by Jonathan Vatner | July 01, 2007

Romantik Hotel Neumuehle

Rustic yet regal:
Romantik Hotel
Neumuehle in
Wartmannsroth, Germany

For medical meeting planners, the most tangible results of the pharmaceutical-marketing regulations enacted earlier this decade involve the rule that drug companies cannot pay for doctors to stay at luxury hotels -- even if they offer competitive pricing -- since this might create the appearance of a bribe. In many cases, the change is easy to make: Whereas before, a group of doctors might be housed at a Ritz-Carlton or a Four Seasons, now they’re put in a more moderate Hyatt or Westin.

But for world-renowned doctors accustomed to the height of luxury, anything less might not suffice. Judy Benaroche Johnson, CMP, president and CEO of Rx Worldwide Meetings Inc., based in Plano, Texas, knows this from experience. She recently planned a meeting for a large group of Korean doctors at an upper-upscale hotel -- the market tier just below luxury -- in Florida. The front desk staff was rude, showerheads fell onto guests in their rooms, the air conditioning wasn’t working in meeting rooms and a fire alarm was ringing all day.

“They were so offended that they weren’t taken care of, that we didn’t respect their visit while they were there,” she says. “The week before, we were at the Ritz-Carlton in Orlando, and it was beyond flawless. They just get it.”

Dr. Robert Green, managing director, medical communications, for the Continuing Education Alliance in Greenwich, Conn., sees physician attendance falling and education suffering because the hotels aren’t up to snuff.

“When you take a meeting in the city hotel box, you’ll have much less capacity to inspire the mind than if you were taking the doctors to a property that’s more stimulating,” says Green. “In the end, what suffers is the patient population, because people don’t come to meetings.”

For meetings that require luxury -- but won’t set off red flags by the hotel name alone -- site selection takes a bit of sleuthing. Here are some pointers from Johnson and other meeting planners and hoteliers.

Watermark Hotel & Spa


Quiet class: Watermark Hotel & Spa, San Antonio

Pick an independent hotel

The best way to find a hotel without an obvious luxury brand is to look for one without a brand at all. Hotels such as the 99-room Watermark Hotel & Spa in San Antonio and the 60-room XVBeacon in Boston offer a luxury experience without a big name. The Watermark is right on San Antonio’s Riverwalk; rooms feature wrought-iron four-poster beds, leather-topped desks and elaborate marble bathrooms. XV Beacon has high-tech rooms (including the bathrooms) and offers a chauffeured Lexus to all guests.

Besides word of mouth, there are three good ways of finding one of these hotels. One option is to use a third-party site-selection firm, with representatives whose job it is to know which hotels will be best for which meetings. A second way is to ask a hotel representation firm (a company hired by hotels to help increase sales), such as the Krisam Group or Associated Luxury Hotels, to proffer their most upscale selections. For example, James Schultenover, president of The Krisam Group, suggests the following hotels and resorts:

* The 775-room Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City, which is one of two five-diamond hotels in Utah;

* The 679-room Hotel del Coronado in Coronado, Calif., a historic hotel on the beach that was the setting for the Marilyn Monroe film, Some Like It Hot;

* The newly renovated Rancho Bernardo Inn in San Diego, where each of the 287 rooms has a private patio and a 20,000-square-foot conference center opened this year;

* The 255-room Sanctuary at Kiawah Island, S.C., a golf paradise with five championship courses;

* The 171-room Lodge at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif., with meeting space that looks out on the golf course;

* The 98-room Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain in Paradise Valley, Ariz., a rejuvenating haven built into the side of a mountain.

All are luxury hotels; none shout it from the rooftops. On the other hand, Schultenover discourages member properties from trying to downplay their status or their resort components by cutting off the “resort and spa” from their name in the contract, for example.

A third option for finding luxe independents: Search the catalogs of hotel marketing portfolios, such as The Leading Hotels of the World, Relais & Chateaux or Preferred Hotel Group.

With any of these methods, be sure to solicit a verbal recommendation from someone you trust, as upper-upscale ho-tels often will be lumped in with the luxury properties.

For small meetings, Design Hotels represents more than 140 gorgeous, memorable, high-style properties all over the world, most of them offering authentic luxury. The 60-room Chambers Hotel in Minneapolis and the 125-room Setai in Miami, for example, are relatively new, and both are often cited as the best hotels in their respective cities. The Chambers (sister hotel to the Chambers in New York City) is bedecked with more than 200 pieces of art from the owner’s private collection, while the Setai inspires tranquility with its contemporary Asian design.