by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | June 19, 2012

Lindsey UeberrothWith close to 700 member hotels in 70 countries, Chicago-based Preferred Hotel Group is upping its game in the meetings arena with several new offices and an expansion of its sales and marketing staff. In a recent sit-down, Lindsey Ueberroth, president of PHG, candidly discussed the importance of having a presence in new markets, and how attracting meeting and group business continues to be a huge factor for independent hotels as they go toe-to-toe with the major brands.

Did the economic downturn of the past few year result in a culling of members because they could not meet PHG's standards?

During the two and half years of the downturn, hotels, including the branded ones, had to cut costs. We continued to focus on the upkeep of facilities and the quality of services. We are in a unique position in that if a member doesn't maintain a standard we have set for our branded groups, we can move them to a lower tier and still keep them in the collection. So, we did some of that, but we still had to cut about 20 percent of our portfolio.

You announced earlier this year plans to expand your presence in Europe. Why Europe, considering the current euro crisis?
Yes, we want to grow our strength in Europe. We currently have 180 member hotels there. It has been soft in sales, but we see huge potential there, particularly in the group market. We opened a group sales desk in London, and we are projecting $1 million in meeting revenue, from business within Europe, to come through that group desk by year's end and then grow from there.

Is group business across your collection on the rise?
It is definitely coming back. We are seeing much more high-end incentives. They are just not calling them incentives. I think this is where you see independent hotels really gaining strength. Independent hotels by nature are flexible in how they do business, because they are competing against each other. They don't have to wait for corporate to give them a directive, so they can be much more reactive to a piece of business.

You added 22 new members this year. Are there certain markets in which PHG is growing fastest?
Europe and Asia are our largest growth markets, and we will be really trying to increase our luxury collection in those markets. We've added associates in Moscow, Munich and London, and we have an office planned for Kazakhstan that will open very soon.

What market do you think planners should keep their eye on, in terms of new product?

Turkey. The hotel growth there is phenomenal.

PHG Meetings was launched in February. Are meeting planners warming to this new RFP process?

It has been very well received by planners; they like that it is so easy to use. One of the comments we have heard over and over is that they really like having the option of noting that they want a director of sales and marketing involved in their RFP process. That happens a lot more than you would think.