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Making Modern Meetings

What do today’s meeting planners expect? Here’s how to wow them.

Friday, July 25, 2014
Steve Pike
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Twenty years ago the most difficult question hotels and resorts received from corporate meeting planners was, “How hot is your coffee?’’ But times have quickly changed. The main question today is, “What’s your bandwidth?’’

With all of the mobile devices and sophisticated presentation software available to meetings planners and attendees, it’s imperative that hotels and resorts stay up to speed (pardon the pun) if they’re going to compete for corporate and meetings business, particularly because the numbers of corporate meetings and conventions have shrunk in size and frequency the past several years.

“The days of huge conferences and huge sales events changed in 2008,’’ said Kevin Rosa, director of sales and marketing at Turnberry Isle Miami resort. “Corporate America got smart about meetings and travel. Most companies don’t do two sales trips a year anymore – they might do one. So when we get a lead for 200 rooms, we do everything in our power to get it because that’s a substantial piece of business. Seventy-two percent of our group business last year was 70 rooms or less.’’

The number of rooms meetings and conference attendees occupy, however, is only the tip of the iceberg. Many people carry more than one device, be they Smartphones, tablets or laptops. So the amount of bandwidth a property needs to seamlessly cater to those devices is greater than the actual number of attendees.

Turnberry Isle Miami, for example, hosts Microsoft’s Latin American sales division every October.

“All of a sudden you don’t have just 400-500 people - you have 800 or 900 people. That’s the amount of devices on line at one time,’’ Rosa said. “Can your meetings space handle that much going through its connections?’’

To meet that demand, Turnberry Isle, Miami, which features 40,000 square feet of meeting space in 23 rooms, is doubling its megabytes this summer and installing new boosters to provide more bandwidth.

“That’s just in the conference center,’’ Rosa said. “When you look at the hotel and 400 guest rooms, with mom and dad and the kids, that’s like 10 devices at one time on line.’’

With so many guests and devices operating at the same time, hotel staff needs to be able to react. The Marriott, Renaissance and J.W. Marriott each have developed apps for reaching the Meeting Concierge at their respective properties.

“The app is personalized to the each organizer’s specific meeting,’’ said Ilaina Franco, director of events and banquets at the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino, which is the first resort in the Caribbean to feature the service.

“Requests can be made up to three days before the meeting and then throughout the meeting,’’ Franco said. “Once the request is made, it is routed to the event manager and banquets that can fulfill the request. Requests such as more coffee, temperature change, setup change are a few examples. A dedicated person at your event is what most clients ask for and with this app we are able to serve our clients at our best.’’

Regardless of the number of attendees in a group, the two things most important for today’s business hotels and resorts to succeed are technology and functionality. Each of those fit under the ”attention to detail’’ umbrella.

“Meeting planners want to know about ceiling height and square footage more than ever,’’ Rosa said. “They want to ‘feel’ the functionality – how things flow back and forth between the spaces.’’

That’s particularly in the ballroom, which is not only a big piece of a property’s corporate business, but also is the place where attendees spend a majority of their business-related time.

“Ballrooms and meeting spaces are being replaced with “event” spaces,’’ said Jason Dix, associate director of meetings and events at The Ritz-Carlton, South Beach. “More and more is being done with different seating styles and lighting to set the tone. Planners are looking for a blank canvas that they can project their clients’ vision on.

“The days of the square ballroom for meetings are going away. People want different and memorable.’’

Sean Mullen, chief sales & marketing officer for Noble House Hotels & Resorts, said the top two requests his company receives from meetings planners are fast Wi-Fi and a unique venue with a history, story or view.

“They get those at LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort’s waterfront meeting space (in Naples, Fla.) and the oceanfront ballroom at the Edgewater Hotel (in Seattle,)’’ Mullen said. “Rooms with natural light are also still a big hit.’’

In other words, meetings planners are looking for space flexible enough so as not to be “conventional.’’

“The Incentive and Corporate planner’s needs differ in the sense that they need a ballroom that can be a neutral slate that can carry their creative production sets,’’ said Rick Nagaoka, Director of Group Sales at Hilton Waikoloa Village on the Big Island of Hawaii. “What is equally important is the creativity of the Audio-Visual company to help visualize what the client may want. The ability to do renderings and CAD drawings is important. The expertise of the events team to build upon past successes of the groups at other locations and raise the bar in their planning visits.’’

Steve Pike
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: Steve Pike is an award-winning golf writer and author who helped define golf business reporting in the early 1990s as the first Golf Business Editor for Golfweek magazine and later at Golf World and Golf Shop Operations magazines for Golf Digest. Pike further pioneered this genre at the PGA of America and Time Warner as the golf business writer and editor for PGA.com. He started in newspapers more than ...
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