Industrywide, hotel companies are learning firsthand that successfully marketing a U.S. destination requires embracing a philosophy of “strength in numbers.” This involves cooperation among various entities, including the city, convention and visitors’ bureaus (CVBs), and neighboring hotel properties. Although hotels may individually compete for business, working together as a collective unit to represent a destination often proves valuable, resulting in higher occupancy rates, and an enhanced, positive reputation for the city.
Indianapolis is positioned as the “most connected” U.S. city, and Marriott Place hotel complex reinforces that slogan. Comprised of five adjacent downtown hotels, it offers a total of 145,000 square feet of meeting space and 2,248 rooms.
From a meeting planner’s standpoint, Marriott Place, along with the JW Marriott, is considered a downtown utopia for tour organizers and conventioneers. The entire complex is centrally located and a network of sky bridges connect the hotels to the convention center.
Anne Dunlavy, director of sales and marketing at JW Marriott Indianapolis, says that in less than two years, the city saw major transformations that required strategic marketing and seamless communication between the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors’ Association (ICVA) and the individual hotels in the city. Between 2009 and 2011, the city opened a new airport, convention center, and stadium, which hosted Super Bowl XLVI in February.
Although the JW Marriott hotel opened last year, the management planned well in advance, and created a pre-opening sales team in 2008.
“We wanted to start promoting our city as early as possible,” Dunlavy says. “We knew our story was more powerful when we talk about all the entities that are being developed in the city, as opposed to one venue or hotel.
The JW Marriott exceeded expectations in its first year, she adds. During that time, the city maintained great occupancy as it opened about 1,600 new rooms in the market. “We know that our efforts really helped have great results for the hotel—and for the city as well.”
Indianapolis Director of Convention Sales Dustin Arnheim agrees. “Partnering with hotels is absolutely imperative,” Arnheim says. “As an up-and-coming destination, we need to be able to make sure we are communicating the same message and targeting the same customers.”
“The ICVA is a lead sales channel for opportunities.” Dunlavy adds. “As a hotel, we work with them to ensure we are doing everything possible to be a good partner and earn business to Indianapolis. We don’t work in a silo and we think about it collectively.”
Many of the area’s hotels participate in quarterly rally meetings to create a strategy to drive business and determine how to target customers from across the U.S.
In Philadelphia, the expanded Pennsylvania Convention Center now offers 700,000 square feet of exhibit space. To accommodate the larger facility, the city’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (PCVB) and the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) are collaborating to bring in new hotel brands.
Through the city’s efforts, several new downtown hotels are scheduled to open in the next year, including Kimpton’s Hotel Monaco and Hilton’s Home2Suites, with nearly 600 rooms combined. Currently, the Philadelphia Marriott, Loews, and Sheraton have the highest number of rooms and are within walking distance of the convention center.
Jack Ferguson, president and CEO of the PCVB, says plans are in the works for another anchor hotel to accommodate the influx of convention attendees. “The Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association also supports the need for another convention hotel as they realize that inventory is important in the long run. We currently don’t have the capacity to house newer, larger meetings coming in,” he says.
To further showcase the city to potential groups, the PCVB promotes Philadelphia to show organizers, associations and exhibitors, both nationally and globally, focusing on the city’s cultural and historic offerings, as well as the vibrant dining, shopping, and entertainment scene.
Ferguson is optimistic about the newer hotel properties on the horizon, and emphasizes the importance of coordination and consolidated messaging throughout all hotel companies, departments, and groups involved in promoting the city, and attracting visitors year-round. “As a convention bureau, we attend about 35 trade shows annually,” he says. “In addition, we take a look at our major feeder markets, including Washington, Chicago, and New York, and are active with sales missions, partnering with the Pennsylvania Convention Center and our hotels to continue to drive tourism business.”
Nashville has seen a steady population growth over the last several years, especially in the downtown district, and a continued increase is expected. Today, with 182 hotels and nearly 25,000 rooms in the city, it takes serious coordination to maintain a steady flow of tourism and conventions. Nashville’s new downtown convention facility, The Music City Center, is slated to open in 2013. It will feature more than 375,000 square feet of exhibit space, 128,000 square feet of meeting space, and a 2,500-seat theater.
Butch Spyridon, president of the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau, says the NCVB has a positive working relationship with its hotel partners. “Everybody is on the same page and everyone understands we have to sell the destination before we can sell our hotel products, and we have had enormous success over the past 18 years.”
With the added bonus of popular country music artists residing in town, the NCVB gets a boost of star power with destination publicity. In the past 15 years, the NCVB has organized ongoing major road shows with its hotel partners where it visits other markets to drive hotel business to Nashville. Recently, it featured singer-songwriters Michael McDonald and Dierks Bentley for private receptions and concerts.
The 60-person CVB staff works with an 18-member board that includes four local hoteliers. “It’s a partnership, not a tug of war…there is always an open dialogue,” Spyridon says of the city’s relationship with hotel companies. “We’ve worked really hard to build their trust and we work hard to keep it.”
Spyridon’s and his team’s hard work seems to be paying off. “By the end of July 2012, we are on pace to have our best year in the history of the city, in terms of hotel tax collection, rooms sold, and hotel demand, according to Smith Travel Research,” he says. “And, we are also on pace to have our best future sales as well.”