With the serenity of the Spa Desert Springs as a backdrop, nearly 70 meeting planners and Marriott sales associates reconnected at the opening reception of the 2008 Marriott Insurance & Financial Services Customer Forum in June. Host hotel JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa was proud to showcase its year-old, 38,000-square-foot spa, as well as a completely transformed lobby. A central bar and two levels of gathering space for networking or receptions have created a lively new focal point for the 884-room resort.

Also sporting a showy new lobby is the Renaissance Esmeralda, which hosted the group for dinner at its renowned Italian restaurant, Scirocco. A Robert DeNiro impersonator and wine from “The Godfather” director Francis Ford Coppola's winery were perfect complements to the evening.

Companies With a Conscience

Author and speaker Tim Sanders launched the meeting's first business day in dramatic fashion, telling the group that meetings have the power to change the world. Get ready for “The Responsibility Revolution,” he said, as consumers and workers begin to make purchasing and career decisions based on the reputation of companies as socially and environmentally responsible.

Attendees performed their own small act of service, creating care packages for U.S. troops serving in Iraq. The effort was coordinated by anysoldier.com, founded by Marty Horn, retired from the U.S. Army, and his son.

Packages are addressed to “Any Soldier,” letting Army unit leaders know that the contents is to be shared with all personnel, some of whom might not receive packages otherwise. Visit the Web site to find out how you can do this simple but meaningful project with your group.

Quick Date

The Forum's popular Reverse Marketplace, where planners sit at small tables and hotel partners stop for a brief chat at each one, was expanded to two sessions this year. The consensus: It's a great way to see everybody, if only for 3 minutes! Among the hot topics during two roundtable sessions: Going green. Marriott even made a change on the fly, replacing bottled water in meeting rooms with pitchers and glasses.

(See page 14 of this issue for details on Marriott's rain-forest project and how you can get your company involved.)

Global Growth

I&FS Forum attendees got an inside look from Marriott executives at the hotel company's worldwide growth plans. In China, 25 hotels are planned or under construction; in India, the number is 22; in Thailand, 11; in Eastern Europe, 5; and in the Middle East, 39 hotels are on the docket including 13 in Dubai. Renovation highlights include the reopening of the historic Shelbourne Dublin, a Renaissance hotel, which closed for two years for a top-to-bottom redo; and the sleek and modern Grosvenor Hotel in London, an international flagship for the JW Marriott brand.

Meanwhile, Marriott this year launched its boutique brand, Edition, with Ian Schrager. Plans for the brand play to the strengths of each partner: Schrager handles concept, design, marketing, branding, and food and beverage while Marriott takes on development, operations, and management. Properties are planned for Waikiki, Chicago, L.A., Miami, Costa Rica, Madrid, and Paris.