As the association meeting market returns to robust health, hotel partners play a more important role than ever in the success of conventions, conferences and other events.
And as the hotel industry returns to good health, there has been a wave of new property development, renovations, and the creation of new services and benefits for meeting planners and attendees.
Association Conventions & Facilities surveyed a who’s who list of major meeting industry hoteliers to see who’s doing what — and why planners should do business with them.
Caesars Entertainment is one of two titans in the convention and gaming industry, operating a portfolio of major Las Vegas meeting and convention hotels that includes the landmark Caesars Palace, as well as the Flamingo, Rio All-Suite Hotel and Planet Hollywood.
Other major brands include Harrah’s and Bally’s.
Despite the tremendous brand awareness the company enjoys in Las Vegas, many planners may not be aware that Caesars operates a total of 40 properties across the U.S. Caesars also operates high-profile properties in Lake Tahoe, the Gulf Coast and across the Midwest.
Now that Las Vegas has fully recovered its might as one of the country’s most dominant association convention destinations, Caesars has commenced an aggressive development slate.
It’s no accident that Caesars Entertainment enjoys its giant reputation in the meeting and convention industry, says Michael Massari, vice president of meeting sales and operations – Las Vegas.
“We have wonderful meeting and event venues from one end of the country to the other,” he says. “But our real goal has always been to make the meeting planner successful with things that are more intangible. Our organizational structure has everyone who touches a meeting at any of our properties under a single leadership umbrella. It also puts salespeople in the communities where our customers are, so they can get to know them and provide a more personal level of attention and service.”
One innovation that has proven wildly popular with meeting planners is the company’s one-stop-shop philosophy, which makes it easy for planners to seamlessly mix and match properties and venues within a destination, with one contact, one contract and one F&B minimum. “Planners can also take advantage of alternative venues like restaurants, lounges and nightclubs and have a portion of their spend apply to their catered F&B minimum,” Massari says. “We also recognize and reward planners in two ways: our Total Rewards program allows planners to earn reward credits for their meetings and events, and then use those credits for future meetings or individual rewards. In addition, when they book a meeting with us, they’re automatically upgraded to Diamond Status, which provides a host of VIP benefits and services when they visit any of our properties.”
As for the needs and interests of planners, Massari says, personalized service and attention to individual events is another things that sets Caesars apart.
“In our business there really is no one-size-fits-all,” he says. “Fortunately, we have the benefit of getting to sit down with each and every customer and ask them what they’re trying to achieve, what their needs are, and then crafting a custom solution that is just for them. The things I mentioned that we’ve put in place over the years — our organizational structure, one-stop-shop philosophy, alternative venues program, Meeting Diamond and Total Rewards programs — these are all things we created to make us more flexible and easier to work with, and to let the planner choose what they wanted and needed from us. The good thing is, this approach is timeless, and doesn’t need to change with the economic climate or adapt to trends. It is always, simply, about giving the customer what they want.”
For more information and a list of properties, visit www.cetmeetings.com.
Hilton Worldwide is arguably one of the most respected individual hotel brands within the meeting industry.
The company operates a whopping 3,500 U.S. hotels across 10 brands.
Its most important meeting-related brands are Conrad Hotels & Resorts, Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts, Hilton Hotels & Resorts and DoubleTree by Hilton, according to Larry Luteran, senior vice president, group sales and industry relations.
Hilton’s mission in the meeting industry is clear-cut, Luteran says. “Our mission for meetings is to be the first choice for meetings globally and to ensure the highest level of service excellence,” he says. “When our clients come to us for a convention, conference or meeting, we sincerely listen to the requests and wishes that will make their event extra special. And then — the most important part — we deliver. We strive to meet the expectations of each customer we work with.
“We also provide a number of tools for meeting and event planners such as Connect+, an online portal that gives instant access to event management tools and everyday solutions, to Meetings Simplified, a service that offers our services and facilities for groups of 25 attendees or less,” Luteran says.
On the planner side, Luteran says, tight budgets continue to be a challenge. “Planners are being asked to produce great results with smaller budgets. Therefore, planners have to be more creative, and our hotels have to be better equipped to help produce the resources they need.”
Hilton Worldwide, he says, “is focused on enhancing our products and tools to create great experiences for our group customers. We continually examine every aspect of the customer experience to evaluate areas for enhancement, from our sales processes, pricing, online tools, contracts, Hilton HHonors program and sales structure. Hilton Worldwide has always been a leader in the meetings business, and we strive to continually improve and evolve.”
For more information and a list of properties, visit www.hilton.com.
Over the last decade, Starwood Hotels & Resorts has worked relentlessly to become one of the world’s premier operators of meeting and convention hotels, notes David Marr, senior vice president, brand marketing.
As a company that serves meeting planners, “Starwood is laser-focused on strengthening the existing relationships with our customers and developing new accounts to be the partner of choice,” Marr says. “We are confident that our diverse brands and ever-growing global portfolio will drive our strategy to continue to outperform the market and grow share. We strive to be the easiest company to do business with by deploying our teams the way customers buy and instilling a culture of being reliable, flexible, responsive, proactive and focused on creative solutions. We capitalize on setting the trends with our innovative eye to draw greater loyalty from our customers and guests. We are dedicated to personalizing our sales and service approach tailored to the unique behaviors of our customers — not only to stand out from the competition, but to ensure relevant value to our customers and their overall experience with Starwood. Our ongoing strategy is built with this personalization effort front-and-center, including our group offers.”
In terms of keeping their finger on the pulse of meeting planner goals and demands, Marr says, “Groups are still hyper-focused on their bottom line and value, requiring an even greater need to convey the importance of the actual meeting and its value to attendees. The environment today is…people staying for fewer nights and in some cases attendees who’ve chosen to stay at lower priced accommodations — reiterating the importance of driving relevant value and broad loyalty. Besides our efforts at being the easiest company to do business with for ease and efficiencies perspective for our customers, there continues to be a need for collective collaboration. Starwood, in particular on the meeting side, develops programming to help our customers construct creative ideas. Our consultative mindset and tools complement the process to ensure a unique and personalized experience with Starwood.”
Starwood operates 577 U.S. properties under the Sheraton, Le Meridien, W Hotels, St. Regis and Luxury Collection brands.
For more information and a list of properties, visit www.starwoodhotels.com.
Hyatt Hotels is another of the most time-tested and respected hotel brands in the meeting industry.
Hyatt Hotels Corporation currently operates 386 hotels in the U.S., according to Rodahl Leong-Lyons, vice president, sales operations, the Americas.
Hyatt’s primary meeting industry goal, Leong-Lyons says, “is to make a difference in the lives of those we touch every day. That means providing meeting experiences that are meaningful and memorable. Meaningful and memorable mean different things to different people. It is our job to understand their definition and deliver. That is easier said than done. But our people have a passion for caring and a talent for delivering. These are the people I trust to take care of my clients, and they often make me look good in the process. I trust them immensely.”
Key trends Leong-Lyons is seeing from planners include a new focus on F&B. “Local and healthy is the new normal,” Leong-Lyons says. “A variety of choices and gluten-free options are vital to satisfying the expectations of meeting attendees.”
Meeting décor, Leong-Lyons says, “has shifted to natural and non-traditional settings like outdoor spaces, farms, universities and museums, all of which bring a different flair and a renewed meeting environment and energy.”
Technology also is a hot topic so far this year. “The Internet is like air,” Leong-Lyons says. “It has to be everywhere in all areas of the venue for different devices. People now insist on staying connected — no matter where they are.”
Meanwhile, meeting budgets remain largely flat, Leong-Lyons says. “As a result, both planners and suppliers will have to be creative in delivering a memorable experience.”
Recycling and corporate social responsibility platforms also are now expected by many planners, according to Leong-Lyons. “Associations are working with suppliers to reduce their carbon footprint. Being green is not a clear-cut differentiator anymore. Meetings where attendees participate in community outreach events, to give back as part of an event, are gaining more and more popularity.”
For more information and a list of properties, visit www.hyatt.com.
Loews Hotels & Resorts is a small operator with a big footprint in the meetings industry as a result of its upscale and uniquely appointed properties.
The company operates 17 hotels in the U.S. and one in Montreal, Canada, under the Loews brand.
It operates hotels in some of the country’s most popular association meeting destinations such as Washington, DC, New York, New Orleans, Nashville and Orlando.
“Last year was a year of growth and expansion for Loews Hotels & Resorts, and 2014 will continue on the same path,” says Bruce J. Himelstein, CMO. “The company has committed nearly $1 billion to the industry between new builds, new acquisitions and renovations of existing properties.”
The brand also was the first hotel company to allow guests to book rooms via Twitter with their Social Reservations launch in November 2013 and recently announced that all properties will now offer complimentary Wi-Fi throughout all guest rooms and public areas.
“These changes and expansions allow us to continue to be a leader in providing first-class meetings and events services in all of our destinations,” Himelstein says. “At every Loews Hotel, our signature mix of innovation and expertise creates a standard of quality that is hard to match. We combine flawless execution with the local flavor that is our calling card Whether your group is 10, 100 or over 1,000 strong, Loews Hotels provides the room you need with all the courtesy and professionalism you’ve come to expect from any of our 18 North American destinations.
“From a variety of spaces to award-winning, personalized service, Loews lets you enjoy your event knowing everything is running smoothly,” Himelstein says. “We know it’s about peace of mind for our meeting planning clients. They’ve put everything into their event’s success, and with Loews, you’ll know we’ve done the same.”
Over the next several years, Loews Hotels & Resorts will continue its efforts to grow its portfolio of hotels, targeting gateway cities and resort destinations, Himelstein says.
Meanwhile, Himelstein sees planners focusing on quick response times and true value.
“In regard to quick response, this starts at the beginning with the RFP process through the actual execution of the meeting,” he says. “At Loews Hotels, we have staffed and deployed teams to respond to RFPs within four hours of receipt. Additionally, Loews Hotels has a program across all of our hotels called Loews LINC, which provides planners with a go-to resource for all their needs during a conference or event. Every meeting room big or small has a phone line, which runs directly to the LINC.”
Himelstein defines true value in today’s market as “providing more for less.”
Planners today are even more budget-conscious than ever, he says. “However, they are still looking for hotels to deliver high-quality, unique meetings within that budget. Loews Hotels has introduced several offers and ways to help planners achieve this. One example is our Customized Meetings Packages, where the culinary and conference management teams literally sit down with planners and create a meeting experience tailored to their needs and budgets.”
For more information and a list of properties, visit www.loewshotels.com.
Like Caesars Entertainment, MGM Resorts International is a Las Vegas-based hotel company best known for its world-famous Las Vegas landmarks, such as Bellagio, MGM Grand, The Mirage and Mandalay Bay.
Other Las Vegas properties include Aria Resort & Casino and Vdara Hotel & Spa at its vast CityCenter complex, The Signature at MGM Grand, THEHotel at Mandalay Bay, Monte Carlo, New York-New York, Luxor, Excalibur and Circus-Circus.
But MGM Resorts also operates meeting and convention properties Beau Rivage and Gold Strike on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and MGM Grand Detroit.
Despite its flurry of development, MGM Resorts International remains strongly focused on serving meeting planner customers, says Michael Dominguez, senior vice president of sales.
“MGM Resorts International remains group-focused with an emphasis on a seamless meetings experience when serviced at an MGM Resorts destination,” he says. “We want to be the go-to company of choice in Las Vegas for groups because of our expertise, diverse and quality offerings, and our commitment to making the process easy. We also are fair, consistent and, most importantly, transparent with our partners.”
MGM Resorts has launched a Meetings Rewards Program that allows planners to benefit from group room revenue spent during their meeting. “MGM Resorts is a thought leader in the meetings industry and is committed to the professional growth of this industry, so many of the rewards can be redeemed towards certification programs, educational programs and even membership to industry organizations,” Dominguez says.
Across the desk, where planners sit, Dominguez sees event-related technology as a critical issue. “The planner today is being challenged with the explosion in technology, usage and the curation of content,” Dominguez says. “MGM Resorts is partnering with the appropriate companies in the industry that focus on business solutions to these challenges.”
For more information and a list of properties, visit www.mgmresorts.com.
Omni Hotels & Resorts is a small operator with a big reputation for innovation and service within the meeting industry. The company operates luxury properties that are optimized in terms of facilities and amenities for state-of-the-art meetings and conferences.
The company operates 59 U.S. properties under just one brand — Omni Hotels & Resorts, according to Tom Faust, vice president, sales.
Omni also takes a very precise approach to the association meetings market.
“Omni Hotels & Resorts understands everything that goes into a successful meeting,” Faust says. “The brand’s distinctive properties offer versatile meeting space, exquisite banquet cuisine and impeccable service. Additionally, Omni has a dedicated sales team that listens to planners’ needs and understands their programs.”
Omni “can meet any need with its large portfolio of meeting venue options — be it a city-center hotel, an activity-rich resort or a spacious convention property,” Faust says. “The properties’ stylish ballrooms, breakout rooms and boardrooms are the perfect settings for hosting executive presentations, national conferences or major meetings. Each property features state-of-the-art technology and full-service business centers (some are open 24 hours) — many of which feature a notary public, printing and secretarial services.”
Omni offers exclusive deals and discounts for meeting planners and money-saving value dates at select properties. Omni Select Rewards is a program that rewards meeting planners or their organization in a number of different ways. “Planners simply need to book a qualified meeting and then choose from a variety of rewards, such as gift cards, master account credits, professional development or a charitable donation,” Faust says. “The choice is theirs.”
Faust also keeps his finger on the pulse of what meeting planners are asking for or are concerned about.
“High-speed Internet access available throughout the hotel and state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment is a must-have to ensure meetings go off without a hitch,” he says. “To that end, Omni has partnered with AVT Event Technologies (AVT), who has outfitted meeting rooms with the most advanced, creative meeting technology available including custom event products, high-speed Internet Access (HSIA),Wi-Fi, rigging and power distribution. AVT also provides meeting planners with a single onsite technology partner that takes their meetings and events from ordinary to extraordinary. Omni also offers complimentary Wi-Fi in public spaces.
“Furthermore,” Faust continues, “Omni has created a customized meeting planner mobile application, optimized for the iPad. The mobile app was created for meeting planners to use while conducting meetings at our luxury properties. While built for iPads, the tool also can be used across various mobile devices. Not only does it eliminate the need for reams of paper, it helps planners expedite a number of activities from menu and floor-plan reviews to session changes and environmental requests. The mobile app, which works via an iPad supplied to the planner when they arrive at the hotel or they can use their own device, is pre-loaded with the details for the specific meeting, including BEOs, group resumé, agendas and interactive floor plans. Meeting planners can simply tap a few buttons to make a request of the Omni team.”
In addition, Omni offers an annual “Be Collaborative” program, which is a professional development series offered to meeting planners across the nation. The theme of the program differs by year, but the overall objective remains the same: provide insight on how clients and suppliers can understand and appreciate each other’s perspectives and offer insight on partnering to collaboratively overcome obstacles to their mutual satisfaction. The half-day program, conducted road-show style at various Omni hotels across the country, centers on professional and personal development, followed by a networking cocktail hour. Each session features a notable expert speaker and professional development content presented by an industry expert.
For more information and a list of properties, visit www.omnihotels.com.
Based on its size alone, Wyndham Hotel Group qualifies as a major hotel operator in the meeting industry.
The company currently operates about 5,720 U.S. hotels under the umbrella brand Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, with three tiered brands that include Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Wyndham Grand and Wyndham Garden, according to Keith Pierce, executive vice president, brand operations. Select Ramada and Dream locations also cater to meetings and events.
Wyndham promotes itself as a global vendor to meeting planners, catering to both domestic and international association conferences and meetings.
“With over 140 hotels globally as of September 30, 2013, the upper-upscale Wyndham Hotels and Resorts brand is committed to providing high-quality accommodations, excellent service and functional venues for meeting planners and guests in top meetings destinations around the world,” Pierce says. “Our properties have the space and resources planners need to put on effective events, whether they require full conference centers, a ballroom for 250, or intimate meeting rooms for small gatherings. Properties offer the latest in ergonomic design, state-of-the-art audio-visual services, business services, catering and customizable menus, high-speed Internet and dedicated onsite staff to help meetings and events run smoothly and efficiently.”
Pierce adds that at Wyndham, “we understand that planners are looking for valuable offerings, amenities and experiences. To help them gain perks when booking with us, our Wyndham Event Rewards program lets planners earn points for every event booked and held at a Wyndham Hotels and Resorts location. For every dollar spent, planners earn 10 Wyndham Event Reward points — up to 1 million points per program or event. Points can be redeemed for a variety of options including free nights at top Wyndham destinations around the world, airline tickets, gift cards and more.
Once a planner books an event at a participating Wyndham location, Pick Your Perk by Wyndham Event Rewards gives them even more rewards, as they can choose their reward of savings, reward cards, points and more. More information is available at www.wyndham.com/about-us/rewards.
As for the things planners are most interested in these days, Pierce cites that planners are primarily looking for value. “While the economy has improved, there is still a vested interest in controlling costs without sacrificing quality or effective events for their attendees,” he says.
“Additionally, they’re on the hunt for the next big idea and innovation, something that will draw in their attendees and inspire their groups to engage and connect. From unique team-building events to customizable menus, state-of-the-art facilities and Wyndham Event Rewards, our Wyndham properties give planners the memorable experiences, flexibility and value they’re looking for.”
For more information and a list of properties, visit www.wyn.com.