If Marriott has seemed rather lax in its attention to the insurance market over the past few years, the hotel company is getting serious again. Symbolic of that renewed focus, Mike Murphy, national director of insurance sales, hosted an insurance industry roundtable at Marriott's Desert Springs Resort in Palm Desert, Calif., in November, along with Jane Bondurant, director of national accounts at the resort. Since his appointment a year and a half ago, Murphy has been the point man for Marriott's plan to recommit itself to the insurance market, to raise service levels to that industry, and to reconnect with insurance conference planners.

"Our lack of aggressive presence in the insurance market has set us back in recent years," Murphy says. "My emphasis in 1999 will be to make it as convenient as possible for our insurance customers to book properties across all the Marriott brands."

That's the other message from Marriott: The company has a new, diverse portfolio to offer insurance meetings. Its 1,500 (and climbing) worldwide properties now include those of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and Renaissance Hotels & Resorts, just for starters. "There have been so many changes in the past 12 to 18 months, I wanted to be brought into the loop," says Dick Adler, sales promotion director at American Family Insurance Group in Madison, Wis., who attended the weekend event. "Lack of personal contact is lack of information."

Roundtable discussion focused on hotel industry mergers, standardized contracts, and the Marriott sales structure. On the latter topic, Marriott is developing a new way of selling. For example, in Southern California, Marriott has 15 properties within a 20-mile radius--and, consequently, 15 sales teams selling to the same customers. The alternative strategy: one sales manager who sells the geographic cluster of properties. And that manager will be based not on-property and not in Southern California, but within a 100-mile radius of you--the customer. Marriott expects to expand this strategy, opening new sales offices throughout the country.