Hotels pull out all the stops with new packages, initiatives and design
By Chantal Outon
Ramsey Potts is no stranger to all-inclusive beach resorts. The state sales director for Aflac Insurance of West Virginia has taken his top-selling insurance agents on an annual sales-reward trip to exotic beaches more times than he can count. But last year, Potts decided to ditch the beach, opting instead to take his 40 associates to Rancho de los Caballeros in Wickenburg, Ariz.
A property of Historic Hotels of America, Rancho de los Caballeros is a desert ranch, with 20,000 acres of wide-open spaces, golf courses and rugged trails. But it was the “team-penning” that particularly appealed to Potts. Designed as a team-building activity, team-penning has teams herd cattle into a pen while racing against the clock.
“In a million trips to Cancun, we couldn’t have gotten the sense of camaraderie, fellowship and community we got by packing ourselves onto horses on a ranch and going out to rustle cattle,” Potts says.
Hotels have caught on to the demand for new and different activities for business groups. W Hotels now offer programs focused on relaxation and re-energizing, discovering new and artful skills, and dining on sumptuous fare. And last year, Kimpton Hotels launched its “Signature Meetings” program, including four distinct packages ranging from meetings with massage breaks to those featuring playful distractions, such as hula hoops.
“When meetings are dull, people tune out,” says Christine Lawson, Kimpton’s vice president of sales. “Our Signature Meetings promise to keep attendees inspired, creative and focused, which, in the end, enhances the productivity of the meeting.”
Certified meeting planner, manager and trade show marketer Christy Lamagna, chief strategist for Strategic Meetings & Events Inc., says she is particularly attracted to Kimpton’s new meetings program because of the personalized attention the hotel can provide for her clients.
“When we design our meetings, so much is about the experience and engaging all five senses,” Lamagna says. “At any particular meeting, you can have representatives from Generation X and Y and Baby Boomers, and they all learn differently. With Kimpton’s break concept, they recognize this, and the elements they use appeal to a cross section of everyone our company is trying to appeal to.”
NYLO Hotels’ Plano, Texas, property – the company’s first – opens in December; it features concrete floors and brick walls to help reduce energy use, as well as air purifiers. The hotel will participate in a green program offered through the state.
Another key differentiator for the NYLO brand is the loft-style hotel’s ability to attract younger generations of business travelers. NYLO has a slick, modern style, and amenities include plenty of social and meetings space, 24-hour food service and gym availability, and lots of technology.
“Gen Xers are looking for something unique,” says Elaine Gamer, director of sales and marketing for the Plano NYLO. “They often work late, and they like to do a lot of their work in public spaces. We want them to be able to bring their laptops down to the common space and work while enjoying some coffee or a beer, and feel like they’re part of a community.”
The hotel also plans to keep younger guests happy with access to a Wii gaming system, and is having its uniforms designed by a previous runner-up from the TV show “Project Runway.”
In January, Omni Hotels kicked off its new meetings program, “Sensational Meetings,” which includes three distinct packages designed for energizing, breathing easy, and honoring attendees’ accomplishments. But every meeting genre can be customized depending on meeting planners’ needs and budgets, says Caryn Kboudi, vice president of corporate communications for Omni.
“We want to work with planners to ensure we provide the right elements that are appropriate for their meetings.”
A meeting in which organizers plan to deliver information about lowered quarterly sales may call for an atmosphere with calming colors, bamboo flower arrangements, and stress-relieving elements like worry stones and squeezable felt balls, she says. Alternately, a celebratory meeting might include Bon Jovi or U2 videos playing on large screens as attendees enter the meeting room, and fun tactile elements to adapt the décor of the space.
Paul James, senior vice president and director of business development for Quest Technologies Inc., booked the Energetic Meetings package for a strategic planning meeting with the company’s management team at the Omni Hotel at CNN Center in Atlanta. There, his group had energy drinks during breaks, a “stimulating” red color palette in the room, and was given preferential treatment at the hotel’s restaurant for their meals.
“They paid a lot of attention to us, and a lot of attention to detail,” James says. “I never actually thought much about having some kind of theme for our meeting room before. But after doing it, I think it’s a great idea. It was a very positive experience and well worth a little extra money.”
Certified meeting planner Kimberly Miles, a senior vice president for industry relations for the American Hotel & Lodging Association, says hotels recognize the value of meetings business to their overall bottom line, which is why more out-of-the-ordinary experiences and activities are available. But, she warns, planners should keep their budgets and goals in mind when working with hotels.
“Hotels can come up with lots of creative and unique ideas, but meeting planners still need to accomplish a goal, so they need to figure out how a particular hotel is going to help,” Miles says.