Hotels juggle multiple groups through planning, design
Hotels juggle multiple groups through planning, design
07 APRIL 2017 7:49 AM

Hoteliers have tailored their operational strategies to meet the needs of multiple groups of guests, from business to leisure, and say that strategy often begins with design. 

REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Keeping a wide variety of guests content, and multiple events under control, at one time requires planning and vision, starting with the design of the hotel, sources said.

“You have to focus on everybody and you have to tailor your operations so that you’re meeting the needs of everyone,” said Bill Oliver, area VP of operations at HP Hotels.

Hoteliers shared their strategies for reducing interferences that could arise when multiple groups are booked simultaneously.

Attention to strategic design
Some hotels are better equipped to handle this type of traffic than others; that’s because they were designed with multiple groups in mind, sources said.

Optimal hotel design and layout includes some separation between the public spaces and meeting spaces, they said.

The Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, in Atlantic City, New Jersey, had 88,000-square-feet of meeting space, but Mark Vanderwielen, VP of hotel and property operations, said he quickly realized multiple groups were outgrowing the existing space, creating demand for more.

Borgata recently added an 18,000-square-foot Central Conference Center, which extends access to an upper-tier ballroom and lower-tier meeting rooms, bringing its total event space to 106,000-square-feet. Vanderwielen said the Central Conference Center will be open this May.

Meeting spaces are strategically located in three areas at the Borgata—one on the first level, two on the second level—and designed to play a dual role in attracting meetings midweek and entertainment on the weekends, he said. The locations also allow for privacy and exclusivity to events, he said.

“The best arrangement of meeting space is the flexibility to provide larger general sessions, coupled with multiple breakout rooms,” he said.

Should there be multiple groups in one location, he said, the spaces can be divided further so there is minimal interference.

The Ballroom, another meeting and event space, at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, New Jersey, can be accessed from the Borgata’s Central Conference Center, which is a level below. (Photo: Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa)

Creative, functional F&B
When considering how to manage food-and-beverage operations, it’s important to keep in mind the size of the group, Oliver said.

For instance, most hotel restaurants cannot handle groups of 1,000 people or more, he said, and so have resorted to the popular grab ’n go solution, where satellite sections with pre-packed foods are set up.

Other alternatives have had success, too, Oliver said; the key is creativity and flexibility.

When meals are not provided by the meeting’s planner, he said, hoteliers need to think outside of the box for ways to still provide an experience for the customer.

“Unique things that we’ve done for that instance is get four or five food trucks parked outside, set up that so it turns into a great customer experience,” Oliver said. “They love those things. We’ve seen barbeque grills set up.”

Other things to keep in mind with F&B are the operational ways to move people around smoothly. Oliver said buffets—not typically used for low-volume restaurants—turn tables fast and keep people moving. It’s also acceptable to forego a traditionally large menu for a more-limited selection, which Oliver said allows for the kitchen staff to produce anything that is ordered al a carte more efficiently.

Management will work weeks in advance if they know a large conference is due to arrive, he said, and can staff accordingly.

Keep your ducks in a row
Loews Hollywood Hotel, a group hotel with a mix of leisure and business guests, is used to high occupancy around big events, such as The Academy Awards, Managing Director Brian Johnson said.

“We discuss the groups in a weekly operations meeting. We track group arrivals in a shuttle calendar. We obtain a group manifest as early as possible and also have a satellite registration desk on the mezzanine level for large groups,” Johnson said. “Alignment of responsibilities and communication are key.”

For the Oscars, Johnson said more than 90% of the guest mix at Loews is group business, and the strategy then is to minimize leisure guests. Security becomes heightened and even includes moving the check-in desk to the front drive, further ensuring everyone entering the hotel is a registered guest, he added.

To maintain contact with guests throughout their stay, especially during a busy one with many moving parts, the hotel sends a pre-arrival email. And upon arrival, Johnson* said, hotel staff obtain guests’ cellphone numbers for sending updates through an app. For group clients, personal interactions are orchestrated by banquet captains and conference service managers.

Overall, sources agreed that most transient guests do not complain when large events are happening during their stays. For example, at Loews, when film shoots occur at the hotel, guests tend to want to observe the “Hollywood magic in real life.”

*Correction 10 April 2017: A previous version of this story named the wrong source for this information.

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