The new marriott Marquis in Washington, D.C., has a lot riding on its 15-story shoulders. With an estimated price tag of $520 million that includes $272 million in tax-increment financing from the district, the new 1,175-room hotel has raised the ante on convention center hotels. As the area’s largest hotel, the Marquis was built in anticipation of an influx of massive conventions coming to D.C. over the next decade. As such, the success of the property is intimately tied to the city’s ability to attract group business on a massive scale.
With its underground connection to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center across the street, the property was designed both to house conference attendees and to host smaller groups in its own meeting spaces, ranging from three large ballrooms to a glass-encased penthouse and an outdoor event terrace. Given the district’s building height restrictions, the designers had to go four stories down to find room for the ballrooms. The ownership group, which includes Capstone Development, Marriott International, ING Clarion, the District of Columbia, and Quadrangle Development, also bought and incorporated into the hotel’s plans the 90-year-old former headquarters of the pipefitters’ union that sat on the plot’s corner. It now houses one of the Marquis’ lounge bars, its two-story fitness center, and its four high-end suites.
Even though the new hotel had its grand opening on June 10, it had been playing host to an early batch of groups the entire month before. “In May, we had just group business in the hotel, and we started taking transient business on June 1,” says General Manager Dan Nadeau. “The primary reason was so we could stay focused as we got all of our systems online.”
This is the fifth Marquis property within Marriott’s portfolio, and it incorporates the brand’s latest innovations, including mobile check-in and a new approach to room service. Instead of carts and trays, the Marquis delivers guests’ room service orders within 15 to 20 minutes in a bag, similar to what you might see in a to-go operation. “It’s about offering high-quality food and great variety, in a much faster, streamlined version from what traditional room service looks like.”
According to Nadeau, the hotel also has a mobile app that “allows guests to make requests prior to their stay of any specific needs they might have in the room, whether it’s more towels or pillows, a certain location, and they can do that in real time when they’re either traveling to the hotel or after they’ve made the reservation.” He adds that the staff can then respond directly to guest requests. “This is going to be the way of the future in terms of how business travelers communicate with hotels.”
The Marriott Marquis Washington D.C. is also one of the largest hotels in the country to be LEED silver certified. As the first sustainable property he’s been involved with, Nadeau has been both impressed with the operational efficiencies of this new building and frustrated by its intricacy. “When you’re in the midst of opening up a hotel with a system as complex as this and training as many staff members as we have, it all can be a little challenging.”
For example, he adds, “We have a water reclamation system for our irrigation/cooling tower that requires some degree of knowledge to ensure that it’s operating correctly. There are eight separate sequences of operations in our chiller plant based upon the season and the load here in the hotel, what the volume of activity is.” He’s quick to note that things have gotten better as the staff has become comfortable with the systems. “It’s a learning curve so, in terms of opening a hotel, that’s probably been the one challenge that, from an engineering standpoint, we probably could have have a little more time when it came to staff training.”
Being LEED-certified helps with group bookings, but that’s just part of the process, he says. “It’s a question that meeting planners are interested in more and more. Everyone asks that question, and now we have an ability to respond to it, but it’s obviously more than just that that’s going to get someone to book in our hotel.”
The hotel’s size and state-of-the art design do more to position this new Marquis for groups than anything else, Nadeau says. “The type of groups we’ve gone after before this hotel came into being are still out there, but I think with our hotel online now, we’ve got an opportunity to get groups that previously didn’t consider Washington, D.C., like the American Dental Association, which is coming next year.”
He adds that groups like the 40,000-attendee ADA convention didn’t consider Washington before because the city didn’t have a hotel that could accommodate the necessary room blocks. “We have a great, stand-alone product that’s got state-of-the-art facilities for groups of all sizes. That means we’re still going after people that just need a hotel destination that isn’t attached to the convention center.”