For any conference hotel the ability to attract group business in a competitive environment is critical to its ultimate success. With that in mind, Phil Aldax has made an effort to differentiate the Anaheim Marriott Hotel within the market by offering meeting planners a truly out-of-the-box experience.
Aldax—who doubles as the hotel’s director of food & beverage and director of event management—joined the property in 2015 with extensive experience on the food & beverage side, including a stint at the New York Marriott Marquis several years prior.
Whether it’s using Lego blocks to build conference tables or biodegradable honeycombs for food & beverage displays, Aldax clearly has elevated the meeting experience. The hotel is currently a finalist for Successful Meetings Magazine’s Stella Award for “Best Food & Beverage Far West.”
Awards notwithstanding, he detailed the impact of that experience. “It’s actually been pretty amazing. When I first got here back in 2015 financially we were doing okay. But we started changing the mentality and changing the mindset. We basically grew a little over $4.5 million in one year and a lot of that was based on just word of mouth. People started coming in. When we would do a site visit people saw these elements and they were just shocked because they’d never seen anything like that,” said Aldax.
Aldax provided further evidence of the impact as he pointed out “94.5 percent of our customers intend to recommend us and when you look at the number back in 2015 we were in the ‘70s. It’s a dramatic change.”
He pointed that there are both challenges and advantages of the company’s Anaheim location as it relates to attracting group business. “The hard part for us is we’re a second tier city; it’s a little different draw than a Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles and San Francisco. One thing we have going for us is there’s not a huge cost in the labor market as there is with a lot of these other major cities, so it allows us to do a lot of this stuff,” said Aldax.
He talked about the benefits of these various programs for the meeting planners, many of which operate under the premise “if you don’t buy it, you don’t get it.” However, he noted planners like the fact that the company hotel doesn’t charge for these services so they don’t have to pay designers.
“They’d rather use us. They can save a few dollars and put more money into the quality of the product that they’re offering within the general session, as well as within the food and beverage,” maintained Aldax.
He added that the hotel solicits feedback from the planners as well to create programs that work. “When we get the turnover we basically ask the question ‘what were the great things that happened at your last event? And what are the things we need to work on?’ The vision of this is always ‘how do we take what you struggled with last time on your scorecards and how do we make those better?’”
He offered some insight on where some of his inspiration comes from for the different ideas. “An old mentor used to tell me ‘it’s all about staying relevant’ so one of the things that I do is pretty much once a week spend an hour to an hour-and-a-half and just Google and I let it take me wherever it takes me,” said Aldax.
He noted that when it comes to creating these custom pieces, the staff plays an integral role as well. “I’ll create different visions and basically I start off with one sort of vision and after that the staff plays with it and they keep expanding with the various elements we get in,” he said, noting they have between 30 and 40 different looks at the moment.
Earlier this year research led Aldax to a German BMW Convention, which ultimately brought him to a furniture company using high-end, biodegradable foam. This would result in the use of honeycombs at the Anaheim Marriott Hotel for things such as beverage breaks and snack breaks, in addition to functioning as back bars.
“The honeycombs are like book shelves, they look like pieces you put together,” he said, adding they are “very unique and different, very cutting edge.”
Aldax also touted an event the hotel had last December known as its graffiti reception. Through the use of rear projections and power points, the hotel was able to effectively create graffiti walls within one of its 40,000 sq. ft. ballrooms. “You can actually go to a wall with a mouse and digitally spray the wall and ultimately tag it and Instagram it to yourself,” he said.
Some of the other unique food and beverage offerings from the hotel include EVO grills with thick cut slab bacon or tuna, beer on tap for meetings or specialty coffee stations and hanging buffet stations.
Aldax acknowledged that looking ahead he’s currently working with a designer of magnetic copper square cubes, which can be built into furniture so groups can redesign the cube configuration to make 12 different furniture pieces.
Aldax concluded by touting the value of the different designs. “We really feel that as long as we provide elements it provides a better experience for the customers and a better value to the dollar,” he said.