by Tom Isler | May 01, 2008

Last month’s official fete of the new 2,000-room Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center near Washington, D.C., allowed VIPs and prospective clients to see firsthand the hotel’s signature glass atrium with multilevel gardens, its fine-dining and casual restaurants, its 20,000-square-foot spa and fitness center, and its two-story rooftop Pose Ultra Lounge. But the opening bash also could be viewed as the kickoff to a new era of ambitious expansion for the Gaylord Hotels company.

Gaylord’s rise in prominence, especially in the past six years -- during which time the company opened properties in Kissimmee, Fla.; Grapevine, Texas; and, now, Prince George’s County, Md. -- has been a result of a unique business model that, unlike those in place at municipal convention centers, attempts to capture as much revenue as possible by placing thousands of hotel rooms, large amounts of meeting space, and dining and entertainment outlets all under one roof.

Now Gaylord is intent on keeping even more meetings business in-house. By adding convention hotels throughout the United States, Gaylord aims to accommodate more of its clients’ business within the brand as customers rotate meetings around the country.

“Meeting planners are increasingly receptive to making multiyear, multiproperty rotational bookings within our portfolio of hotels,” notes John Caparella, chief operating officer of Nashville-based Gaylord Hotels. “A larger nationwide network of group-focused resorts is our goal as we help meeting planners schedule events around an increasingly greater number of properties.”

As evidenced by two projects the company has pursued -- a proposed new-build facility in Chula Vista, Calif., just south of San Diego, and the failed acquisition of the 508-room Westin La Cantera Resort in San Antonio -- Gaylord is targeting major urban or resort areas for expansion, particularly in the central and western regions of the country, to counterbalance the company’s presence in the Southeast.

New properties, like the existing ones, will have high ratios of meeting space to guest rooms and will offer self-contained experiences. However, the company wants to diversify its portfolio of hotels and the methods by which it operates them. In addition to new signature Gaylord properties with 1,500 guest rooms or more, company executives anticipate opening smaller hotels to appeal to groups that shy away from cavernous facilities. And, in a departure from developing resorts from the ground up, executives expect to acquire, renovate and expand existing hotels, as well as manage resorts under the Gaylord flag for third-party owners.

“I think it’s a big deal,” says Thomas Hazinski, managing director of Chicago-based hospitality consulting firm HVS International. The presence of Gaylord in the meetings market already has forced a lot of convention centers to add hotels and other amenities to compete with the one-stop-shop model, he explains. In short, Gaylord “is changing the expectations of what a convention center has to offer. A box with loading docks is a thing of the past.” The company’s westward expansion promises to have a major impact on the industry as well.