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ARCHIVED  March 1, 1997

Big hotels see gains in group meetings

Even though businesses and governments are keeping a tight rein on expenses, still they are spending a comfortable amount of dollars on group meetings and conventions.That’s according to sales managers at area hotels with minimum overnight meeting capacities of 400.The managers wouldn’t release group revenues in dollar terms. However, most agreed to divulge the percent of group sales to total sales.
Their figures ranged from 19 percent to 40 percent, wide-ranging because hotels vary in the way they track revenue from group sales.
Some lump sales from day usage of meeting facilities in with sales from groups using both overnight and meeting facilities. Others differentiate between the two.
But most importantly, all the managers agreed that the group business is healthy and expanding at a modest rate.
The industry’s needs have also expanded, brought on by – what else? high technology.
As a result, some hotels have already beefed up meeting facilities, and others are planning to do so in the near future.
Jim Duncan, sales and marketing director for the Fort Collins Marriott on Horsetooth Road, said today’s groups have strong needs for audio/visual capacities, computer/modem hookups and teleconferencing,
Additionally, “they want a high-tech person on hand who can solve any immediate problems” with the equipment, Duncan said.
Accordingly, Marriott hired an in-house audio/visual supervisor and wired all meeting rooms for outside computer and satellite feeds, Duncan said.
The Hitching Post Inn in Cheyenne hasn’t gone quite that far, but Linda Chasson, sales and marketing director, agreed that changing technology has “drastically” affected what The Hitching post is doing to satisfy meeting planners.
Groups want the technology to hook up computers in sleeping rooms as well as meeting rooms, Chasson said, so the hotel plans to equip all rooms with data ports by next year.
The hotel has already added more power strips to provide ample light for laptops, another common need. Generally speaking, groups are needing larger rooms for less people because “they now have more things to work with,” Chasson said, referring to the high-tech equipment commonly brought to meetings.
Not all needs revolve around technology. Hotel catering departments are finding that people’s eating habits are changing, too.
“A lot of people are getting away from the heavier foods during conferences, going more healthy with fruits and lighter on the sweets,´ said Karen Warhola, catering director at the Raintree Plaza Hotel and Conference Center in Longmont.
“And we’re always accommodating vegetarians,” because there are more vegetarians now than there were five years ago, she said.
Still, “food requests depend on where people are coming from. If it’s a group of businessmen from the South or out east, they still want the heavier food, the meat and potatoes,” Warhola said.
Sales directors agree that most groups coming to this area are from other Rocky Mountain states, although some meetings draw from greater distances, even from other countries.
While meetings are staged by every kind of group imaginable, Gilda Merritt, sales director for Little America Hotel and Resort in Cheyenne, said a large chunk of her hotel’s meeting dollars comes from association groups.
Associations are creating accreditation programs for their members, Merritt said. The theory is that accreditation increases job status and, in some cases, is required to obtain job raises, she added.
Associations require members to earn credit hours over a specified period of time to maintain membership, she said, and conference attendance earns credits.
“So the (associations) are growing, and we’re having to get more creative in how to utilize our space,” Merritt said, adding that Little America is “actually utilizing more of our property than we ever have before for meetings.
“It used to be that everybody met just to get away, and now they meet because they really need it to further their job status or job level,” she said. “The associations that aren’t growing are dissolving.”
Hotels rely heavily on corporate identity and reputation to book meeting business. But they are also finding innovative and creative ways to entice groups.
For example, The Hitching Post is approaching management training and career-track companies that conduct how-to seminars around the country and offering them money-saving, long-term contracts to book with the hotel.
The resulting two-to-three year contracts benefit both the company and the hotel, Chasson said.
“The long-term contract lets us know we’re going to have that solid base of repetitive business,” and it lets the companies know where they will be going and what the facilities will be, she said.
Still, the corporate image hasn’t lost its edge when it comes to marketing advantages.
Duncan said the Fort Collins Marriott is one of several in a Colorado “cluster,” which also includes Marriott hotels in Denver, Vail and Colorado Springs.
Groups that select meeting sites year after year within the cluster get consistent quality and know their needs can be tracked and communicated from one Marriott property to the next, Duncan explained.
“Sharing the information and having a smooth handoff to the next facility is easier for the meeting planner,” he said.
Reputation and satisfied customers also carry a lot of weight in the marketplace,
“A lot of people might think that our location is a drawback because we aren’t in Boulder,” Warhola said of the Raintree in Longmont.
“But the facility speaks for itself. Once we get a group in, they’ll come back,” she said.
Among other enticements, the Greeley Best Western Ramkota Inn has come up with “special theme breaks,´ said Eugena Bellamy, sales director.
“The gorilla break is where someone comes in dressed in a gorilla suit and serves chocolate-covered bananas to the guests,” she described. Humorous and colorful theme breaks bring levity to a meeting and help break up the monotony, Bellamy said.
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Even though businesses and governments are keeping a tight rein on expenses, still they are spending a comfortable amount of dollars on group meetings and conventions.That’s according to sales managers at area hotels with minimum overnight meeting capacities of 400.The managers wouldn’t release group revenues in dollar terms. However, most agreed to divulge the percent of group sales to total sales.
Their figures ranged from 19 percent to 40 percent, wide-ranging because hotels vary in the way they track revenue from group sales.
Some lump sales from day usage of meeting facilities in with sales from groups using both overnight…

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