The slow recovery of group travel remains a concern for hoteliers that rely heavily on business from meetings, conventions, and federal contracts to fill rooms. STR reported that although group ADR increased 3.1 percent in October, group occupancy declined by 3 percent. Despite unsteady conditions, Richard Maxfield, chief operating officer for Dolce Hotels and Resorts, feels optimistic about the meetings market—a major focus for the Rockleigh, N.J.-based management company. Chatting at the Silverado Resort and Spa in Napa, Calif., Maxfield told Lodging’s Online Editor Deidre Wengen that the brand expects good years ahead and will continue to evolve its offerings to attract new customers.
Lodging: Although group travel is improving, it is still lagging behind other segments in the industry. Do you feel confident about where the group segment is headed?
Richard Maxfield: Group is lagging as it relates to business travel, but it’s not lagging as it relates to where it was three years ago. It’s improving, but it’s slower growth. A lot of it is tied to GDP, unemployment, and hiring. As unemployment comes down, there is more training and there are more meetings happening in our facilities. We are seeing about 6 percent revenue growth in 2013 and expect very good years through 2015. We’re optimistic about the future.
Lodging: Does federal spending have a significant impact on your business?
Maxfield: Yes, it does—especially in particular locations. We operate a facility outside of Washington, D.C. and there was a strong affect there during the sequestration period. We’ve seen some rebound from that now, but it absolutely impacts our business.
Lodging: What are some of the trends you’re seeing in meetings today and how are you evolving to keep up with what groups want?
Maxfield: Meeting planners are looking for something new. They don’t know what that is, but they know they want something different, and they look to us to create that for them. We’re working as an organization around what we call “signature events”—or unique experiences. We do everything from team building and chef tables to dance contests and community activities.
We are also seeing shorter meetings with less spend. Companies are still being frugal in how they are spending money, but they recognize they have to meet and bring their teams together to communicate.
Lodging: Technology is always changing, and it must be difficult to keep up with that from a meetings standpoint. Is technology a big focus for Dolce?
Maxfield: We’re very much focused on innovation and technology around meetings. We’re working through what the meeting room of the future looks like, what the technology of the future looks like, and how those things make it easier for people to meet, converse, and connect together. We’re adding things like Mondo boards which include Skype functions and allow for presentations, and other technology upgrades including wireless projection.
Lodging: You mentioned the meeting room of the future. Obviously millennials are the future guests that will be attending meetings. Have you done research into what is important to that particular generation?
Maxfield: Things are going to change over the next 20 years. Millennials live differently and work differently. They like to have places to connect and space is important to them—specifically casual space. Millennials are also less brand loyal, they like to try new things, and they’re more adventurous. We’re thinking about all of that.
Lodging: What is Dolce’s growth strategy moving forward? What’s next for the company?
Maxfield: We have some potential new projects that we could announce in the first quarter of existing assets that we’ll be taking over. There is a new property in Annecy, France, which is a beautiful location and facility. We’re also building a new hotel in Palm Springs, Calif.
Our growth model is opportunistic. We want to be in a position where we know there is demand for meetings or for leisure, so we’re always looking for locations that meet that criteria. Taking over properties is more immediate and building properties is a longer strategy. Our development team is looking at all of those opportunities.