PICTURE AN AL FRESCO dinner under a cloudless blue sky, surrounded by palm trees, blossoming gardens, and low-rise Mediterranean architecture. Afterward, your group hops on a bus for a 20-minute ride that takes you to a world of glitz and glamour so different from dinner's relaxed outdoor ambience that it feels as if you've traveled in a time machine.
Where are you? Dining at the beautiful 540-room JW Marriott Las Vegas Resort, Spa & Golf, host for the 2003 Marriott & Renaissance Insurance & Financial Services Customer Forum held in mid-May — and then, about to experience a larger-than-life Céline Dion concert at Caesars Palace in Vegas.
This year's Forum brought together 23 industry planners with Marriott corporate and property representatives from across the country for learning and networking. There wasn't a dull moment during the two-day event, from the opening tabletop marketplace to the aforementioned Céline Dion concert to the final black-and-white — themed dinner.
An exchange of information and ideas at morning business sessions fostered plenty of discussion as planners learned about Marriott's strategic vision, listened to futurist Ed Barlow talk about aligning meeting planning with a continuum of change, and heard fellow planners discuss industry trends. Augmenting the business meetings was an afternoon scavenger hunt on the Vegas strip and another afternoon of either golf or pampering treatments at the resort's elegant 40,000-square-foot Aquae Sulis spa.
What's New at Marriott
The Marriott brand continues to grow at a rate of about 150 new properties a year, and numerous hotels under the Marriott and Renaissance flags are undergoing major renovations, said a panel of Marriott executives. Roughly 30 percent of the new properties are full-service resorts, a market segment that has lost leisure and individual business travelers but gained meetings business.
“We know we need to be more focused on groups, because that's where our resort business will come from,” said Peter Cantone, vice president, event management, Marriott International. To that end, Marriott has spent the last few years rolling out a re-organization of resort management, he said. Former convention services departments have been renamed event planning departments, with an entire team of service personnel focused on serving groups. Everyone in the department reports to one team leader, who in turn reports to the general manager.
“We're taking a look at all of our standards — in meeting rooms, food and beverage, and so on — and changing and upgrading to help drive customer satisfaction,” noted Cantone.
In another panel discussion, the value of consistent standards throughout the Marriott brands was touted by meeting planners. “I know what to expect from Marriott brands,” said Rick Loftin, Woodmen of the World Insurance Co. “That's why I always look into them for our meetings.”