Tourism is thriving in New York City. A record 52 million visitors and an all-time high of $55.3 billion in economic impact are two of the incredible firsts being touted in the first-ever NYC & Company official report on tourism “New York City Tourism: A Model for Success.” New and improved hotels are popping up all over The Big Apple, providing planners with an even greater variety of properties with a plethora of services, amenities and value.
New York City is a hustling and bustling site of new builds and renovations — everything from ritzy properties in Midtown Manhattan to intimate boutique properties downtown. Between 2006 and 2012, New York City saw 95 new hotels in Manhattan and 72 more in the city’s other boroughs, according to the report. Room inventory increased from 78,500 to a record 90,387 and is expected to reach about 110,000 units by 2016. Moreover, in 2012, New York City had more conventioneers than Las Vegas, despite having only 2.3 million sf of convention space compared to Las Vegas’ 10.6 million sf.
— Karen Shackman, President, Shackman Associates, New York, NY
These numbers are manna from heaven for planners who arrange domestic and international group events. A top-of-mind destination, New York City attracts groups from the world over, says Karen Shackman, president of Shackman Associates, a leading DMC in New York City. “Some international groups, depending on what country they are from, their age and their needs, want New York hotels known for their superb service,” says Shackman. “That is most of our customers. Other groups want boutique or smaller, less expensive hotels that may not be located in Manhattan. There is a little something for everybody.”
An incentive group of 350 people from a manufacturing and supply company located in another country visited New York City for six days earlier this year. The group stayed at the landmark Waldorf Astoria New York, located on Park Avenue. “It was one of the hotels we put forth as a viable option because it could accommodate the group’s upscale needs,” says Shackman. “They are an older group that had heard of the Waldorf and thought it typified New York. Many groups choose iconic hotels that are closely identified with the city. They were awed by the Waldorf’s stately architecture and service throughout their stay.”
The group enjoyed a quintessentially New York City experience. “It was very upscale, customized and New York focused,” says Shackman. “We took them on a helicopter tour of the city. We also took them on a bus tour of neighborhoods including Greenwich Village, SoHo, Tribeca, Little Italy, Chinatown, Chelsea and Harlem. We gave them what I call ‘pop-up’ surprises along the way. One was a stop to buy pretzels from a street vendor who we had brand his pretzels and cart with the company’s name. Although we had to break the group up into small groups for tours every day, the value of the experience was the same for everyone.”
One night, the group had dinner at Sardi’s, a restaurant in the Theater District known for its show business patrons and hundreds of caricatures of famous people adorning the walls.
During dinner, they met the cast of the Broadway hit “Motown the Musical” prior to seeing the performance. “After the show, they met the cast in the theater, listened to them discuss the show and asked questions of the performers,” says Shackman. “They loved it. On another night, they had an event in The Allen Room (an amphitheater in Lincoln Center), where they watched an ensemble of Broadway performers put on a show customized for the group.” Attendees left the city feeling they gotten a true New York experience, says Shackman.
A major U.S. corporation reveled in a completely different set of legendary New York City experiences during a recent four-day incentive for about 950 attendees at a well-known hotel, according to Anthony Napoli, CMP, DMCP, president of Briggs Inc., a prominent New York DMC.
The first night, the group attended a reception at the Summer Garden & Bar, a beautiful space at Rockefeller Center, which morphs into the popular outdoor skating rink in the winter months. As a matter of fact, the start of the winter season in New York kicks off this year with the opening of The Rink at Rockefeller Center on Columbus Day, October 14. “Dinner was a Taste of New York theme with a dance band performing on an outdoor stage,” says Napoli. “During the party, they visited the observation deck on top of Rockefeller Center to take in the view.”
The next day, the group enjoyed a dinner cruise to Ellis Island and were mesmerized by colorful fireworks shot from a barge as the regal Statue of Liberty glowed in the background. Given New York City’s traffic, the planning and timing for such an event had to be flawless, says Napoli. “You have to go from bus to boat, boat to island, island to boat, and boat to bus back to the hotel. And we had to be on the island by a certain time because the Coast Guard gives you specific time to do the fireworks. But everything worked out fine.”
The group also held a black-tie affair at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “We had cocktails in the main lobby, then divided them into three groups with each in a different venue,” says Napoli. “Each group heard a curator provide a history of the museum and the venue in which they were seated. During dinner, they heard background music from live musicians. One group had jazz, another had a string quartet and the other had Egyptian mood music.”
On the final night, the group visited the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum complex. “It’s good to have a rain plan because the weather didn’t cooperate that evening,” Napoli recalls. “We had planned for them to go to the ship’s top deck, have cocktails and visit the space shuttle. Instead, we had cocktails inside the ship where the exhibits are and then moved into the hangar area for dinner.”
Napoli says it was the first visit to New York City for many in the group, and they were awed by the experience. “They were surprised at how hospitable New Yorkers are,” he says.
Jim Bozzelli’s group had a similar and very positive experience meeting in New York City. Bozzelli, director of business development/account for Lincolnshire, IL-based Gavel International, a corporate meeting and incentive travel planning company, arranged a unique multi-wave corporate incentive for his client in August. The group, composed of 1,000 salespeople and their guests, arrived in eight overlapping waves of attendees for a four-day stay at the conveniently located New York Marriott Marquis. The hotel was in tip-top shape following the recent $39 million makeover of its 1,943 guest rooms and suites, and the 29,025-sf Broadway Ballroom.
Bozzelli says the multi-phase (wave) incentive presented two unique challenges. “You need to make sure the enthusiasm and energy of the hotel staff, who must repeat the program over three weeks, has the same energy and enthusiasm all the way through, and they did,” he says. “You also want to make sure that the people in each wave have the same incentive experience, and they did.”
Bozzelli and his staff spent about two years planning the incentive, which required painstaking attention to detail. “We went to New York City for a site visit about two years out,” says Bozzelli. “About a year out, we went back to have a planning session and explain how we needed them to remain focused and up during the entire program. We developed a rapport with key department managers who we interacted with on a daily basis during the incentive, asking them to tweak some things a little. They were very responsive.”
For example, Bozzelli relates, “We did a welcome event for each group and a daily breakfast at the hotel. In the beginning, we saw a higher demand for certain menu items, or the attendees asked about something they wanted to try. The Marriott was good about including the items on the menu for future arriving groups.”
Bozzelli and his client company evaluated several hotels and chose the New York Marriott Marquis for two main reasons. “Having a unique venue (the hotel’s Broadway Lounge) where they could eat breakfast everyday while overlooking Times Square was a big plus for the Marriott. …Many things the city has to offer are right outside the hotel’s front door.”
Attendees, many of whom hailed from the Midwest and Southeast and had never been to New York City, raved about the incentive, says Bozzelli. “We did a paper survey at the conclusion of each wave, and the feedback was very positive. There is a perception of the city as big, busy and not the most welcoming, but they found it to be 180 degrees from that.”
According to “New York City Tourism: A Model for Success,” “New York City has been adding more hotel rooms at a faster rate than the national average, with new properties springing up as existing ones are being spruced up across the five boroughs. From boutique hotels and family-friendly properties to luxury and super-luxury brands, the city’s rapid development brings depth and design to its mix of already-diverse accommodations, as well as more affordable options, greater sustainability and the latest in amenities.”
Due to the increasing demand for hotel rooms, the number of properties isn’t the only thing rising. “The price points are increasing along with the number of hotels, and that’s something that people talk about, but nothing seems to stop groups from coming to New York. And you can still find value,” says Shackman.
Here is a brief summary of some of the new and improved properties.
The 487-room Hyatt Times Square New York, is now accepting reservations from December 3, 2013, and the hotel restaurant, spa, and lounge are scheduled to open in January 2014. The hotel has more than 8,000 sf of flexible meeting space including a 1,900-sf ballroom. The Grand Hyatt New York, a landmark hotel located on Park Avenue in Midtown, redesigned its 1,306 guest rooms and suites, and fully renovated its 60,000 sf of meeting space, which is equipped with state-of-the-art technology.
The Hilton New York celebrated its 50th anniversary with a name change to the New York Hilton Midtown. The property, the largest hotel in Manhattan, offers 1,980 guest rooms, more than 151,000 sf of meeting space and an 8,000-sf fitness center. Hilton Hotels & Resorts recently announced the launch of Herb N’ Kitchen, which is now open inside New York Hilton Midtown. The new restaurant concept offers healthy fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Meals can be packaged to take away or prepared for in-room delivery for hotel guests.
Starwood Hotels & Resorts recently announced that more than $400 million has been invested to refurbish some of its 21 properties located in New York City. Starwood also updated the 774-room Westin New York Grand Central, which offers 12 meeting rooms. The Sheraton New York Times Square completed a $20 million renovation that has completely transformed the hotel’s 60,000 sf of meeting and event spaces, which can accommodate up to 3,700 attendees. The completion of the meeting space renovation marked the final phase of the overall $180 million top-to-bottom renovation to the hotel’s 1,781 rooms and public spaces. The new Sheraton New York Times Square offers guests a modern design, sought-after amenities, and new technology including digital signage outside meeting rooms and in public spaces — with the ability to stream customized messages and live news — as well as client-controlled individual digital panels to customize lighting and temperature in each room, and a Telepresence suite.
Park Central Hotel New York will launch a new look this month following an extensive multimillion-dollar renovation. This landmark property has 761 guest rooms and 15,000 sf of meeting space including 11 meeting rooms, one boardroom and a versatile ballroom.
New York City has an abundance of incredibly unique venues. Popular spaces include the historic Edison Ballroom, a 17,000-sf space that originally premiered in the 1930s as the Edison Hotel’s ballroom.
The Midtown Loft, a 5,000-sf indoor event space, accommodates up to 300 people for cocktails and 180 for seated dinners. Large windows let in natural sunlight. The 3,400-sf, mostly open-air Midtown Terrace accommodates up to 200 guests. The Terrace’s magnificent 360-degree panoramic view of the famous Manhattan skyline includes the Empire State Building and the majestic Marble Collegiate Church.
Additional upscale venues include Gotham Hall, a seven-story ballroom with gilded architecture that was originally built in 1924 as the Greenwich Savings Bank building. The venue accommodates up to 1,200 guests. The venue also boasts five executive meeting rooms that are comparable to traditional conference centers such as business breakfasts, corporate luncheons, teambuilding seminars, sales meetings or multi-day exhibitions.
Since its completion in 1931 as the world’s tallest building, the Empire State Building has been an international icon. Thus, corporate events held at the Empire State Building offer an experience unlike any other. The expansive event space, Art Deco architecture and unparalleled panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline and beyond provide an ideal setting for product launches, conferences, receptions and dinners.
Convene, New York City’s newest corporate conference center — an expansive, nearly 40,000-sf facility — opened for business in April in the city’s downtown financial district. The new location at 32 Old Slip is Convene’s third conference center in New York. Formerly a Goldman Sachs training center, a $4 million renovation has transformed the space into a technologically integrated conference and collaboration site. Convene’s three locations in Manhattan offer a combined 110,000 sf of space making it the largest network of dedicated conference centers in New York City.
Renovations should be completed by the end of 2013 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, which is billed as the “Marketplace to the World.” Major renovations to the main building include replacement of the roof, curtain wall, skylights, enlargement and re-configuration of the main entrances and replacement and upgrades of the buildings systems. A green roof will be installed that will be the largest in the Northeast.
New Jersey’s famous Atlantic City offers corporate groups much more than gaming action. The casino resorts and convention centers provide many options for meeting planners.
The Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, which has completed a $50 million redesign project that included all 2,000 guest rooms and corridors, hosted in January the annual meeting of New York City-based Numerix, a company that develops software for risk analysis of financial derivatives. The Borgata, which features 70,000 sf of event space, also hosted the five-day meeting in 2011 and 2012. Numerix also will return to the Borgata in 2014.
According to Abby Kahn, global events manager for Numerix, the meeting was held in New York City for several years before moving it to New Jersey. “The move was done because our headquarters is in New York, and we wanted to take people out of their element where they live,” she says. “We wanted to take people to a separate location where we could have more teambuilding and bonding time without them going home in the evenings. Price also went into the decision. It’s simply cheaper to do things in New Jersey than in Manhattan.”
This year’s meeting included more than 150 sales and marketing people, executives and researchers from more than 10 countries. Building relationships through teambuilding was a central theme of the meeting. During one teambuilding exercise, attendees were divided into 10 groups to build different sections of a sturdy cardboard bridge in a Borgata ballroom.
Each team picked a project manager and had two hours to build the bridge. “The point of the exercise was that, although we are different teams from around the world, we need to come together to build a cohesive bridge to how we were evolving the company into a risk management space over the year,” said chief marketing officer Jim Jockle. “At the end, project managers articulated their vision for the piece that their team built. Then, in a symbolic effort, the entire company walked across the bridge.”
The next night, the groups dined separately at different restaurants outside the hotel. “The idea was that one night you solve a problem together and the next night talk more on another level,” says Kahn.
During another teambuilding activity, a dueling piano act entertained the group after dinner in the Borgata’s Signature Room. The two piano players provided music, songs and instructions to attendees who were called up on the stage individually. They received a prop such as a hat, wig, moustache or sunglasses and followed instructions on a motion or dance move to do or person to imitate. The company’s CEO donned a hairpiece and sunglasses to do an Elvis impersonation. At the end of the show, everyone took to the stage to “perform.”
The dueling pianos teambuilding event was a huge hit. “Since we had an international group, we were hoping that everybody understood the songs and got into it,” says Kahn. “Within 10 minutes, everybody loved it. People who were shy got up on the stage to do things they don’t normally do. And people who at first refused to go up there had a complete blast.”
During the meeting, the Borgata’s staff went out of their way to provide superior service to attendees. “You always worry about participants feeling fatigued about using the same venues repeatedly,” says Jockle. “By the time we did our awards banquet, we had been in the same ballroom for breakfast, lunch and teambuilding for three or four nights, but the staff worked so hard to re-dress the room for each event to create another experience. That completely impressed us.”
The Borgata staff performed beyond the call of duty according to Jockle. “We needed some gifts for awards night, so the banquet manager stopped on the way home to pick up items for us,” says Jockle. “The head concierge ran out to pick up stuff in town so we didn’t have to break the cadence of our meetings.”
Like New York City, Atlantic City properties are renovating and expanding. Here’s what’s new.
The 2,079-suite Tropicana Casino & Resort has completed a $180 million renovation it started last fall. The project included 16 floors of the 437-room North Tower. Rooms received new furnishings, carpeting, wall coverings and new-look bathrooms.
The Revel Casino-Hotel announced that the first week of July, 2013 was the hotel’s first profitable week since opening in April, 2012. Revel also said it is adjusting its marketing strategy with the help of a consulting firm, and has laid off about two percent of its workforce to enhance long-term performance.
Apart from hotel meeting space, Atlantic City offers the Atlantic City Convention Center (ACCC), one of the East Coast’s largest meeting facilities, with more than 486,600 sf of exhibit space and more than 109,000 sf of meeting space. The ACCC provides state-of-the-art computer, voice, data and video systems.
Atlantic City’s unique venues showcase the region’s character. Absecon Lighthouse, constructed in 1857, offers stop-and-stare views of Atlantic City from the top. Groups can hold meetings and events on the lighthouse grounds, which include a museum — formerly the lighthouse keeper’s residence.
Other special venues include: The Atlantic City Aquarium, which features the 100-person capacity Harborview Room. Boardwalk Hall, located on the renowned Boardwalk, offers six meeting spaces, the largest of which is 23,100 sf. Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum, which features interactive exhibits and artifacts, is available for private corporate functions.
New York City and New Jersey’s Atlantic City, located only 127 miles apart, each offer distinctive advantages that can make any meeting or incentive soar. New York City’s cosmopolitan character and seemingly endless supply of venues and activities is something to behold. Atlantic City’s concentration of splendid resorts, oceanfront amenities and gaming provide self-contained settings for the perfect meeting. Planners can’t go wrong with either location. C&IT