Innovative Ways to Capitalize on Group Meeting Business

By Peter Strebel Chief Executive Officer, Omni Hotels & Resorts | September 09, 2019

As meeting and event planners cater increasingly to millennials, the largest generation in the work force, a key trend continues to emerge: what was done in years past will not work moving forward. Every meeting must be more impactful, more exciting and more attractive to attendees than what has ever been planned before.

The fact is, this trend isn't only driven by millennials. Seventy-four percent of Americans surveyed prefer experiences over products.  For the hospitality industry, that means hosting a traditional meeting in a ballroom with great service is not enough anymore - in fact, American Express' 2019 Global Meetings and Events forecast specifically notes that younger professionals are unsatisfied with "typical" venues and increasingly are calling for quirky, unique and above all, authentic  settings for meetings and events.

As meeting planners strive to integrate unusual settings into their events, more and more business is being driven away from hotels and resorts in favor of off-site venues such as zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens and museums. For our industry, it presents both a challenge and an opportunity to evolve our business in a way that meets the needs of meeting planners' shifting priorities.

Uncommon Destinations Lead TO Uncommon Experiences 

The way to address this challenge is to adapt with creative, inventive ways to ensure hotels are just as authentic to their destination as any of these alternate sites. The old way of selling group meetings into standard ballrooms and boardrooms that look the same as their counterparts across the country will fall increasingly by the wayside. But we can't simply change the way we're selling - the product itself must be genuine in order to resonate and create the experience that meeting planners are not just envisioning, they're requiring.

Omni Hotels & Resorts approaches this by offering a diverse portfolio of properties, in addition to looking toward the future with an ambitious development strategy. Walk into any two properties across the country, and none will look exactly alike. This is because in every market in which Omni operates, the local culture is leveraged to influence design, food and beverage and meeting space decisions.

The Sprouting Project at Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort started as an aquaponic greenhouse, but now features an apiary, root cellar and chicken coop to deliver one-of-a-kind foodie experiences.

The Sprouting Project | Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort

A perfect example of this is The Sprouting Project at Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort in Florida. Daven, the executive chef at the time (he has since been promoted to director of food and beverage), stumbled upon a dilapidated greenhouse hidden away on the sprawling property. He has such a passion and vision for local flavor and color - where anyone else would have seen a tumbledown shack, he saw an opportunity.

The property invested in converting it into an aquaponic greenhouse, planting 720 herbs and leafy greens, but keeping the space otherwise modest with dirt floors. The original intent was to keep it purely functional, but Daven knew it was too special to remain behind the scenes. It soon began to be sold as a small, intimate event venue.

Since then, The Sprouting Project has expanded with even more space to host larger events. It also has an apiary boasting 28 beehives which allows the property to harvest three different types of honey; an above-ground root cellar with 36 reclaimed tequila barrels that the food and beverage team uses for aging spirits and sauces; a chicken coop with more than a dozen birds; and by demand of meeting planners, turf flooring.

The venue itself inspires the events that are held there, whether it's hosting a "make-your-own hot sauce" workshop, having guests select and pick their own herbs for a custom handcrafted vinaigrette or barrel-aging a group's signature cocktail leading up to an event so it can be served "on tap." There's no template for an event at The Sprouting Project; each one is 100 percent customized to the client's needs, wants and vision.

The Sprouting Project is really remarkable because it's not just about sprouting herbs and vegetables anymore - it's about sprouting ideas. It's always changing and evolving so that no two events are ever the same. This is the kind of creative, unexpected approach that will allow us to answer the question of, "What are we going to do that's different?" The solution is an amazing, authentic event that keeps the group on property.

Falls City Market | Omni Louisville Hotel 

When Omni developed the recently-opened Omni Louisville Hotel, creating an on-site venue that felt off-site was part of the strategic vision. That's how Falls City Market, a 20,000-square-foot food hall came to be.

Anchored by Heine Brothers' Coffee, a local organic coffee roaster with a loyal fanbase, the market is an urban food hall inspired by concepts like Eataly in Chicago or Eatzi's in Dallas, and features a bakery, sushi bar, pizzeria and even a taco truck among other rotating concepts.

The space lends itself to group buyouts with opportunities for unusual, engaging events that can include chef demos, liquid nitrogen bourbon slushies and workshops where attendees can hand-dip their own bottle of bourbon in wax. Its casual and trendy environment serves as a refreshing contrast to more formal venues.

Importantly, Falls City Market is branded and operated entirely with its own identity. Guests can't even charge back purchases in the market to their room, and that is entirely by design. In order to create a true off-site experience, we had to commit to creating a genuinely independent location - authenticity is something that has to be crafted, not faked.

The beauty of this uncommon destination is that it binds the feeling of an off-site venue with the convenience of an on-site space. And it has been a powerful selling tool, as the sales team at Omni Louisville credit Falls City Market as differentiator that closes sales.

Pin & Proof | Omni Louisville Hotel 

Another gem at Omni Louisville Hotel is Pin & Proof, the property's speakeasy. While it's very trendy right now for bars to call themselves Prohibition-themed, it takes a lot of courage to commit to running a true speakeasy. Pin & Proof has no signage, and is accessed only when guests literally walk through a painting at the end of an unmarked hallway.

In the small, intimate space (the bar has only a 69-seat capacity), the walls flanking the four bowling lanes are covered with authentic vintage photography that was curated in partnership with the local historic society. It's nuances like this that give credibility to the space and make it desirable for meeting planners and attendees looking for something Instagram-able. In fact, when people do rent the space, they very rarely add decoration beyond what's already present.

Partnerships with world-class brands like MLB's Atlanta Braves unlock the ability to offer meeting and event experiences that cannot be found elsewhere. Partnerships with world-class brands like MLB's Atlanta Braves unlock the ability to offer meeting and event experiences that cannot be found elsewhere.

Omni Hotel at The Battery Atlanta 

Cultivating partnerships through development is another fundamental way to create hotels that can become destinations in-and-of themselves. For example, the recently-opened Omni Hotel at The Battery Atlanta operates in partnership with Major League Baseball's Atlanta Braves, and everything from the location to the interior design is crafted to leverage a professional sports pedigree.

Located at The Battery Atlanta, a multi-use dining and shopping destination - not to mention the Braves' home field - the property leverages their partnership to sell group experiences that cannot be found anywhere else: "Backstage" tours of the athletic facility and locker rooms, breakout sessions in the ballparks' luxury suites, teambuilding activities on the professional baseball field and even award recognition on the Jumbotron.

For meeting planners looking to host big league events, the partnership also provides additional fun and unexpected opportunities like borrowing the Braves' life-size bobblehead statues, or hiring the Heavy Hitters or Tomahawk Team, the team's drum line and dance team, respectively.

Omni Frisco Hotel 

Another example of a world-class partnership is Omni Frisco Hotel. Not only is it the official hotel of the Dallas Cowboys, it's located within The Star, home to the Dallas Cowboys World Headquarters.

The partnership allows access to areas of this impressive NFL brand that few others may ever see: Cowboys Club, a private social club and restaurant; behind the scenes tours; and even the players' training facility.

What's so impressive about the Dallas Cowboys is that they're not simply a professional football team - they are the most valuable sports franchise in the entire world. Even for planners and attendees who may not be huge fans of football, there is a palpable energy and polish to every part of the Cowboys brand and facility, and that in-and-of itself creates an experience unlike any other.

By cultivating and leveraging strategic partnerships, we have greater opportunity to exceed meeting planners' demands of uncommon destinations and unforgettable experiences.

Development strategies can be heavily influenced by the vision of creating uncommon destinations, as shown in the rendering of Omni Boston Hotel at the Seaport's main dining room.

Future Development 

With more than $2 billion in active development, Omni is taking every lesson gleaned from these experiences and applying it toward forward progress.

For instance, Omni Boston Hotel at the Seaport, slated to open in 2021, leverages Boston's reputation as a city for the arts. The interior design of the main dining outlet references the iconic Boston Public Library ceiling with dining tables reminiscent of study tables below. The bar features a painted ceiling and the overhead lighting is stained glass - it's going to be like dining in a museum. The main dining room has a huge mural and tons of artwork on the walls, and that's just a taste of the sort of inspiration our design team is infusing into the new build.

The team is also committed to creating unusual and unexpected spaces, like an indoor/outdoor elevated pool deck. As anyone who's visited Boston outside of summer knows, a year-round pool is very uncommon in the city.

Another property slated for 2021, Omni Oklahoma City Hotel, will be leveraging its proximity to Scissortail Park, a 70-acre urban park that, once complete, will feature an entertainment stage, ornamental gardens and woodlands, a lake and boathouse, grand promenade, water features, outdoor roller rink and much more. Again taking design inspiration from the local area, the property will sport earth tones rooted in the prairie landscape, subtle influences like carpet designs that reference the shape of the scissortail and artwork that showcases iconic plains imagery like buffalo and wheat.

Say Goodnight to Hunger 

As meeting planners become increasingly aware of their carbon footprint and corporate responsibility - at Omni, we have seen that very much in the corporate and association segments- there is yet another opportunity for our industry to understand and meet their needs.

Say Goodnight to Hunger is Omni's signature corporate responsibility initiative, and through it the company has donated nearly 16 million meals since the inception in 2016. The donations are made to Feeding America, who in turn direct that money to local food banks in the markets we serve. So we're not just doing business in these local communities, we're actively giving back both through financial and time donations.

To leverage our relationship with these local food banks, the team at Omni Bedford Springs Resort in Pennsylvania coordinated with the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank to create a volunteer opportunity for our group clients, both current and prospective. They met at the food bank, volunteered their time where needed and afterward shared dinner, drinks and a sense of comradery.

We've received overwhelmingly positive feedback from this outing, and the sales team even closed business with a past client who had not booked in some time. This renewed relationship is directly attributable to the property team's ingenuity in creating a unique, uncommon experience for their meeting planner clients.

Conclusion 

As meeting planners continue to outdo themselves with every event they plan, we have to listen to and understand how the needs and wants of this customer is changing.

By understanding the driving force that is luring events off-property industry-wide, we must acknowledge that this is not a trend that will soon fall out of fashion. Rather it is a pattern and theme that, with vision and execution, can be leveraged as a true differentiator. In doing so, we can transform this challenge into remarkable, unexpected opportunities.

Mr. Strebel Recently named a 2019 Top CEO by Glassdoor, Peter Strebel is president of Omni Hotels & Resorts where he continues to elevate the vision of Omni while insuring all operational areas within the company align with the long-term goals and objectives for the brand. A 30-year-plus veteran of the hospitality industry, he works with teams to continue to enhance the existing high-level of guest service as well as oversee the growth and expansion plans the brand has in the pipeline. The company's former chief marketing officer and senior vice president of sales, Mr. Strebel was responsible for creating and driving innovative branding, communications, marketing and business development strategies to increase awareness, capture market share and build revenue for the luxury hotel brand. Mr. Strebel also formerly served as senior vice president of operations for the company where he oversaw the development of brand-wide property standards, guest rooms and other operational areas for the luxury hotel brand's growing convention collection and resort portfolio. Mr. Strebel can be contacted at 888-444-6664 or pstrebel@omnihotels.com Please visit http://www.omnihotels.com for more information. Extended Biography

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Notwithstanding the foregoing, any and all disputes, which the parties cannot informally resolve, regarding the scope of issues or matter with the jurisdiction of the arbitrator, shall be resolved by a separate dispute resolution process whereby HotelExecutive, in its sole discretion shall elect the dispute to be resolved by either (1) a court of competent jurisdiction in the State of California or (2) a panel of three new arbitrators.

This Agreement shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the State of California notwithstanding any conflict of laws provisions. You and HotelExecutive agree that the venue for all legal disputes, controversies, actions of any kind arising under or related to this Agreement shall be San Francisco, California. You and HotelExecutive further agree that in case of any litigation regarding this Agreement, you irrevocably and unconditionally (i) consent to submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the state and federal courts in the County of San Francisco, California for any litigation or dispute arising out of or relating to this Agreement, (ii) agree not to commence any litigation arising out of or relating to this Agreement except in the California Courts, (iii) agree not to plead or claim that such litigation brought therein has been brought in an inconvenient forum, and (iv) agree the California Courts represent the exclusive jurisdiction for all litigation relating to this Agreement.

11. MEMBERSHIP FEES

Hotel Business Review Subscriptions

If you choose to purchase a subscription, member subscription payments can be made in U.S. Dollars, as well as a variety of international currencies. Membership terms are Annual Recurring, and Monthly Recurring. The Annual Recurring subscription is an annual commitment and subscribers will be charged each consecutive billing cycle. Annual Recurring subscriptions can be cancelled after the first billing cycle and within 30-days of the billing date for a full refund. Monthly Recurring subscriptions are ongoing and subscribers will be charged each consecutive monthly billing cycle. Monthly Recurring subscriptions can be cancelled after the first month and within 7 days of the monthly billing cycle for a full refund.

12. PAYMENT AUTHORIZATION

Payment for the services provided to you in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive may be made by automatic credit card, debit card, direct debit, bankwire or Paypal and other approved payment means offered in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive, and you hereby authorize HotelExecutive and its agents to transact such payments on your behalf.

You hereby authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card to pay for your membership to HotelExecutive. You further authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card for any and all purchases of products, services in association with HotelExecutive. You agree to be personally liable for all charges incurred by you in association with your access or other use of any content provided by HotelExecutive or any third party in association with HotelExecutive. You acknowledge and agree that your liability for all such charges shall continue after termination of your access or any type of membership arrangement with HotelExecutive.

In the event that you have chosen to have your membership automatically rebilled, unless and until you notify HotelExecutive that you wish to cancel or terminate your membership to HotelExecutive, you hereby agree and authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to automatically renew your membership to HotelExecutive on a continuing basis and to charge your credit card (or other payment means you have selected) to pay for the ongoing cost of your membership. You hereby further authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card (or other approved payment means you have selected) for any and all purchases of products, services and entertainment provided to in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive.

13. PRIVACY POLICY

The following is the Privacy Policy for HotelExecutive

We can be reached via telephone, email, or online at our contact page. When you visit our site we do not log any information regarding your domain or email address. Information Sharing: We do not share user information with any third parties other than via press release distribution as described below.

Hotel Newswire is a newswire service that distributes press releases on behalf of our users. If you decide to submit a press release for distribution through our system we will transmit your entire press release including any personal information therein contained to our media contacts and online distribution points including search engines. This is the only redistribution of your information that we engage in. Your submission of press releases through our system indicates consent with this policy. The information we collect during your registration process is used to notify users about updates to our service and inform users of any special events hosted by Hotel Newswire. This information is not shared with other organizations for commercial or non-commercial purposes.

Cookies: Our system requires the use of cookies to enable the user to log back into our website to access information from the newswire, without having to log in each time using the required username and password.

If you do not want to receive email from us in the future, please let us know by following instructions included in our communication with you. Users who supply us with telephone numbers online may receive telephone contact from us regarding their account, or informing them of new products and services available on the HotelExecutive website. If you do not wish to receive such telephone calls, please edit your account and remove your phone number from your account profile. This can be done from your user account menu.

Ad Servers: We do not partner with or have any relationship with any ad server companies. From time to time, we may use customer information for new uses not previously disclosed in our privacy notice. If our information practices change at any time, we will post the policy changes to our website to notify you of these changes and provide you with the ability to opt out of these new uses. If you are concerned about how your information is used, you should check back at our website periodically.

Upon request we provide site visitors with access to all information (including proprietary information) that we maintain about them. Users can access this information by logging in to their account.

Security: We always use industry-standard encryption technologies while transferring and receiving user data exchanged with our site. We have appropriate security measures in place in our physical facilities to protect against the loss, misuse, or alteration of information that we have collected from you on our site. We do not store credit card information in our systems.

If you feel that this site is not following its stated information policy, you may contact us.

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Zoe Connolly

Knowland CEO Robert Post responds to recent articles/opinions that the $50 million investment by Marriott, IHG, Accor, and Hilton in a new Group Booking Platform has signaled "meaningful change" in the painful process of selling event space and room blocks to meeting planners. The new booking platform uses a self-reporting database of hotel group block inventory and meeting space to offer meeting planners an OTA-like environment to shop and book event venues at the lowest price. Read on...

Coming up in October 2019...

Revenue Management: Focus On Profit

Revenue Management is still a relatively new profession within hotel operations and as such, it continues to evolve. One significant trend in this area is a shift away from using revenue as the foundation to generate key performance indicators (KPIs) and to instead place the emphasis on profit. Traditionally, revenue managers have relied on total revenue per available room (TrevPAR) and revenue per available room (RevPAR) as the basis of their KPIs. Now, some revenue managers are using gross operating profit per available room (GOPPAR) as their primary KPI. This puts profit at the center of revenue management strategy, and managers are increasingly searching for new ways to increase the profitability of their hotels. Return on Investment is the objective of any hotel investment, so it is only logical that profitability and ROI will be emphasized going forward. Another trend is an expanded focus on direct hotel bookings. Revenue managers know that one way to increase profitability is to steer guests away from online travel agencies (OTAs) and book directly with the hotel. This tactic also reinforces brand identity and loyalty, and encourages repeat business. In addition, it provides a valuable platform to market the hotel directly to the customer, and to upsell room upgrades or other services to them. Another trend for revenue managers involves automation in their software programs. Revenue management systems with automation are far more desirable than those without it. Automating data entry and logistics increases efficiency, allowing managers to spend more time on formulating strategy. As a bonus, an automated system helps with aggregating and interpreting data. The October issue of the Hotel Business Review will address these developments and document how some leading hotels are executing their revenue management strategies.