With its 653 guestrooms and suites, along with 35 meeting rooms and four ballrooms, hotels like Miami’s InterContinental are literally built to host large gatherings. However, as director of sales and marketing Mike Kovensky told LODGING, there are big events, like the Florida International Bankers Association, which bought out all of the hotel’s guestrooms and meeting space, and then there are Big Events, like the Super Bowl, which is in another league entirely. “For this latest one, we had more security than when we hosted Barack Obama when he was President of the United States,” says Kovensky.
Kovensky says planning for all large events requires understanding the audience and its needs in order to meet expectations, but preparing for high-profile events is generally a longer and more complex process. He says for Super Bowl LIV, for which the hotel served as NFL staff headquarters, planning began a full year in advance and intensified as the day drew closer. “We had three pre-meetings with the NFL in 2019—each of which was larger than the prior one; for the last one in early December, they booked over 300 rooms. Then there was the ramp-up, with staff arriving as early as January 7 for the February 2 game, eventually buying out about 90 percent of the hotel.” All in all, he says, the hotel prepared extensively to be able to host 1,200 guests, while providing the NFL with everything they needed on the business end and adhering to all-new security and safety protocols.
Kovensky says handling high-profile events of this magnitude is nothing new for his hotel. “We have a lot of experience being a headquarters hotel in Miami for these types of events. Company meetings and conventions—whether it’s the Bankers Association or Major League Baseball—is our core business. Our team is trained and well prepared, so they can successfully meet the needs and expectations of our customers.” That list of customers, he says, is long. “We were the headquarters for numerous high-profile events including the Major League Baseball All Star Game in 2017; the World Baseball Classic, which is in Miami every four years; we were the team headquarters hotel for the Orange Bowl and for the College Football Championship, which will be in Miami in 2021.” In past Super Bowls, he adds, InterContinental Miami was the headquarters hotel for a team, or, like this year, the NFL.
“The magnitude of the event is enormous… Given the level of activity and the attention it brings, you want to be sure you have everyone protected and safe while enjoying themselves.”
Although size matters when dealing with large groups, he says, every group is different in its own way. “Organizers aren’t just interested in the amount of meeting space; they are also searching for a certain layout. In this case, with the NFL, it was quality of space, as well as the quantity of small- to medium-sized meeting rooms, of which there are 35. Although they booked over 580 rooms here just for their New York-based staff involved in various aspects of the event, they only used a grand ballroom for a few official events,” Kovensky describes.
Kovensky says security has always been a priority and there are protocols in place, including video cameras throughout the hotel. However, he says, the Super Bowl this year was “a real eye-opener,” one that called for extra caution. “The magnitude of the event is enormous. There’s a different audience, including a worldwide viewing audience, with the Super Bowl compared to a typical NFL game. It’s like a four- to five-day festival for corporations and their clients. Given the level of activity and the attention it brings, you want to be sure you have everyone protected and safe while enjoying themselves.”
He says extra security measures included barriers set up on the exterior of the property to control traffic, moving the valet parking, and creating a traffic pattern to facilitate incoming and outgoing traffic. Even the hotel staff was required to go through a designated entrance. A higher level of security in the lobby, says Kovensky, included trained dogs, “so if something literally didn’t smell right, they could address it immediately.”
Kovensky says he is happy to report, everything went according to plan and there were no issues, but maintains that hoteliers of all stripes need to be cautious. “It’s a different world today, and we needed to handle the Super Bowl differently.”