With generally fewer hotel ballrooms being built, and as groups seek out experiences that make meetings memorable, boutiques and other hotels are marketing their unique and alternative spaces to boost group bookings.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—The desire for Instagrammable moments and more “experiential” meetings in flexible spaces, coupled with a trend toward fewer hotel ballrooms in the pipeline, are giving an edge in the group booking segment to smaller and boutique hotels, seen as alternatives to the big-box, convention hotels.
Non-traditional group properties that are able to get creative with their unique spaces—from rooftops to art galleries—often win over small- to medium-sized group business, sources said.
This trend toward memorable and experiential meetings is also compelling some larger hotels to experiment with spaces that are outside the typical ballrooms and boardrooms.
Meeting attendees are looking for spaces that are multipurpose and that inspire them, and that is being driven by a change in the nature of how people work in general, said Caitlin McKenna, senior director of customer experience and innovation at Hilton.
“We are working more remotely these days, with more flexible work schedules,” she said. “People are depending on meetings and work spaces to help inspire and engage them.”
Steve Goodman, founder and managing partner at Atlanta-based event-management firm MeetingAdvice, said as a result, hotels targeting group business have to be more creative, in many different ways, with their space.
Goodman said he has seen hotels offer more outdoor tented space as an option for groups looking to break out of the traditional meeting rooms. He noted a property that converted a gift shop into a library-style room with glass doors and comfortable sofas for groups.
A different kind of experience
Once left out of the conversation on group bookings, independent and boutique hotels—experts at getting creative with available space—are now in the game.
Reopening in June, the newly renovated 219-room Saint Kate – The Arts Hotel in Milwaukee will feature a black box theater that will accommodate groups of 75 to 100, said Linda Price-Topp, VP of sales and marketing for Marcus Hotels & Resorts.
“Groups want something unique like this for meetings and receptions; the more unique the better,” she said.
Marcus also operates the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, which features a rock-climbing wall that groups have used for team-building activities and even more informal meetings, Price-Topp said.
The 217-room Kimpton Tryon Park in Charlotte, North Carolina, offers several unique options for special events, including a rooftop lounge that can be used both as indoor and outdoor space and accommodates 150, GM Robert Hannigan said. The property also has a yoga deck that can accommodate groups for meetings or wellness programs before or after meetings.
The historic, independent 208-room Hotel Viking in Newport, Rhode Island, offers groups a non-denominational chapel that seats 250 people and is located just behind the hotel, said Director of Sales and Marketing Mary Desrosiers, who added 45% of the hotel’s clientele is groups.
“We want to give our social, meetings and associations groups a different kind of experience,” she said. “This is especially true if a planner is putting together meetings for the same group year after year; they want to try something more original.”
Something new and fresh
One property making use of an arts theme is the 110-room Asbury Hotel in beachside Asbury Park, New Jersey, which can host meetings and receptions in its in-house art gallery. This space within the property can accommodate up to 30 people, said David Bowd, CEO and co-founder of Salt Hotels, which will open its fifth hotel in July. The property also has a rooftop bar, Salvation, which groups are encouraged to use.
“A lot of companies are going through rebranding and are reinventing themselves,” Bowd said. “They want their company meetings to also reflect that image and become something that is different, special and stylish.”
The arts motif is also front and center at the 249-room DeSoto Savannah in Savannah, Georgia, as the hotel markets its art gallery as a place for receptions for up to 50 people, said Chris Green, principal and chief commercial officer at Chesapeake Hospitality, which operates the hotel that is located in the city’s historic district.
The DeSoto’s gallery space works well for events that feature high-top tables, he noted. Pool decks and outdoor restaurants also can be used as alternative sites for meetings, which are particularly appealing to groups that want to take advantage of nice weather.
“People are tired of the same old thing,” Green said. “There is a move toward being more creative these days and offering something new and fresh to groups.”
Groups looking to trying something different have a bounty of options available to them at the 1,200-room Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile, said Adam Korchek, director of sales and marketing.
The hotel offers a ninth-floor rooftop garden, which can accommodate up to 225 for a reception; the Chef’s Kitchen, which can be used for a 30-person seated dinner or 50-person reception; and the Library in the newly renovated lobby and bar called Reviver, which can host a semi-private reception for 50 people.
“We’ve seen both corporate and association businesses use these unique spaces, and are finding more than ever that meeting attendees and planners are wanting unique experiences when traveling, even on business,” Korchek said. “While many times this includes the destination they are traveling to, it more than ever includes the host hotel or facility they are spending the majority of their time at.”