The recession brought with it a slump in meeting business that hotels are only now seeing improve. Now the race is on to drive in more business. To attract corporate and group accounts and keep up with current travel trends, many hotels have reworked traditional meetings to provide more flexibility into their on-site spaces and tweaked packages to make them more appealing to value-conscious planners and guests.
One route some hotels are taking to differentiate their meeting offerings is through untraditional break options that meet their clients’ needs by appealing to their stomachs and their sense of fun.
A NEW TAKE ON FOOD
Food and beverage service is an essential part of every event, but more meeting planners and corporate bookers are steering away from the staid banquet-style offerings of old in search of healthier options and local flavors.
“The food experience of a meeting is important,” says Richard Maxfield, chief operating officer for Dolce Hotels and Resorts. “Attendees remember the food sometimes more than they remember the content of the meeting.”
Dolce, a hospitality management company that specializes in meetings, has been credited with developing the complete meeting package concept, which rolls all meeting needs into one inclusive rate. In 2010, the company rolled out a distinct food and beverage break program called nourishment hubs. Unlike standard food breaks, the nourishment hubs are continually available to meeting guests at Dolce properties throughout the day and evolve as the day and the meeting progresses.
“A nourishment hub is a central place where your group can gather throughout the day.” says Maxfield. “It’s always there for you when you need it because a lot of business goes on outside of the standard meeting setting when you break out into
smaller informal sessions.”
Maxfield explains that nourishment hubs often focus on providing health-conscious offerings. He says that many of today’s corporate travelers don’t want to disrupt their routines while traveling on the road, and appreciate healthy food choices as opposed to heavy, high-calorie dishes.
Christine Lawson, vice president of sales and marketing for Kimpton Hotels, agrees. “As individuals become ever more health conscious, businesses are also driven by this demand when planning meetings,” she says. Many of the meeting planners she talks to say they’re looking for foods packed with nourishing ingredients or super foods that help to fuel long meetings. She gets it too. “We believe that this ‘fueling’ actually keeps meeting attendees more engaged and encourages a more productive outcome.”
Kimpton recently launched new meeting menus stocked with heart-healthy and energizing dishes. “We realize that when our guests are traveling for business, they’re often powering through long days and sometimes long nights,” says Lawson. According to her, Kimpton’s healthy menu approach feeds the mind with nourishing food so a guest feels focused, energized, and productive.
“I think today’s travelers are more educated and more discerning,” adds Maxfield. “There’s so much focus on food and diet and health in today’s world that you have to be able to deliver varieties of healthful, thoughtful options.”
A MORE WELL-ROUNDED MEETING EXPERIENCE
When Rachel Moniz joined The Liberty, a Luxury Collection property, four years ago in Boston, she launched an events program called Liberty Affairs, which included complimentary nightly events such as fashion shows, wine tastings, and cooking demonstrations for both guests and locals. She wanted to give Bostonians a reason to visit the historic property and entice them to return in the future. Due to the success of the events and the high level of interest from guests and the surrounding community, Moniz decided to merge some of the concepts into the hotel’s meetings and events packages.
“I thought we could do something interactive and carry this brand into our meeting spaces,” she says.
Now, the Liberty offers corporate and group guests innovative break options as part of their overall events packages. Choices run the gamut from Wii gaming breaks, where attendees can unwind and interact by playing against each other through the popular Nintendo system, to mixology lessons, which give guests the chance to learn how to create craft cocktails from the hotel’s lead bartender. Other break options include low-impact yoga sessions with a personal instructor, wine tasting opportunities, and cooking demonstrations with the hotel’s executive chef Joseph Margate.
“The meeting business has definitely evolved,” says Moniz. She thinks it’s done so to address the different trip personas of business travelers. “That type of openness that we’re getting from a corporate traveler really helps us in terms of these meeting breaks, because they want to do something that is interesting and unique.”
Maxfield explains that in its meeting break options, Dolce tries to offer locally sourced food options to connect guests with a specific region or area. “We want to create experiences for people,” he says. “So we try to produce something that gives guests a sense of what is happening in the local environment so they get a sense of the community.”
Kimpton also places a high priority on giving their corporate and business travelers a complete experience rather than just a run-of-the-mill event.
“I think today’s corporate and group traveler is still very much focused on the return on investment of their meeting and value-adds as part of their meeting experience,” says Lawson. “The economy continues to be a concern, so travelers are expecting to get the most out of their stay—not just a comfortable bed and accommodating meeting space, but they’re more interested in the overall experience. They’re interested in a meeting that can extend the location and hotel—the whole package.”
ATTRACTING MEETING PLANNERS
Hotels that offer unique meeting break opportunities often catch the eye of meeting planners seeking original programming options for their clients. “The professional meeting planner community is coming back, which is great for us because they will often bring multiple clients to the hotel if they develop a level of comfort,” says Moniz. “When meeting planners are aware that we can do these unique events and offerings, and they have a client that is open to doing something that is maybe a little more alternative, we’ll certainly be able to gain inclusion in at least a site inspection process, if not turn it into a converted piece of business.”
For Dolce Hotels and Resorts, taking care of the food and beverage component of the meeting space with nourishment hubs gives meeting planners one less thing to worry about. “There is a certainty of value that we create for meeting planners and a certainty of price,” says Maxfield. “They know what they’re paying for, they know what they’re going to get, and they know it is going to meet the needs of the various attendees in their group. That frees up the meeting planner to focus on the content of the meeting and the personal needs of the attendees. Our repeat customers really look to us for that expertise and really appreciate that value we create for them.”
Properties that take the plunge and promote varied break options as part of their overall meeting packages could also reap the rewards from positive word-of-mouth reviews and a boost in business if a guest or group is satisfied with the overall experience.
Since launching its unique meeting-break concepts, Moniz says more group and corporate travelers are aware of the property and what it can offer to its meetings guests. She sees that awareness as an invaluable marketing tool in attracting future business to the Liberty.
“It’s so hard with any promotional piece to tie in a specific revenue bump,” she says. “But I do think that there is an awareness bump, which is only going to help our hotel. It gets people talking about how unique these breaks are, and then they bring that back out into the business community.”