Mike Aylmer, senior director of sales for KSL Resorts, launched
a program to educate staff on the requirements of pharmaceutical
During the most recent economic downturn, when
meetings business slowed to a crawl, the multibillion-dollar
pharmaceutical meetings market remained a steady source of income
for many hotels. Even as the economy has recovered, savvy hoteliers
have realized the wisdom in attracting a share of that lucrative
and robust sector.
In an effort to draw the pharmaceutical market, Mike Aylmer,
the Downingtown, Pa.-based senior director of pharmaceutical sales
at La Quinta, Calif.-based KSL Resorts, spearheaded a series of
roundtables with meeting planners from pharmaceutical companies. He
questioned them about their gripes and wish lists regarding their
experiences with hotels, and boy, did they have a lot to say.
Some of their complaints were easily resolved. For example,
they hated to arrive at the hotel and have to search for an
implement for opening boxes. In response, Aylmer made it a policy
to put box cutters, scissors and tape into the meetings office, a
simple gesture many properties fail to do.
Assuaging the planners’ real concerns, however, would require
measures far more involved than stocking up on packing supplies.
Meeting planners for pharmaceutical companies are subject to a
number of forces that most other of their peers don’t face:
appallingly short lead times, a need for airtight security and
compliance with the PhRMA Code, a set of rules on spending
developed in 2002 by the Washington, D.C.-based Pharmaceutical
Research and Manufacturers of America.
Aylmer understood that KSL would need to train nearly everyone
at the resorts, from the salespeople to the directors of
operations, in working with pharmaceutical meetings.
“We felt if we showed we’re cognizant of their needs and we’ve
trained our properties about what’s going on in the industry, then
we’d be able to retain and perhaps grow our business,” Aylmer
To develop a curriculum, Aylmer approached KSL’s training
company, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.-based Master Connection
Associates, which also works with a number of major chains and
independent hotels. MCA created a two-day program one day for hotel
operations and one for sales, catering and conference services.
Even the executive staff would attend for a half day.
From April through October of last year, almost all the
employees at KSL’s five resorts participated in the Pharmaceutical
Expertise Program. Staff were told, for example, to charge
individuals for spa services instead of putting the bills on the
master account. They also learned which companies are competitors,
a simple matter that would give them some important knowledge about
this distinct segment of customers.
Preliminary buzz suggests the program is working: The
percentage of KSL’s group business coming from the pharmaceutical
market jumped in 2005 from 20 to 25 percent.
From a planner’s perspective, the resort chain has done a great
job, claims Susan Morey, meeting planning and travel associate
manager for Altana Pharma U.S., based in Florham Park, N.J. She
brought a group of incentive winners to KSL’s Hotel del Coronado in
San Diego last spring and was so pleased that she brought a sales
meeting there in the fall, and she hopes to return next fall, as