Keeping up with trends in meetings spaces requires a little bit of tech and a little bit of fun. Here’s what hoteliers are doing to accomplish that.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Trends in group meetings are ever-changing and improving based upon guest needs, which means hotels have to be ready and willing to change to be competitive in that space.
Scott McClinton, GM at the Westfields Marriott Washington Dulles in Chantilly, Virginia, said when he joined the hotel four years ago, he had specific ideas on how to adapt to modern and tech-facing trends in group meetings.
He was inspired, he said, by what he saw at cyber defense agency offices in the area.
“When I walk into their offices and their meeting spaces—obviously its super high-tech. Then I walked into my hotel and said, ‘beautiful hotel, great space, great flow from a meeting-space standpoint,’ but certainly you couldn’t say it was high-tech.”
So he said, “let’s update it, but let’s update it from a technology standpoint and truly from a customer-facing standpoint.”
Wi-Fi that won’t slow you down
In an age when travelers are connected with multiple devices—from smartwatches to tablets and phones—the reliability of good Wi-Fi makes them more comfortable, especially in business meetings, said Ed Netzhammer, managing director at Omni Dallas Hotel, which recently implemented a Wi-Fi promotion for the hotel’s 105,000 square feet of meeting space.
Not only is free Wi-Fi part of the package when groups book meeting spaces at the Omni Dallas, as part of the promotion, each attendee also receives an Eero system, which essentially allows them to have convention-quality Wi-Fi in their own home, Netzhammer said.
The infrastructure for putting Wi-Fi in hotel meeting spaces can be very expensive when done properly, Netzhammer said, but the return on investment goes beyond revenue.
“People who plan events like to hold them at venues where they have a relationship, the spaces meet their needs, they have a level of trust in the service delivery, and the planning process is stress-free. Often event attendees want complimentary Wi-Fi, and if planners don’t provide it, they add stress for themselves,” he said. “While AV revenue benefits the hotel, our goal in offering it free is to create a relationship where both of us want to work together as often as we can.”
Netzhammer said investment in Wi-Fi infrastructure should be based on the speed needed in the meeting space, the number of people that are going to be on the Wi-Fi and the number of connections.
“There is zero room for error in presentations; that’s the biggest issue of why our infrastructure has to keep up. That’s what caused our infrastructure to change and be more expensive,” he said.
The hotel also partners with an IT solutions company to monitor all bandwidth in the public and private areas, he said, and this system is set up so that bandwidth can be moved, in case a meeting with heavy usage needs more.
“We pretty much have a fiber-optic cable running everywhere, which five years ago was state of the art,” Netzhammer said. “It still works very well today for the speeds we need.”
Tech, tech and more tech
For Westfields Marriott, McClinton said the renovation included adding a 15-by-10-foot-media wall, which cost about $175,000 and has added versatility to the meeting space.
Nine frameless screens that appear to be one large screen, he said, allows for meeting groups to play separate videos, or put a company logo up on one screen and video on the other portions. It’s also common to throw up a live Twitter feed on the screen or an audience poll.
The hotel’s 34 meeting spaces and boardrooms include a high-tech boardroom that acts as a full sound studio with carpeted walls, ceilings, interactive PC table and LED lights.
“We felt that the technology would put us three or four steps ahead of everyone else,” he said. “We’re starting to see that now, where we’re seeing more corporate and more high-tech cyber defense groups like that come into the hotel and using the different technology that we’ve added.”
As for food-and-beverage options for meetings, Radisson Blu Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, has a water bar, complete with its own “water doctor” who mixes and serves the drinks.
Allen Plante, the hotel’s director of banquets, said rather it offers something different from traditional F&B—an experience in which the guests can also learn about the various health benefits of these water mixtures.
All of the drinks are made with locally sourced fruits, vegetables and herbs, such as rosemary, lemon, cucumber and mint, he said. The key is to also use distilled water to ensure the purity of the flavors added, he said.
“One of our more unique recipes is the cucumber, jalapeno and mint water,” he added. “Cucumbers help to reduce bloating; jalapenos increase body temperature and metabolism; and the mint helps with digestion and relives headaches. This recipe is great for after a meal; all three ingredients aide in digestion.”
The bar is set up to display the ingredients, and allow guests to either create their own mixture or chose from the suggested ones.
“We find many attendees snapping photos of it, and it creates quite a buzz of conversation around it,” Plante said. “During the (meeting) break, everyone starts comparing recipes they selected.”
Guests can take home the water infusion bottle as a souvenir, which in return becomes a great marketing tool for the hotel, he said.
“The ingredients themselves are inexpensive, but by creating that memorable moment and giving guests a souvenir, our return on the investment is (the) verbal marketing our guests in turn do for us,” he said.
JW Marriott Chicago has taken an active but practical approach to its meetings spaces—specifically for attendees in business attire.
Jason Raynor, who oversees the JW fitness team at Spa at JW, said he introduced a Fit Meetings program in March 2016 with the corporate guest in mind. The newest program offered within Fit Meetings is a seventh-inning stretch breakout session, which incorporates light stretching and breathing exercises inspired by baseball training.
“It gave us an opportunity to draw inspiration from our amazing city’s baseball team and offer some piece of Chicago’s culture to our out-of-town meeting attendees,” said Raynor, who is also one of 50 Nike Master Trainers and has led baseball training with the Chicago Cubs. “We throw in a couple of baseball-specific stretches that also happen to be very effective for the everyday corporate exec sitting most of their day.”
Business guests who use the seventh-inning stretch package in their meetings will start with intro/diaphragmatic breathing, followed by five to 10 minutes of stretching—light forward fold, shoulder circles, light squats with a chair—and finished off with meditation. Raynor said he has seen a difference in guests’ positivity and readiness to take on their next meeting.
And to add to convenience, no additional equipment is needed to facilitate the program, said GM Lisa Timbo.
For some, the benefits may be more than physical; the program could also improve employee morale, Raynor said.
“Corporations also understand that offering curated wellness experiences fosters team building, and a time to connect with others around you in a non-work environment,” he added. “There is actually a term for this called ‘sweat working.’ We uplift each other and come away on that endorphin high that you crushed your workout and high-fived random strangers around you.”