting Their Cities on the Site Selection Map By
June 1, 2015

Hottest New Convention Hotels

These Game-Changers Are Putting Their Cities on the Site Selection Map
The new JW Marriott Austin, the city’s largest hotel, is within walking distance of the convention center.

The new JW Marriott Austin, the city’s largest hotel, is within walking distance of the convention center.

Marriott has emerged as one of the top “hoteliers to watch” for association planners, given several major new properties the company has and will debut in key cities such as Miami, Los Angeles, Nashville and Austin. This year the hotelier opened the JW Marriott Austin, the city’s largest hotel and the brand’s largest in North America at 34 stories and 1,012 guest rooms. The Marriott certainly can be considered a “convention hotel,” not only due to the 42 meeting rooms and 112,000 sf of function space onsite, but also since the Austin Convention Center (ACC) is within walking distance.

Marriott on the Radar

According to Colleen Phalen, CMP, CEM, senior director, meetings and conventions, American Association for Justice, the new hotel “was definitely a determining factor” in choosing Austin to host the AAJ’s Winter Convention in 2017, the first time the event will be held in the city. About 2,500 attendees are expected at the convention, which will be a “takeover” of the property. “Austin has been on our radar for some time,” says Phalen. “The growth in infrastructure and global recognition has made Austin a desirable destination to hold our major convention. And the JW Austin is also now a destination and attraction unto itself.”

Among the highlights of the LEED Silver-certified hotel is a fifth-floor pool deck and bar, and interior design elements that celebrate the spirit of Austin and the state of Texas. “The hotel’s infrastructure and design make it a perfect place to hold a self-contained meeting,” Phalen notes. “The meeting space is laid out perfectly for a group our size, and the technology fulfills the needs of the requirements we have for our show. I was also so impressed that the hotel was one that actually looked better when completed than the renderings. Preconstruction bookings can be a risk, but the JW delivered a top-notch product, and we are excited for our convention to come to the city.”

By 2017 the JW Marriott will be joined by another mammoth property in this progressive city, the 1,066-room Fairmont Austin, which broke ground last November. The Fairmont, featuring 100,000 sf of function space, will be located next to the ACC. Including the existing 800-room Hilton Austin, this trio of convention hotels will be a boon to the ACC, which has been underperforming in recent years. According to a 2013 market analysis by consulting service HVS, the ACC “currently operates at only 40 percent capacity due to a lack of hotel room availability for large conventions and events.”

Similarly, both Nashville’s Convention Center and Music City Center will benefit from a new, 532-room JW Marriott Nashville in the downtown, expected to open in June 2017. And on the West Coast, the Los Angeles Convention Center (LACC) will be complemented by a greatly expanded JW Marriott L.A. Live by 2018. AEG is developing a 755-room tower that will connect to the existing 878-room JW Marriott L.A. Live and 123-room Ritz-Carlton Los Angeles hotels by means of a bridge across Olympic Boulevard. Also part of the project is an additional 75,000 sf of function space at the West Parking Garage Event Deck, linked via two short bridges to the existing approximately 100,000 sf of function space immediately to the north of the Event Deck.

Planner Advisors

While the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) will not likely be able to take advantage of L.A. Live’s new tower for its 2017 convention at the LACC, Ellen Shortill, ASHA’s director, convention and meetings, has been highly involved in the project in a consulting role. Also serving on the Customer Advisory Board for other cities, Shortill notes that Los Angeles “has been the only one to specifically invite me into the architectural design process and ask for more details than I’ve experienced other cities (ask for),” she relates. She and five other planners were recently on a call to discuss candidate ballroom designs for the new meeting space. “There was one really great graphic of a potential ballroom. It was stunning but clearly looked like it had been presented for some kind of an awards dinner. And several of us asked, ‘How many meeting rooms can you break that into?’ Convertible meeting space is everyone’s favorite thing. And while the meeting space doesn’t necessarily have to be all on one floor, it does need to be easily accessible from many directions. We discussed the fact that sometimes you have ‘stacked’ meeting space, which is fine, but if you only have one set of escalators, (you have a congestion problem) when 5,000 people try to go from level three to level one during 15–30 minute breaks between sessions.”

With these kinds of discussions informing the JW Marriott L.A. Live’s design, the final product surely will achieve high levels of customer satisfaction among meeting groups. “The JW with the expansion (will be) the obvious choice for people as the leadership or headquarters hotel because of the quantity of rooms,” says Shortill. “Having additional rooms that close to the convention center will increase Los Angeles’ review and consideration (by groups).”

“Having additional rooms that close to the convention center will increase Los Angeles’ review and consideration (by groups).” — Ellen Shortill

Miami Worldcenter

A new 1,800-room Marriott Marquis will lead many association groups to take a fresh look at Miami, especially as the hotel will be part of the new, 27-acre Miami Worldcenter. Scheduled to break ground in the third quarter of this year and to be completed by the fall of 2018, the Worldcenter will house 600,000 sf of function space, including a 100,000-sf exhibition hall on the ground floor, a 65,000-sf main ballroom and a 1,500-seat theater. The Worldcenter’s 765,000-sf shopping mall, anchored by Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s, would be a particular attraction to attendees of the Duty Free Show of the Americas, notes Michael Payne, executive director, International Association of Airport Duty Free Stores (IAADFS). “We’re in a shopping environment with airport duty free stores, so it would have a nice synergy. But the other aspect is that there are a lot of travelers from South America and other regions who look for shopping when they come to Florida. So if you’ve got a situation where people are coming to our show and bringing spouses or guests and they have an adjacent shopping area, to me that’s a benefit.”

The IAADFS has utilized Miami for board meetings and seminars, but currently the infrastructure is not ideal for the Duty Free Show, which brings in nearly 3,000 attendees. The Miami Beach Convention Center, with 500,000 sf of exhibit space, is too large for the group, Payne feels. “We wouldn’t have the whole center so there would be another event going on at the same time, and we have a tendency to capture the space that we’re in and turn it into our event,” he explains. In addition, the hotel package would consist of multiple hotels. Both issues would be resolved with the Worldcenter and accompanying Marriott Marquis. “Obviously I haven’t seen the final design of the Worldcenter, but my sense is that it would be the right size,” he says. Rounding out the site choice advantages would be Miami’s robust international airlift: “The flight connections into Miami are important for us,” says Payne. “In this international business that we’re in, we get a lot of Latin American and Caribbean traffic, as well as European traffic.”

Throwing a Hyatt Into the Ring

Marriott is not the only major hotelier with new U.S. properties that will entice association meeting groups. Hilton will bring two properties on the market in 2016 that support the Cleveland Convention Center and Palm Beach County Convention Center, respectively. The 600-room Hilton Cleveland Downtown, opening June 2016, will house 46,000 sf of meeting space and feature a rooftop bar as well as underground connections to the Cleveland Convention Center and the Global Center for Health Innovation. The 400-room Hilton West Palm Beach is being built adjacent to the Palm Beach County Convention Center, and will offer two ballrooms, eight conference rooms and other function space. Developers are also planning a 225-seat restaurant, fitness center and landscaped pool area with cabanas.

A proposed Hyatt convention hotel would support the Kansas City Convention Center by bringing 800 guest rooms situated directly across from the center’s Grand Ballroom. Construction is scheduled to begin next year with completion by 2018. “This announcement is a game-changer for the KC hospitality industry,” said Ronnie Burt, Visit KC president and CEO, in a press statement. “Over the last 10 years, Kansas City has lost out on hundreds of groups, representing millions of room nights and more than $3 billion in economic impact.” Also in proximity to the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, the new headquarters hotel would offer groups approximately 75,000 sf of meeting, banquet and pre-convene space, and 9,000 sf of garden/terrace space. Amenities include restaurant and retail space, a 9,913-sf recreational facility and a 450–500-space parking facility.

“Obviously if Kansas City is going to compete for shows that are 5,000 or better total room nights, they’ve got to have the hotel package, the airlift package as well as the convention package,” notes Tom Pellet, director, meetings and conventions, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). “So the problem Kansas City has had up until now is they have a good facility as far as the convention center is concerned, but the number of rooms they have in the downtown corridor limits them being able to attract larger conventions.” While the American Academy of Family Physicians’ National Conference is regularly held at the Kansas City Convention Center, “we’re putting a hold on booking everything from 2018 on, in order to be able to take a look at whether the Hyatt goes up and exactly what their meeting space will be. And then we’ll negotiate with all the hotels accordingly,” Pellet explains.

The new hotel would considerably tighten the concentration of attendees residing around the center, and that is not only an advantage in terms of logistical convenience for delegates but also a cost-saver. “When a meeting planner is looking at a city, they’re going to look at the surrounding hotels, the quality of those hotels, their price and also their proximity to the center. The further out they are, the more they cost an organization because then they have to get involved in busing,” he explains. Furthermore, a headquarters hotel increases the options for meetings outside of the convention center due to the hotel’s own significant function space, and holding part of the event there can serve as leverage for contract negotiations with the hotelier. With about 5,000 medical residents and students coming in for the National Conference, the AAFP needs all the meeting space it can get: “We do several other meetings here in the hotels, and the hotels are limited in function space,” says Pellet.

The additional 75,000 sf of meeting space at the Hyatt would be a real game-changer, and that’s exactly what new convention hotels are to a city. They typically serve to make the city’s number of guest rooms proportionate to the amount of business the convention center is doing, or at least to concentrate more rooms and hotel meeting space in proximity to the center, which is generally attractive to association planners. It is encouraging to see many cities, both first and second tier, partnering with tried-and-true, upscale hoteliers to raise their profile in the convention market. AC&F

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