Stacy Anthony, CMM, has plenty of good things to say about using new or recently renovated hotels for meetings.
“It’s exciting because people haven’t been there,” says the vice president, meetings and events for NFP, an insurance brokerage and consulting firm. (And in the age of Instagram and experiential events, letting people be the first to try anything new is a major plus.)
“There’s something to be said about going into a space and having everything brand-new. You know everything is going to be state-of-the-art.”
Many hotels also offer a special opening rate, which is typically more affordable than the property’s standard charges.
But there’s a reason new and recently renovated hotels offer discounted rates to companies that plan meetings soon after a property’s opening date.
Booking a hotel that’s mid-construction comes with the risk that the hotel won’t be ready in time for a schedule meeting — leaving the planner scrambling to find another venue at the last minute.
“There’s something to be said about going into a space and having everything brand-new. You know everything is going to be state-of-the-art.” — Stacy Anthony, CMM
And indeed, Anthony’s recent experience with the Fairmont Austin, a 37-story hotel with 1,048 rooms, 60 suites and direct access to the Austin Convention Center, is the type of nail-biter that might give other planners heartburn.
When NFP booked the hotel for its annual strategy summit, which was scheduled to take place last March, they were told the hotel would be open by June 2017. New construction properties like the Fairmont Austin typically leave themselves a buffer of three to four months before they start booking events (although Anthony’s person rule of thumb is to leave 10 months to one year between the opening and event dates), so she wasn’t concerned about having a place for the estimated 1,100 attendees to meet and sleep.
But when the hotel still hadn’t opened by December 2017, she started to worry. She went to her executive team and told them they had to make a decision. Did they want to stick with the Fairmont Austin and hope everything was ready in time? Or did they want to pull out and start looking for another hotel?
The staff at the Fairmont Austin had done a phenomenal job of keeping Anthony updated on the hotel’s progress, she says, and they were confident they could get the property open in time for her event. In the end, the company management decided to take a risk and stick with the hotel.
It paid off. The Fairmont Austin officially opened on March 5. NFP arrived for its event a week-and-a-half later.
“The group thought it was the most amazing event,” says Anthony. “People love Austin, and they loved the property. When they walked in, all the TVs and other stuff in the rooms were new. Sometimes you go to hotels and the décor is outdated, there aren’t enough plugs or the internet is not working well. Here, the Fairmont thought about everything. They knew what people needed, and they took that information and addressed it in this hotel.”
Guest amenities include five restaurants and bars, the largest pool and full-service spa in downtown Austin and a high-tech fitness center. People who stay in rooms designated as Fairmont Gold have exclusive access to lifestyle hotel benefits, with their own concierge service, private check-in and checkout, and four complimentary culinary offerings daily, including deluxe breakfast complete with made-to-order omelet station, afternoon snacks, evening canapés and house-made seasonal desserts.
The venue had also designed the meeting rooms with many modern amenities, which made those spaces comfortable, easy to use and filled with the latest technology.
Although the hotel was still working out a few kinks with the lighting and other systems while Anthony’s group was there, she says the overall level of service was elevated because Fairmont had brought in their top teams from other properties across the country to work the opening.
Anthony’s advice to other planners considering a new property or one that’s being renovated is to read the contract very carefully.
Review what flexibility the company has if the hotel is not ready in time. Ideally, the property should work with you on any relocation costs if the event must move within the city or to a new destination.
If you have any concerns that the hotel will not be ready in time, it’s important to make the decision to move the event before registration materials are disseminated if possible, Anthony advises. That way people don’t have to change their airline reservations.
The Post Oak Hotel at Uptown Houston is another notable recent opening. The city’s only AAA Five Diamond hotel offers all of the glamor one would expect from such a property.
Accommodations range from 500-square-foot luxury rooms to the 5,000-square-foot Presidential Suite, which includes a media room and private elevator. Rooms have large windows with beautiful city views.
Meeting spaces include large pre-function areas for receptions or casual conversations.
There are seven dining and drinking options onsite, as well as a spa, salon and pool with private cabanas. The hotel has a luxury car dealership with plenty of Rolls-Royce and Bentley vehicles on display, and staff can even arrange for guests to arrive via helicopter.
The Conrad Washington DC, which is expected to open later this month, is another brand-new property that has many of the amenities modern planners and guests are looking for.
The 360-room hotel is conveniently located near many businesses, government agencies, stores and cultural institutions. A rooftop bar and other outdoor spaces will provide millennial-friendly places for receptions and other informal gatherings.
The larger event spaces include pillar-free ballrooms with floor-to-ceiling windows. Smaller rooms have private bathrooms and access to a well-stocked pantry. Sakura Club rooms on the 10th floor provide a VIP experience for guests that includes access to a curated Japanese whiskey collection and an afternoon tea ritual.
What better incentive than the lure of the warm sun and white-sand beaches of the Mexican Caribbean?
Designed with Mexican culture and heritage in mind, Hotel Xcaret Mexico is an all-inclusive resort in the Riviera Maya, very close to the center of Playa del Carmen. The property has 900 rooms distributed in “Casas,” different buildings that pay special tribute to the Mayan region.
The variety of meeting spaces range from a large convention center to multifunctional rooms and venues. In addition, Hotel Xcaret Mexico offers unique outdoor venues like the Hacienda Henequenera. The Hacienda has a sliding roof, and its patio can accommodate up to 500 people. The Hacienda also has a room with capacity for up to 1,420 people that’s divisible into four spaces.
The resort offers a one-of-a-kind experience — an opportunity to visit the best parks in Riviera Maya and Cancun. All-Fun Inclusive by Hotel Xcaret México is the only all-inclusive concept in the Riviera Maya with unlimited access to Xcaret, Xel-Ha, Xplor, Xplor Fuego, Xavage, Xoximilco and Xenses parks, as well as tours to Xenotes and Xichen, food and beverages, transportation between parks and airport shuttle. Other luxurious amenities include infinity pools, three gyms and 10 restaurants.
Planning an event at a hotel that is currently being renovated or has recently undergone a remodel has many of the same benefits and drawbacks as new hotels, as well as some notable differences.
Many properties that are mid-renovation can offer special pricing to groups, which is a plus. Because the hotel has already been built, there’s less of a risk that the entire property won’t be completed in time, which would force an event to relocate.
Like a new venue, a renovated hotel can offer updated facilities and amenities — often in an environment with added charm.
The Grand Hotel Golf Resort & Spa has been a destination in Point Clear, Alabama, since it opened in 1847. It became part of the Marriott Autograph Collection last year after going through an extensive renovation.
Among the many changes are six new restaurants and lounges, a refurbished fishing pier, new beachside and pool cabanas and an updated spa. The 18-hole, 72-par Dogwood golf course has already been renovated and the Azalea course is being updated this year. On the other hand, some things at the resort haven’t changed in decades.
“People talk about farm-to-table or garden-to-glass, and that’s nothing new at the Grand,” says Kevin Hellmich, the property’s director of sales and marketing. “We’ve been doing it for over 100 years. Our estate garden has 72 different edibles that our culinary team uses. The bartender goes outside every day and selects different herbs they can use in the cocktail of the day.”
The culinary team does the same thing. Bucky’s Lounge, which was named for an associate who worked for the hotel for 60 years, still has rare whiskey, cocktails and live entertainment daily. The jazz brunch is still available on Sundays, and a military cannon salute takes place every afternoon.
One of the advantages to utilizing a renovated hotel as opposed to a new one is that if the firm has been there before, there are existing relationships that can be built on to pull off a fantastic event.
i4D Event Services, an event management firm based in Crown Point, Indiana, has been hosting events at The Venetian Resort Las Vegas and its recently remodeled luxury hotel, The Palazzo, for the better part of a decade.
“The (sales) team has grown with our group … and has listened to our goals and helped us mitigate issues as a true partner,” says Kristi Calhoon, managing director, global conferences and CEO keynote programs. “They’ve worked with us to provide options to help get the best experience for our clients and attendees. We share feedback from our surveys, and the team works with us in partnering on how to create options to increase survey results year-over-year.”
i4D recently traveled to The Palazzo for its annual conference, where approximately 8,000 customers, partners and employees came together for four days to learn about the company’s offerings and mission. Calhoon says the results of the renovation were notable.
“The casino floor felt much more upscale and provided multiple areas for people to gather.” (One of the biggest changes at The Palazzo is the addition of the Electra Cocktail Club, which is located on the casino floor and offers the highest-definition video display on the Strip, chic décor and furnishings and quality drinks.) “The flow is way better as well, capturing people on their way to their rooms, but providing many incentives to stop before heading up,” she says.
Each of The Palazzo’s suites got new wall coverings, lighting, flooring and fixtures. “The hotel room refresh fells much more modern,” Calhoon says. “The colors and new fabrics pull together the rooms and give an airy quality that is hard to find in Vegas. The brighter color pops on both the casino floor and rooms and make the visitor want to stay longer.”
Signing a contract with a hotel that’s undergoing renovations still involves some caution, of course, because remodels can take longer than expected, just like new construction.
Calhoon recommends asking properties for their construction time lines and any limitations that will affect attendee movement if the renovation is not finished on time. Get a description of the changes the property is planning for the meeting space, common areas and sleeping rooms so you know what areas will be affected — and what you can expect from the updated property.
“Ask about opportunities that are available for VIP experiences that were not available prior to the renovation,” she adds. There may be new ways to wow your most important customers or executives.
That was the case when Walter Ejnes, CHCP, president of the Continuing Education Company, which hosts educational programs for the medical community, held a recent event at the remodeled Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa.
The company is a frequent visitor and has planned two events a year at the property for the past eight years.
“It’s one of the oldest properties in the Kaanapali area of Maui, and it hadn’t changed much in all those years that we had been there, although they always did a great job of keeping it well-maintained,” he says. “You didn’t notice or think, ‘This place needs a renovation.’”
But once the property was completed, “We didn’t realize what we’d been missing. The renovations are like the icing on the cake. It’s that much more beautiful.”
The Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa’s $26.5 million remodel touched all 508 guest rooms and suites, bringing new furnishings, décor and artwork into each space. For Continuing Education Company’s most recent event, the property arranged to put a VIP in one of the recently completed overnight rooms. “He was raving about it,” Ejnes says.
Other guests were impressed by updates to the 142-yard lagoon-style pool and the addition of ROCKsalt, a restaurant with a seasonal menu and cocktails featuring spirits produced on-island. The property also beefed up its internet access, which is a major plus for meeting planners.
“We stream our conferences, and we have heavy use of not just the Wi-Fi but the internet,” says Ejnes. “We definitely noticed that system had been upgraded.”
Maintaining regular, open communication with staff at any hotel undergoing renovations is his top tip for planners. He really appreciated that the Sheraton’s staff went out of their way to keep him informed of what was happening throughout the remodeling process.
“It’s an important property for us,” he noted. “We’re contracted out with them for the next couple of years every October and February. When we learned about the plans for the renovation, it was from the general manager. When they had their first model room available, he gave us a tour of it. He always kept us in the loop about the progression of the renovation. It was great to see how personally involved he was in the progress.”
For his most recent event, Ejnes worked closely with the Sheraton’s staff to ensure that both the sleeping rooms and meeting spaces were away from any construction taking place.
“We were concerned that any type of renovation would affect not only the event but our guests,” he says. “When they’re not at our meeting, what’s happening? Are they next to a room that’s being renovated and they can hear drilling and banging? We were aware of that and wanted to make sure their experience was perfect.”
From all accounts, it was, even as the hotel was being transformed into someplace even more enjoyable. C&IT