Thirty-year hotel veteran Dave Akin, director of marketing for the 210-room Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale (Ariz.) at Troon North, recently spoke with M&C about the challenges of 2009, as well as his belief in the staying power of the luxury hotel market.
How tough was 2009?
I have seen every cycle, including catastrophic ones like right after 9/11, and I would have to say it was an extremely bleak year. Definitely, a very challenging time to be selling group business. But we have seen a shift in momentum. Business, especially corporate groups, is coming back.
Some hotels took "resort" out of their name to attract meetings. Do you think that helped?
I can't respond for them, but we are not going to run around changing our name because of a media headline. The hotels that have not dramatically changed their long-term vision are the ones best positioned to meet the up cycle when it happens.
Did you drop your rates?We don't think it's fair to the customer to one day have a hugely lowered room rate and then down the road jack it up again. That's the quickest way to dig a hole for yourself. Instead, we are putting in credits, like an extra night or a spa credit. But there is a price point that must be maintained.
Many hotels were forced to control expenses by cutting back on services. Did yours?
We have not made drastic cuts. We are keeping it as close to normal as we can. What we do is staff according to occupancy level and what our needs are at a particular time. So, for instance, if the concierge desk used to be open until 10 p.m., but we notice most activity is gone by 9:30 p.m., we will adjust there. Does that mean service is slipping? I don't think so.
What concerns are you hearing from meeting planners?
We asked planners what was most important to them. They told us they needed to have flexible contract terms, and better food and beverage rates. So, as a company, we have been very flexible. We developed Meetings With More, a program where a portion of total meeting spend goes toward a future meeting at the same or another Four Seasons property. It's a credit, not a discount, and it has been very well received.
How difficult is it to sell the concept of meeting at a luxury resort?
Luxury has a mistaken connotation that goes along with it. We are not wasteful. We don't do things for show. "Attention" is the word that I think really best defines luxury, because that is what we promise to deliver -- attention to each guest.