A Once In a Century Opportunity
Hotels that make it to this milestone have a lot of marketing legs. Here is a look at hotels hotting this major milestone.
Friday, September 06, 2013
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Only 25 years had passed since the time capsule was first sealed, but by technology’s yardstick, the calendar might as well have advanced 100 years: When Gary Froeba, managing director of the Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville, N.C., joined others at the inn this past July 12 in reopening the time capsule, its contents revealed, among other things, a newspaper from July 12, 1988 – the inn’s 75th anniversary date - the nametag worn by the inn's director of events that special year and a video taken at the inn that same year.
Although the then-new Vanderbilt Wing had held that time capsule in pristine safekeeping during the generation leading to its July 2013 public unearthing, nothing could shield one precious item inside from the inevitable march of time:
“The video," said Tracey Johnston Crum, director of public relations and community outreach, "was a VHS cassette." For celebrants to view it required just a bit more time. "We had to have it converted to an MP4," she said, "so we could show it on the computer."
A centennial celebration comes along, after all, only once in 100 years. And any inn or hotel marking such a historical event wants to get all the details right
While "new" and "modern" and "state of the art" are the buzzwords for keeping current and cutting-edge in the industry, celebrations of hotel heritage have the kind of value that is, in a word, timeless.
“These only come around one time, especially in my lifetime, so we try to get it right,” said Leslie Araiza, director of marketing and public relations at the Grande Colonial Hotel in La Jolla, Calif. In addition to creating a prominently featured centennial logo and banners, and a signage package offering snippets of history, this year’s Grande Colonial centennial has taken shape as a stream of monthly receptions for clientele and employees, rather than a single big blowout anniversary weekend. The hotel is especially proud of its special edition book, that tells its story. A local historian had been hired as its author more than a year ago. The timespan in that case turned out to be fortuitous too: the hotel’s vast archives had, sadly, been lost to time and circumstance during the ensuing decades, especially during the second World War, Araiza said.
The author-historian’s challenge “was to go out on a national level and recoup some of our archives, most of it in the form of photography,” she said. “He went to historical societies and the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington, D.C., and found a great bit of old photos of La Jolla … He spent months and months just trying to piece together our story.” The book, which was completed in October 2012, required even more time than the actual planning and budgeting phase for any other centennial events – including one that featured the staff.
“In May, we did a companywide event, closing the hotel,” she said. “We hired people to park the cars, closed the restaurant and had 100 employees come into our meeting room. The theme was ‘Making History Every Day.’ It was to reinforce our mission statement and our core values and give them a refresher of the last 100 years, where we have been and where we are today and most importantly, where we are going. This is not just about the past,” she said.
Recognizing that the present has a way of transforming into the past, the hotel also launched a contest to select contents of a time capsule, kicking off that competition this summer via social media.
In Wilmington, Delaware, the Hotel du Pont has been entrenched in twice the celebration - a double centennial: that of the European-style landmark hotel itself and for the Broadway-style 1,250-seat theater in the building it has shared since the hotel’s opening on Jan. 15, 1913. Separate keepsake books were commissioned and written for both entities – and special events and room packages were assembled for guests to get a little more personal benefit from the occasion, said Carolyn F. Grubb, director of public relations.
The hotel has also been hosting a lecture series, throughout the year, highlighting history, and selling prints of specially commissioned photographs that showcase the long and varied lives of the theater, the hotel and the surrounding Brandywine Valley.
"Our first lecture series included the photographer who worked on this project for six to eight months, and the National Historic Trust. We had champagne and hors d'oeurves, then a Q&A, followed by a themed dinner in our historic Green Room," said Grubb.
History was also recaptured in a grand throwback to the hotel's opening day on Jan. 15 - which had drawn 25,000 visitors in 1913 - as elected officials and community members attended a replay of the ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by staffers decked out in the costumes of that long-ago era.
In Portland, Oregon, to prepare that city's iconic Benson Hotel for its 100-year hurrah, planners hunkered down a half-year in advance with Duo PR, its public-relations and social media agency "to make sure we were both on the same path," said Leslie Caldwell, the hotel's director of sales and marketing. The centennial action plan timeline and its budget spelled out an ambitious agenda:
"The first thing we put into place was a tagline we wanted to use throughout the year for advertising and promotion: 'Celebrating 100 years of legendary service.' Once we had the tagline in place we reached out to our graphic designer and had him develop a centennial logo that incorporated the tagline," Caldwell said. That logo became the basis of many things visible around the hotel - welcome mats, awnings, stickers, employee name tags and most notably the flag it will be flying for the entire year outside the building.
On the big day - March 4 - champagne flowed at a VIP reception and dinner well-covered by the media, and historic tours walked visitors back into history through the building corridors and even into its Presidential Suite, which earned the hotel the nickname "residence of the presidents," beginning with William Howard Taft.
Speaking of William Howard Taft, he apparently put in more than a cursory appearance as well at North Carolina’s Grove Park Inn, where in 1930 his history-making announcement – declaring his resignation from the Supreme Court – took place in the hotel’s Great Hall. That same Great Hall was recently restored as part of the $25-million restoration just completed at the Asheville property. A high-end July 4 weekend barbecue with fireworks and a B.B. King concert rocked the house a week before centennial weekend. And then it all came together the following week, in a champagne- and fireworks-filled bash July 12, when all 514 rooms were booked – and where festivities will continue, on and off, into New Year's 2014.
At that point, there will be a new time capsule, said Crum. Back in will go all the contents of the previous time capsule, a resort flag signed by all staffers present during the centennial year, and posters from all the year's entertainers. There will also be cards and notes from any couples who were married at the inn during the year of its centennial.
"We'd like that to be opened in another 50 years," said Crum. As for the format the next video will take, well, they hope to take that in stride.