by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | September 28, 2012

Models of Marriott's Workspring spacesHotel companies are always looking for that next big branding tweak that will give them a leg up on their competition. In the past decade alone, many millions of dollars have been invested in creating signature concepts from beds to breakfasts. Take the Westin Heavenly Bed. This month, 12 years after its launch, retail sales have topped $125 million. Finally, hotels are turning their attention to meeting space. This week, two companies -- Marriott Hotels & Resorts and Radisson Blu -- launched uniquely different concepts that will be rolled out brandwide over the coming months. You can bet that competitors will be close behind in their own renditions.

For its part, Marriott Hotels & Resorts aims to reinvent the brand's traditional cavernous meeting space with its Workspring concept, which gives a nod toward making the spaces more small-meeting friendly. For those of you who have ever wandered lost amongst the hallways of giant meeting rooms at, say, the Washington Marriott Wardman Park in Washington, D.C (which has 195,000 square feet of meeting space), or the New York Marriott Marquis (more than 101,000 square feet of meeting space), your heart will surely skip a beat at the possibilities this design change will bring. "We are seizing the opportunity to offer the new generation of travelers a small meetings environment built to suit their collaborative work style," said Paul Cahill, senior vice president of brand management for Marriott. "While some competitors may have nibbled around the edges with incremental and tactical changes, Marriott Hotels & Resorts is leading with a strategic approach to small meetings that hotel guests and nearby business will find very appealing."

The concept, which launched earlier this week at the 258-room Redmond Marriott Town Center outside Seattle, just minutes from the headquarters of technology giants Microsoft and Nintendo of America, features several flexible meeting suites. These are geared for anywhere from three to 75 attendees, including common areas, stocked with comfy sofas and lighting, that come fully loaded with wireless access, office supplies, food and beverage, and a dedicated meetings coordinator. Even more unique, the suites can be rented  at an hourly inclusive pricing structure, which is certainly atypical in the meeting's hotel business model. In addition, Marriott plans to test booking meetings on demand for the new space. And given this hotel's business neighbors, that certainly could prove lucrative. "We expect to demonstrate the meaningful value of Workspring by Marriott in Redmond and are identifying other markets in the U.S. and around the globe that would similarly benefit from this exciting concept," said Cahill.

Meanwhile, Brussels-based Radisson Blu, which last year opened its first U.S. property, the Radisson Aqua Blu Hotel Chicago, and has the 500-room Radisson Blu Mall of America on tap to open in Minneapolis in March 2013, has announced the launch of Experience Meetings, a concept that combines breakout rooms, an organic food-and-beverage menu, and technology paired with an eye toward sustainability. Parent company Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group plans to roll out the new offering at its 255 Radisson Blu hotels in 55 countries. "The meeting segment is our key business. Experience Meetings provides our guests with a consistent high standard of products and services and supports our ambitious revenue-generating activities," said Olivier Jacquin, senior vice president sales, marketing and distribution at Rezidor in an official statement. Planners who are members of the company's Club Carlson for Planners, and who buy into the sustainability angle by making their meetings paperless, will garner bonus points based on their meeting's carbon dioxide emission reduction. If there ever was a time to make a case for a green meeting, this might be it.