It is encouraging that hoteliers who have served the corporate meetings market for numerous decades are still quite focused on optimizing that service, as opposed to resting on their laurels. From Marriott, the world’s largest hotel operator, to a relatively small chain like Rosen, the brands that many planners rank as “preferred” continually seek to refine their meeting facilities, provide the latest event technology, create innovative F&B experiences, incorporate wellness programs and more.
What better example than the on-going group-centric initiatives of Hilton Hotels & Resorts, a company with nearly 100 years of experience in partnering with groups. “From the first airport hotel concept to introducing revolutionary in-room tech, we continuously redefine and lead the standards for corporate travel by providing guests with the offerings and amenities that matter to them the most,” says David C. Marr, senior vice president and global head, full service brands. Research into the current needs of the business traveler is guiding that effort. “The corporate meetings market is a major priority for Hilton Hotels & Resorts and, this year, we launched a specialized initiative to better understand the new generation of business travelers and help them maximize their experiences traveling for work,” says Marr. “The brand conducted a study that revealed the challenges they face, the perks they seek and the incentives that keep them coming back.”
One interesting result of the study is that young professionals face certain health and wellness challenges when on the road: “Sixty-five percent of those surveyed admit they regularly pack workout gear but end up not using it, and 44 percent have gained weight due to traveling for business,” Marr notes. “At Hilton, we have seen a significant increase in the number of corporate travelers who continue to seek out health and wellness offerings when traveling for work. To address this, we have created programs and offerings that make staying healthy easy and enjoyable for meeting attendees.” Hilton’s Meet with Purpose assists planners with integrating wellness elements into their programs. “Popular offerings include the ‘Yoga and Yogurt’ package, which offers attendees a chance to participate in an expertly led yoga class and then visit a gourmet yogurt parfait bar for a healthy balanced breakfast,” says Marr.
This year, Hilton will test a new Meet with Purpose experience: “Mini Boost Camp,” an active meeting break and fitness boot camp that is fun for attendees of all fitness levels. In-room fitness is also a focus of the Hilton brand, which recently introduced Five Feet to Fitness at select properties, including Parc 55 San Francisco, Hilton McLean Tysons Corner, Hilton Anatole and Hilton Austin. Each room includes a Fitness Kiosk, a touch-screen display where guests can receive equipment tutorials and follow guided workout routines. The room also features an indoor bike from British cycling innovator Wattbike and a Gym Rax™ functional training station.
In partnership with Aktiv Solutions, Hilton has also created more than 200 fitness videos as part of Five Feet to Fitness.
Wellness is also a focus of the meetings team at Hyatt. “We care for people so they can be their best — and being your best starts with well-being,” says Steve Enselein, senior vice president, events. “One way this comes to life for meetings and groups is through our F&B offerings. With personal preference menus that allow guests to select their option once at the table and seasonal banquet menus that utilize fresh options, we are able to cater to a variety of tastes and dietary needs and utilize food at the peak of its quality. As well-being continues to grow in importance for our guests and customers, we are identifying opportunities to create more well-being touchpoints for meetings and groups, guided by the expertise of our wellness brands Miraval and Exhale.”
“We believe every group is unique, so we work with our clients to make sure we give them a memorable, tailored experience that matches their goals.”
— Cara Banasch
On the technology front, Hyatt is committed to enhancing digital engagement with its guests. Julia Vander Ploeg was recently named senior vice president, global head of digital. Vander Ploeg will report to Mark Vondrasek, global chief commercial officer. According to Vondrasek, she “is a dynamic and reputable leader in the digital space and will play a critical part in helping re-imagine Hyatt’s digital capabilities and increase the frequency and depth of engagement with our guests.” Last year, Hyatt partnered with SONIFI Solutions, Inc. to deliver a personalized in-room streaming solution to hotel guests. SONIFI’s STAYCAST solution, powered by Google Chromecast, was integrated with the World of Hyatt mobile app. Participating Hyatt hotels offer guests simple, seamless and secure streaming of their favorite apps, such as Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and more than 1,000 others, to the in-room television through a Chromecast device.
With regard to meetings technology specifically, the company offers planners a number of tools. “Our Meetings on Demand tool, which focuses on small meetings, provides planners with a hotel’s real-time availability and guest room pricing so planners can easily plan and confirm a meeting online,” notes Enselein. “Once the order is submitted, an event specialist will reach out to the planner to confirm details and share recommendations to enhance the event.” The technological assistance continues once the meeting is underway. “Our Event Concierge app provides a way for planners to ensure all goes smoothly,” he says. “With this app, planners can make requests to the hotel in real time, such as asking for more water. The request is then routed directly to the Hyatt team member who will fulfill the request, allowing the meeting or event to continue without any disruption.” Post event, Hyatt’s Group Bill allows planners to receive a streamlined final bill, Enselein adds.
Planners can also enjoy the convenience of partnering with Hyatt’s National Event Planning Managers, “who travel from meeting to meeting with their designated group to ensure consistency and quality of service across events,” says Enselein. “With a deep knowledge of the customer’s culture, National Event Planning Managers are able to work between the hotel and customer to make onsite processes easier.” In general, the brand’s meetings professionals focus on “cultivating personal relationships with planners in order to serve as an extension of their team, starting with the planning phase all the way through to execution,” he says. “With more personal engagements, we can better understand planners’ needs and collaborate to identify solutions that will work best for planners and their meeting attendees.”
Sensitivity to the individual needs of group clients is also a hallmark of Omni Hotels & Resorts. “We pride ourselves on really creating a customized experience for any group — from teambuilding activities, sports and wellness activities to innovative food & beverage experiences,” says Cara Banasch, vice president of sales for the brand. “We believe every
group is unique, so we work with our clients to make sure we give them a memorable, tailored experience that matches their goals.”
Providing unique event spaces is also a strong point of the brand. Examples include a speakeasy with four professional bowling lanes at the Omni Louisville Hotel and Omni Frisco Hotel’s partnership with the Dallas Cowboys’ world headquarters, which affords groups access to Cowboys’ venues. In general, the company emphasizes the local character of each of its properties. “Our brand encourages regional focus and local flavor, allowing experiences at each property to be unique,” says Banasch. “This allows our CSMs and culinary teams to work together and create meaningful F&B offerings that are creative and play to the strength of the property.”
Flexibility in meeting planners’ needs and wishes is also enabled by Omni’s ownership structure. “Because of our unique ownership structure, we can be the most nimble partner to accomplish the goals of each planner,” says Banasch. “This structure allows us to be flexible and open to creative vision and innovative use of our spaces.” Planners also find it easy to work with Omni, thanks to “a standardized, global meetings contract that’s easy to understand and has fair and reasonable remedies when necessary,” she adds. “Similarly, we have a two-page contract to make it easy for planners booking short-term meetings and events.”
To facilitate the logistics of planning, Omni has established a partnership with Encore Event Technologies. “Many of our convention center hotels are experimenting with technology that will map out their meeting spaces. Additionally, we are looking at enhancements that will allow for technologically advanced site visits,” Banasch says.
Rosen’s collection of convention properties includes the 800-room Rosen Plaza, 1,334-room Rosen Centre and 1,501-room AAA Four Diamond Rosen Shingle Creek. When combined, the hotels form a synergy for larger groups by offering 700,000 gross square feet and 3,635 guest rooms and suites within minutes of each other. The 44-year-old company has hometown roots, and its staff knows Orlando, one of the meeting industry’s pre-eminent cities.
Leslie Menichini, the company’s vice president, sales and marketing, elaborates on the proficiency of the sales staff: “We have a cohesive, dedicated team that truly exemplifies something we call the Rosen Difference. Not only does our entire hotel staff deliver excellence every day, they shatter expectations. I truly believe this is the cornerstone to our overall huge repeat business and multiyear contracts.” She adds: “The longevity of our sales team is also a bit unusual. I’ve been with Rosen Hotels & Resorts for 17 years and will be here when I retire. We have a wealth of knowledge and experience to share with planners from our sales team, more than 50 percent of whom have been with the company 10-plus years. This is an incredible benefit to planners — and our team — who are fortunate enough to build long-term relationships and that all-important ‘shorthand’ that makes a planner’s life just that much easier.”
Rosen Hotels & Resorts is also continually enhancing its trio of properties. The lobby at Rosen Shingle Creek features a new golden palette and metal art murals displaying the colors of the sunset, and the communal seating areas have been expanded throughout the popular Headwaters Lounge. Rosen Centre guest rooms have recently been refreshed with new furnishings, and this fall, Rosen Plaza will introduce stylish new décor for its lobby and meeting space.
MGM Resorts is making major strides in its Las Vegas meetings offerings this year with the recently completed expansion of ARIA’s LEED Gold-certified convention center (adding 200,000 square feet) and the MGM Grand Conference Center expansion, adding 250,000 square feet when it opens in December. In addition, Monte Carlo’s transformation into Park MGM has introduced Phase I of its new 77,000-square-foot conference space. As part of Phase II, Park MGM introduced Las Vegas’ first executive meeting center, Madison Meeting Center, and will debut the Ideation Studio in the fourth quarter. These high-touch, high-tech meeting venues are designed to maximize productivity for small groups.
Additional space is, of course, helpful in accommodating more business meetings, but “we didn’t just add space, we put a lot of thought into making sure we had the appropriate amount of space for the amount of group business we need to make a 4,000-room building actually work,” explains Michael Dominguez, chief sales officer of MGM Resorts. One of the most thoughtful components of MGM Resorts’ meetings product, and in the industry overall, is Stay Well Meetings. “We definitely have doubled down on the Stay Well component, which is now at Mirage, Park MGM and MGM Grand, and with the additional space at MGM Grand, we’ve added more Stay Well components. At MGM, when we first launched Stay Well, it was 40 guest rooms. The second phase ran up to 170 guest rooms, the third phase almost 300, and we’re now north of 400 guest rooms. And it’s all based on demand.”
MGM Resorts collaborates with Delos, the pioneer in wellness real estate, to design Stay Well rooms. “The wellness push is not going away, and we’re trying to take the science and the research that is behind Delos and the wellness side of it because we think that will be sustainable,” Dominguez says. “And we try to educate the industry on what is important and what the science is telling us we should be doing as hotel owners and operators. Delos does a lot of work with the tech world, and when you have technology companies converting their offices to be better in terms of wellness with lighting, air and ambience, we have a belief that when they’re sending people to meetings, they’re going to be looking for the same type of environment. The reason that’s important to us is that the technology sector is our No. 1 vertical.”
Speaking of technology, the Madison Meeting Center and particularly the Ideation Studio represent the height of meeting technology. “The Madison Meeting Center was built with the thought process of a conference center, which I know is not novel in its own concept, but we then combined Stay Well and other technology pieces to make sure we were being a little more innovative on what that space looks like,” Dominguez explains. “In bringing Stay Well into the space, the lighting is probably the most critical [element]. A blue hue of light will actually make us more alert and more conducive for learning and mental acuity than yellow-tone lights, which we’ve had in our meeting rooms for actually the last 30 years. And with LED lighting today, it doesn’t cost me a penny more to have the right hue of light.”
The conference center environment in the Ideation Lab will include cutting-edge Cisco technology called Webex Teams. “The difference with this system is that there are no wires, there’s nothing to connect, but it’s not Bluetooth,” Dominguez explains. “Once you sign in to a Team room, you’re part of the room, so anything being presented, anything on screen you’ll be able to download, keep with you, reference and communicate with other attendees about it if you’d like. But what I think is most important in these types of spaces is that the technology is learning and device agnostic. Which means it will work on IOS, Windows, mobile device, tablet, laptop, etc. And that is unique because when I find these high-tech spaces, I also need a high-tech degree to make it all work. And what we’re trying to do is create a space that is so user-friendly that the space will think for you. What I’m most exited about is that it’s the first time Cisco is using this technology outside of their campus in a hotel environment.”
Like MGM Resorts, Caesars Entertainment is also stepping up its game in Las Vegas’ meetings industry. Caesars FORUM, a $375 million, 550,000-square-foot conference center, recently broke ground at the center of the Strip. The venue will have skybridge access to Harrah’s Las Vegas and The LINQ Hotel and Casino, and pedestrian bridge access to Flamingo Las Vegas and the LINQ Promenade retail district.
Caesars FORUM will boast 300,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, including two 110,000-square-foot pillarless ballrooms, two 40,000-square-foot ballrooms, six state-of-the-art boardrooms and more than 100 breakout rooms. For convenient move-in, the venue is being built on one floor, along with nine easily accessible loading docks. The LEED Silver-rated facility will also feature FORUM Plaza, the first 100,000-square-foot dedicated outdoor meeting and event space in Las Vegas.
Caesars Entertainment’s new offerings in the meetings market are not limited to Las Vegas, however. This spring, the company announced plans to bring the Caesars brand to two hotels in Dubai’s Jumeirah Beach region and to the Puerto Los Cabos region in Mexico. And the company also recently broke ground on a new conference center at Harrah’s Cherokee in Cherokee, North Carolina. The $200 million conference center and hotel tower will offer 83,000 square feet of conference space and 725 guest rooms, along with dining and retail outlets.
This brief overview of hotel brand developments shows that major chains are actively developing both state-of-the-art meeting venues (e.g., Caesars FORUM and MGM’s Madison Meeting Center) as well as avant-garde wellness programs (e.g., Hilton’s Meet with Purpose and MGM’s Stay Well). But fundamentally, becoming a preferred brand is about the quality of the convention sales and services staff. MGM Resorts provides just one example of a top-notch meetings staff: “Almost 90 percent of our convention services staff are CMPs,” Dominguez notes. “We believe in making sure they are as educated as our industry is, and that they’re up on the latest trends. Our expectation is to continue to reinvent the experience, not to just execute, and we continue to do that on an annual basis.” C&IT