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by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | September 2, 2011

More hotels might want to rethink the way they approach government meeting business, because Dolce Hotels and dolceindyResorts certainly has. Last week, as properties all over the country waited for the General Services Administration to release the 2012 federal per diem lodging rates, which go into effect Oct. 1, 2011, Dolce had some breaking news of its own. The Rockleigh, N.J.-based chain became the first hotel company to be awarded a GSA Schedule Contract and promptly launched its own all-inclusive per diem rates that include guest rooms, meeting facilities, breakfast, lunch, dinner, meeting breaks and basic audiovisual equipment.

That's right — all inclusive. Here’s how they pulled it off: Last year, Congress mandated that 23 percent of prime contracts in all categories had to be awarded to small businesses, a classification Dolce, with 24 properties, sought and received. And this year, when the GSA created a new category for conference centers, that sealed the deal, as a majority of Dolce’s properties are conference centers. According to Elizabeth Perrin, global account director for Dolce, the company has steadily grown its share of government meetings business, and the new all-inclusive per diem rates will only give it a greater foothold, because contracts will be streamlined and seamless. What's not bundled into a property’s all-inclusive per diem rate, she says, typically is offered as a complimentary service, including parking and wireless Internet, eliminating the need for planners to waste time and resources negotiating every line item. "Where contracting alone can take a month to six weeks from bid to contract, one of our hotels recently completed the process in four hours," says Perrin. "We remain optimistic that the ease of use to government purchasing officers will continue to grow this market for Dolce in the near future."

Government meetings are big business. Of the $15 billion in federal travel spend estimated in 2010, $5 billlion was spent on lodging, with a significant portion of that attributed to group lodging. Keep in mind, that number does not include state spend. This June, the Federal Times newsletter ranked Dolce 14 among all U.S. companies in 2010 hosting federal government meetings. And by moving to an all-inclusive, per diem structure, Dolce, with its unique conference center niche, has pretty much reinvented government meeting procurement to increase its advantage. According to Perrin, Dolce’s all-inclusive rates are even more competitive because most of the company’s properties are not in city-center locations. "The all-inclusive rate at Dolce Basking Ridge in New Jersey, which is 30 minutes from Newark International Airport, is $200 per person, per day,” Perrin notes. “A single guest room in Manhattan can be upwards of $295, without food, meeting room rental fees and everything else."

As with the new federal per diem rates, Dolce's new all-inclusive per diem rates go into effect Oct. 1. Government planners: Are the rates as attractive and seamless as presented?