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Changing Venues

Published: 05/02/2014 - Filed under: Home » Archive » February 2014 » Destinations »

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As business travelers gear up for another year of attending large meetings and conferences in the US, they can look forward to these trends: better hotel guest rooms and public space, closer proximity to airports and a new era of connectivity. 

These business travel trend findings are the result of research we at Cvent conducted in 2013. We were able to use data collected in our Supplier Network, which is comprised of more than 200,000 venues, to evaluate nearly 5,700 cities, as well as several thousand hotels. This enabled us to establish rankings for the 50 Top US Meeting Destinations and the Top 100 U.S. Meeting Hotels. 

In the end, our research determined that the three long-time favorite cities for corporate and association group business – Orlando, Chicago and Las Vegas – continued to be the top cities in 2013. Reaping the benefits, the Hyatt Regency Chicago, the Hyatt Regency Orlando and Las Vegas’ Venetian and Palazzo Resort, Hotel & Casinos took the top three spots in Cvent’s companion listing of the 2013 Top 100 US Meeting Hotels.

For people responsible for initiating or planning meetings and events, all this may look like business as usual. But if you’re one of those folks, you should take a closer look at the data. When you do, you’ll see that the hotel industry is keenly competitive and only those hotels that have successfully designed the most appealing meetings spaces and attractive offers for planners become winners. In addition, hotel responsiveness and accuracy of their responses is key. 

Room for Improvement

For example, the Hyatt Regency hotels in both Chicago (#1 on Cvent’s 2013 Top 100 US Meeting Hotels list) and Atlanta (#5 on the list) recently completed extensive renovations. The estimated tab for the upgrades at the 2,019-room Chicago property was $170 million, while the bill for the work at the 1,260-room Atlanta hotel was a more modest, but still healthy investment of $65 million.

Improvements to a hotel’s meeting and event space typically include new ballroom interiors, addition of more breakout rooms, upgraded sound and lighting systems and, last but not least, more and better bandwidth. A highlight of the work at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta was the overhaul of the 29,000-square-foot Centennial Ballroom, the largest hotel ballroom in all of Georgia.

With three Hyatt Regency hotels at the top six, executives at Hyatt Hotels Corp. were especially pleased with the ranking. The inclusion of the Hyatt Orlando is particularly interesting, since that 1,641-room property has only recently been part of the Hyatt system. Built as the Peabody Orlando, the hotel was acquired by a Hyatt affiliate for $717 million last August.

At the time of the acquisition, Stephen Haggerty, Hyatt’s global head of real estate and capital strategy, cited the high quality of the hotel’s facilities and its prime location directly across the street from the Orange County Convention Center. While Hyatt has six other hotels in the Greater Orlando market, this is being positioned as the trophy group house. “It enhances the Hyatt Regency brand,” Haggerty notes.

In addition to these, all four Gaylord properties (now a division of Marriott) ranked in the Top 40. Their regional locations in Nashville, TN; Grapevine, TX; National Harbor, MD; and Kissimmee, FL, demonstrated how secondary markets with airport access are gaining in popularity. In fact, in 2013, the Top 100 US Meeting Hotels showed less concentration in major convention cities like Orlando and Las Vegas than had been seen in the past year. While those markets are still well represented, this trend in decentralization speaks to the opportunity outlying hotels have to win business away from those cities, as well as the importance of developing a proactive and aggressive marketing strategy for traditional meeting destinations.

On the Rebound

Cvent is not the only organization noting the changes. Industry-wide, the pace of the rebound in the group market post-downturn had been slower than expected in most markets, compared to the recovery in transient demand, much to the consternation of lodging industry analysts. 

As the year went on, however, the picture brightened. In a forecast released in December 2013 by PKF Hospitality Research, Mark Woodworth, president, cites increasing signs of “greater future demand from meeting planners.” Marriott International president & CEO Arne Sorenson also struck a positive note in Marriott’s third-quarter 2013 earnings report. “Group revenue booked in the 2013 third quarter for calendar 2014 was up 14 percent compared to group revenue booked for calendar 2013 in the year-ago quarter,” Sorenson reported.

Given that the US lodging industry as a whole has done well post-recession, hotel owners have been increasingly comfortable the past few years investing in upgrades, including their hotel’s meeting and event facilities. New York University’s Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management tracks these capital expenditures and estimates that US hotels invested $5.6 billion in 2013. “That’s a record-breaking number, exceeding the prior record level set in 2008,” explains Bjorn Hanson, the school’s divisional dean.

In a separate project in conjunction with the launch of the new Promotions Hub on the Cvent Supplier Network, research determined the Top 10 most desirable amenities for both meeting planners and attendees. WiFi, whether it’s in the guest rooms, in meeting rooms or accessible everywhere, placed in the Top 5 of both lists. Demand is high; according to a recent Pew Research study, over half of Americans own smartphones, which makes it easier than ever to be connected.

Hospitality professionals agree. “Today, people are completely untethered and technology is everywhere. Consequently, work knows no bounds,” says Matthew von Ertfelda, Marriott International’s VP of innovation.

Acknowledging that Millennials prefer to blend work with the more social aspects of their lives, the Marriott Hotels & Resorts brand (which has 10 properties appearing on the Cvent 2013 Top US Meeting Hotels list, in locations ranging from Boston to San Diego) has created an initiative called Workspring by Marriott to look at these very issues and try to gain a competitive advantage by getting ahead of the curve. 

“We set out to create meeting spaces in the hotel that support communication and collaboration at a higher level than do traditional meeting spaces,” according to von Ertfelda. The technology is already built into Workspring spaces. Participants simply need to bring their laptops or iPads, plug in and play. Seating is strictly ergonomic, natural light fills the entire space. Individual spaces and communal spaces are designed to co-exist.

Planners typically express a preference for flexibility. Therefore, Marriott – working in conjunction with its partners on the Workspring project, Steelcase, the office furniture manufacturer, and IDEO, a firm that consults on innovation – designed spaces for 10-15 participants, for example, that could be configured in a variety of settings or could be opened up into a larger room for up to 30 participants. The intention wasn’t that Workspring spaces would replace the need for traditional ballrooms or general session rooms in big box or other group hotels – or even boardrooms for that matter. Rather, the new spaces would supplement those “usual suspects. 

All Access Pass

As digital technology and inovation continue to transform the meetings experience in 2014 and members of the Millennial generation play a more dominant role at conferences and conventions, venues are responding accordingly. 

Alex Cabanas, president and CEO of Benchmark Hospitality International, cite the growth of iPads and electronic tablets as the preferred means of taking notes during business sessions, replacing paper and pen, to be sure. “Consequently, conference facilities are responding by adding charging stations throughout, to help juice up attendees’ devices during breaks.” Meetings are increasingly active with pertinent texting and tweeting exchanges filled with meeting-related content, according to Cabanas.

Similarly, Dolce Hotels & Resorts has seen another change related to technology: more bookings that are hybrid meetings. “They’re partially in person and partially online with a number of attendees actually in the meeting room while others are participating virtually,” said Dolce CFO Debra Bates. Alternately, certain speakers can be present in the room, while others are presenting remotely. From a meetings management perspective, Dolce is trying to tie the two components together seamlessly, “making the entire meeting as effective as possible,” she added.

While many of these innovations aim to benefit business travelers in their capacity as meeting attendees, all guests will also benefit from enhanced public space and increased connectivity. All of today’s travelers – from road warriors, business and even leisure travelers – expect, if not demand, access to everything they need in the palm of their hands.

It’s the new normal.  

By Bharet Malhotra

Bharet Malhotra is senior vice president, sales and one of the founding members of Cvent, a global leader in cloud-based, enterprise event management platforms. Cvent has over 1,400 employees, and its technology is used by more than 187,000 event planner and hoteliers worldwide.

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