by Ann Shepphird | October 01, 2017

Working with favored hotels

Aspen, Colo., is eager for repeat business, says Justin Todd, director of sales and marketing for the 179-room St. Regis Aspen. While a draw for skiers, the property sees its bulk of meetings activity in the summer and fall, when leisure business drops off, he notes. Groups often consider a number of mountain destinations, but once they find their perfect spot, they tend to come back. "They know what they're going to get when it comes to the physical product and service levels, and don't have to reinvent their program each time," Todd says.

That sense of assurance also comes from longtime relationships with the staff. "Our preconference meetings feel like a family coming back together," Todd says. "When planners can see 80 to 90 percent of the same faces year after year, it leads to an overall confidence."

At Aspen's Little Nell hotel, "when we welcome our groups back, we always say 'welcome home,'" says Jennifer Carlson, senior group sales manager for the 92-room property. "That sentiment resonates with them."

Seasoned staff are a major reason groups decide to extend a relationship, says Nancy Nachman, owner and chief connecting officer at the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Meetings Concierge, which handles site selection for hundreds of conferences globally. "If hotels retain their staff, it means they're treating the staff incredibly well, which means they're treating the guests well."

The staff at the 311-room Casa Marina, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, in Key West, Fla., is a key reason the Washington, D.C.-based Public Affairs Council has returned annually for more than 12 years. "Seeing familiar faces has developed a sense of consistency, understanding and mutual commitment to a great event," notes Rikki Amos, the group's director, U.S. public affairs practice.

Familiarity with a hotel helps when it's time to change things up, says Amos. "You already know what is possible with the location and how some of your new ideas might work. It's much easier to brainstorm with them, because they already have a sense of how we operate and what our attendees like."

The Tysons, Va.-based National Automobile Dealers Association has been holding citywide conventions in New Orleans since 1973 and uses the 1,622-room Hilton New Orleans Riverside as its headquarters hotel. Part of the attraction is being adjacent to the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. However, according to J. Melissa Wolpert, director of convention services and operations for NADA, it's the relationships with the staff that make the partnership so special. "We've worked together for many years, and they are family," says Wolpert.

At the Hawaii Convention Center, such partnerships go beyond the on-site staff and to the community through the facility's Elele Program, which "enlists the support of community leaders, known as ambassadors, who have ties to professional organizations with national and international meetings," says Teri Orton, general manager of the center.

"There's a word we use here in Hawaii -- ho'okipa -- which means unconditional giving," says Mary Neister, vice president of Meet Hawaii. "It's our responsibility to give guests an experience that leaves them rejuvenated, refreshed and wanting to return."