First-tier cities tend to be hotbeds of hotel development, and this is to be expected given their high demand in the leisure, business travel and meetings segments. But these days it is especially challenging for planners to find lodging space in those cities, and so it pays to keep an eye on less-traveled pockets of the country where meeting hotel development is surging.
One such destination is National Harbor, Maryland, located along the Potomac River just south of Washington, DC. While the destination has a recreational feel with waterfront concerts, the Capital Ferris wheel and Tanger Outlets, there are two major meetings-ready hotels onsite, one of which is new and the other improved.
Last December, the MGM National Harbor began welcoming guests to its $1.4 billion property, complete with a 3,000-seat theater, three celebrity-chef restaurants among 15 dining options, high-end retail establishments and a spa. The 308-room resort is also serious about meetings, offering the 50,000-sf MGM National Harbor Conference Center.
Even more recently, the AAA Four Diamond Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center has enhanced its meeting space with the new 16,000-sf RiverView Ballroom. The venue provides unobstructed views from its 270-degree floor-to-ceiling windows, and is supplemented by two outdoor terraces equaling more than 10,000 sf of space. With the addition of RiverView Ballroom, the 2,000-room Gaylord National now offers five ballrooms and more than 600,000 sf of indoor and outdoor meeting space.
Akron, Ohio-based The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company held its annual Customer Conference in January 2016 at Gaylord National. “We are excited to see the finished ballroom, as we were watching the construction take place,” relates Kelly Julian Fleming, corporate event planner. “It will definitely be a ballroom that we will want to utilize for our future programs. The natural light that this ballroom provides will help with overall creativity, productivity, mood and even reduce stress. We are very excited about the additional space and outdoor terraces right on the river with gorgeous views.”
Meeting at the Gaylord National allowed all 2,059 Goodyear customers, exhibitors, associates and staff “the opportunity to network under one roof,” says Fleming. “One location for our general sessions, our trade show floor, education sessions, meal function and sleeping rooms — no running to catch a shuttle to the hotel from the convention center.” Among the numerous onsite dining and recreational venues, Fleming highlights The National Past Time Sports bar, which was “a very popular amenity with our attendees. It provides a great menu selection, a variety of TVs to watch sports, sports memorabilia and a friendly environment to meet at and network with one another.”
Another DC property the 413-room Fairmont Washington, DC, completed a $27 million renovation in January that encompassed all guest rooms, the lobby and loggia. The executive forum amphitheater was converted into the 2,900-sf Kennedy Ballroom, and the courtyard garden was leveled to allow for larger events.
Following is a selection of more regions and cities that are home to new and renovated properties, creating exciting opportunities for corporate groups.
Another destination outside of the first tier that is burgeoning with hotel development is Austin, Texas. The 1,012-room JW Marriott Austin opened in 2015, adding 120,000 sf of meeting space to the city’s meetings infrastructure. This major new property is located just two blocks from the Austin Convention Center.
Last December, construction began on the $6 million Red River Canopy Walk that will connect the Austin Convention Center to Fairmont Austin. Opening in September, the Fairmont is yet another major addition to Austin’s hotel inventory, offering 1,048 guest rooms and nearly 140,000 sf of total meeting space. Amenities will include a heated swimming pool on the seventh floor rooftop terrace, full-service salon and spa, and state-of-the-art fitness center.
Groups also can take advantage of an upgraded Hilton Austin. The hotel completed a $23 million renovation and modernization of its 80,000 sf of meeting space and lobby last year. The project follows upgrades to the hotel’s 801 guest rooms, suites and executive lounge in 2014, and a refurbishment of the hotel’s eighth-floor pool deck and bar in spring 2013.
The latest renovation has redesigned the lobby to include social and work spaces, as well as a new digital media wall. Last summer, two new restaurants were added: Cannon + Belle and The Reverbery. The former establishment features a multi-station open kitchen, Texan menu, specialty wine and cocktails program, and an indoor biergarten where attendees can casually convene. The Reverbery, ideal for special events, is a recording studio-themed banquet hall complemented by outdoor space. A specially designed food and drink menu reflects Austin’s culinary culture. Two more establishments were introduced last fall to further enhance the Hilton Austin’s F&B offerings: the Austin Taco Project, located a block off Austin’s music “Main Street,” and a 3,000-sf Starbucks with an Austin motif. Given all these improvements, planners who last brought a group to the Hilton Austin prior to 2016 would do well to consider revisiting the property.
In Dallas County, Texas, the 350-room Westin Irving Convention Center Las Colinas is scheduled to open late 2018/early 2019. Located adjacent to the 17-acre Irving Music Factory, the hotel will offer 16,000 sf of meeting space.
Nashville is another second-tier city that has welcomed major new hotels. The 453-room Westin Nashville opened last fall with 20,000 sf of meeting space. Highlights include a rooftop pool bar and lounge, L27; and a resort-style spa, Rhapsody Spa. Planners who are fans of Music City can look forward to an even larger property, the 533-room JW Marriott Nashville, scheduled to open next summer. Housing 50,000 sf of flexible meeting space, the property will boast Bourbon Steak, a Michael Mina Restaurant as well as a rooftop bar on the 33rd floor. Groups will have up to 32 breakout rooms at their disposal.
Next spring will see the debut of the 612-room Omni Louisville Hotel. The property will bring 70,000 sf of LEED Silver-certified meeting space to a prime location, just one block from the Kentucky International Convention Center.
And in 2020, an 800-room Loews convention hotel is expected to open in downtown Kansas City, Missouri. The new hotel, Loews Kansas City Convention Center Hotel, will be located across from the Kansas City Convention Center Grand Ballroom and offer about 60,000 sf of meeting space.
The American Northwest is known for its majestic vistas, and a Seattle hotel opening this month will deliver inspiring views of Lake Washington from 23,000 sf of outdoor terraces. Offering a total of 60,000 sf of indoor/outdoor function space, the 347-room Hyatt Regency Lake Washington at Seattle’s Southport is 11 miles from downtown Seattle and nine miles from the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. It’s an ideal location for Bellevue, Washington-based PACCAR’s RPM Expo, which convenes dealers and suppliers for product learning. The event has been booked at the Hyatt for next January and will bring in about 160 dealers in two separate waves.
“I was at a Hyatt focus group a couple years ago, and they mentioned they were putting in this new product on Lake Washington, and I was ecstatic because it was literally half a mile from my office,” says Catherine Schrock, CMP, marketing events manager for PACCAR. Schrock, who has met the GM, adds that she has confidence that the new hotel will be up to par in its operations.
“My concerns about it being a new property are allayed by the fact that Hyatt’s got an amazing training program. And many of the staff will come from other Hyatts,” she says. “Plus, with them opening (in July) and my meeting not being until January, they’ll have had a chance to gel.” Having participated in a hardhat tour of the property, Schrock observes, “They have great indoor and outdoor function space with beautiful views. The thing I like is all their meeting space has natural light without compromising the need for audio-visual; you can go natural light or you can block it out.”
A rejuvenated property in the Emerald City is Motif Seattle, a Destination Hotel, which recently unveiled a $10 million redesign of its 319 guest rooms. Rooms now include art walls that serve as bold representations of the Seattle cultural scene and artwork by local artists. Groups have the 6,000-sf Seattle Ballroom and the 8,915-sf Emerald Ballroom at their disposal.
DaVita, a Seattle-based kidney care company, held its annual meeting at Motif Seattle last September, bringing in about 175 finance and accounting managers. “We have used Suncadia in the past, which is part of Destination Hotels, and to avoid monotony, we looked into other options in the Seattle area for our 2016 retreat,” explains DaVita’s C Level Executive Assistant Nikki Brummond. “We were delighted to find that Motif was part of Destination Hotels and allowed them to bid. …While Motif was not the cheapest, it was the relationship we had with Destination Hotels that made the decision easy for us. It was something new, fresh (downtown Seattle vs. rural Suncadia), and we knew the Destination Hotels standard.” Attendees can look forward to enjoying the redesigned guest rooms, as “We will definitely keep Motif in the rotation,” says Brummond.
Farther south on the West Coast, the Oregon Convention Center is preparing for a headquarters hotel in 2019, the Hyatt Regency Portland. The 600-room hotel is expected to achieve LEED certification, not to mention a 30 percent increase in convention business for Portland. The hotel will have its own 32,000 sf of ballroom and meeting space.
On the boutique end of the spectrum, The Pendry San Diego is a new West Coast property that is also in a prime location: just four miles from San Diego International Airport and three blocks from the San Diego Convention Center. For a boutique property, it’s well stocked in function space (35,000 sf) and has a great diversity of F&B outlets (six restaurants and bars).
Leawood, Kansas-based Third Avenue Events recently brought a major automotive group to the 317-room property for a media-facing product launch. Third Avenue Events owners Annie Rector, CMP, and Kristin Hems, CMP, who did several site inspections of the property last summer and fall, cite several features that make the property a standout.
“It’s one of the few hotels in the Gaslamp area that is vehicle-accessible in their ballroom spaces,” says Hems. Another feature is “all of the different restaurants and bars it has on property. We were there for two weeks solid; I don’t think I ate at every outlet they had.” In addition, attendees gave “a lot of good feedback with regard to the technology they had in the guest rooms. They have a port on the nightstand where you can plug in all of your chargers. You can stream whatever you’re watching on your phone to the TV. Those kinds of little touches really made a big difference in their stay.” The hotel’s rooftop pool, which accommodated nearly 200 attendees on the deck for a special event, was another highlight.
In spring 2017, The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas completed an aggressive capital expenditure campaign that began in late 2015. Improvements included a complete makeover of 640 guest rooms and suites in the 11-story Casino Tower. Also, the meeting and convention space makeover is now complete with the reopening of the 28,000-sf Artist Ballroom and the addition of nearly 18,000 sf of meeting and convention space. The newly expanded Artist Ballroom can be broken down into eight separate and flexible configurations. Ceiling heights in the new space reach up to 22 feet for optimal exhibition use. Hard Rock Hotel now boasts nearly 110,000 sf of contiguous meeting and convention space.
Arguably the preeminent Southeastern meetings state, Florida has major hotel development news to share from top to bottom, as it were. Up north, the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront completed a renovation of its 951 guest rooms, corridors, the rooftop fitness center and Regency Club lounge in April. The guest rooms now evoke the St. Johns River with their color palette, and outdoor terraces allow planners to use the actual river as an event backdrop. The project also added six hardwalled meeting rooms, located on the fourth level of the hotel’s Terrace Building. Overall, the Hyatt offers more than 116,000 sf of flexible meeting and exhibit space.
Orlando is abuzz with hotel upgrades, one of the most significant being the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin’s multiyear, $140 million redesign that includes the transformation of all 2,267 guest rooms. The latest improvement was a $5 million meeting space renovation, and the final will be a $12 million lobby redesign projected for completion in the fall.
Meanwhile, Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort is expanding over the next two years, adding new dining options, resort rooms and outdoor networking spaces. Construction is underway on a new 500-room tower that will overlook Lago Dorado. The expansion also will add a boardroom and two multipurpose rooms to the resort’s current 220,000 sf of function space.
The former Buena Vista Palace Resort & Spa was recently reflagged as the Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Palace, connected to the new Disney Springs area by pedestrian skybridge. The 1,011-room hotel completed a major makeover featuring newly designed guest rooms, a new outside terrace and refreshed meeting spaces totaling 92,000 sf. The renovation also includes the Float Lagoon lazy river; new pools and cabanas; and Shades, a new poolside restaurant. As the hotel is an official Walt Disney World Hotel, groups are offered entertainment and event production services through the Disney Event Group as well as the Disney Institute’s educational programs.
Another property, Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista also is connected by pedestrian skybridge to the Disney Springs dining, shopping entertainment district, recently completed a renovation of the Palm Ballroom with new furniture, fixtures and equipment. The hotel offers more than 78,000 sf of versatile meeting space including three large ballrooms and 38 breakout rooms, and is just 10 minutes from the Orange County Convention Center.
Extensive refurbishments have been completed at Rosen Shingle Creek. All 1,501 guest rooms and suites, the hotel’s grand lobby and many of its retail, restaurant and lounge spaces now feature a more contemporary Spanish revival-style design. In addition, the hotel’s 18-hole championship Shingle Creek Golf Course has been redesigned and complemented by a new open-air covered pavilion for 19th-hole events. The AAA Four Diamond hotel houses 490,000 sf of function space.
This fall will see a major meeting space addition at the Omni Orlando at ChampionsGate, part of a $40 million expansion project. The Osceola County Conference Center will expand, adding 100,000 sf of indoor/outdoor meeting and event space, and a new market-style restaurant will debut. In addition, the Omni is adding 93 spacious, upscale guest rooms, bringing the resort’s total room count to 813 guest rooms and suites, plus 49 two- and three- bedroom luxury villas. Finally, a new 23,000-sf recreational area has already been introduced at the resort.
The 1,000-room Loews Sapphire Falls Resort at Universal Orlando opened last July with 115,000 sf of meeting space, a 41,000-sf ballroom, 30,000-sf hall and 16,000-sf outdoor event area and an additional 16 meeting rooms and three meeting planner offices. The new meeting space at Loews Sapphire Falls Resort’s prefunction spaces, filled with natural light, contain many open seating areas, perfect for workshopping new ideas or networking between sessions. An air-conditioned bridge connects Loews Sapphire Falls meeting space to Loews Royal Pacific Resort, creating The Loews Meeting Complex at Universal Orlando, offering a combined total 247,000 sf of meeting space and 2,000 guest rooms.
Down in Miami, the future is looking even more promising for the meetings industry with the MDM Group’s acquisition of the former site of the Miami Arena as part of the plan to build the Marriott Marquis Miami Worldcenter Hotel & Expo Center. Groundbreaking could occur this year for the project, whose first phase would include a 600,000-sf conference and exposition center and 1,100 hotel rooms; a second tower would house 600 hotel rooms. The hotel is part of a 30-acre mixed-use development that will include retail, dining and entertainment, and luxury residences.
When hotel developments are carefully tailored to market demand and preferences, they typically become success stories. Such was the case in Atlanta, with the $70 million renovation of The Westin Peachtree Plaza completed in 2014. Every interior element of the hotel, including the lobby, all 1,073 guest rooms and suites, the entire 85,000 sf of meeting space, and the revolving Sun Dial Restaurant, Bar and View, were revamped. One of the guiding ideas for the redesign was Westin’s emphasis on wellness.
“Westin has six pillars of wellness: Eat Well, Sleep Well, Work Well, Play Well, Move Well, Feel Well. So everything if possible had to support those pillars,” explains Ron Tarson, the property’s general manager. “For example, the pre-renovation property had a black terrazzo floor (in the lobby) with kind of bench seating. When we renovated, we understood that in order to work and play well in the lobby, what we would have preferred is a bunch of conversational areas. So the look completely changed; we carpeted a piece of it and added beautiful conversation areas, many of them with televisions and hookups to be able to have impromptu meetings there. So the whole look of the lobby changed because our emphasis changed to be more targeted toward the Westin customer.”
The project has led to new group business for the Westin Peachtree Plaza, Tarson reports, but it was also important to “communicate with our best customers while we were undergoing the renovation. One of the things they told us is make sure when you’re inviting us back, you’re inviting us back at the right time. And what they meant was, don’t bring us in early if your meeting space isn’t ready for having a group. Make sure that the first experience we have back with you is a good one. We listened very carefully to that and as a result, we didn’t invite our group customers back until a good year after we invited our transients back. That took a bit of discipline, but it was absolutely the right thing to do.”C&IT