Recognizing that these are challenging times for luxury properties, Ezzat Coutry, senior vice president, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, reinforced the company’s commitment to meetings and to the insurance sector at a recent gathering of about 40 seasoned meeting professionals and Ritz-Carlton representatives at the Ritz-Carlton Golf & Spa Resort, Rose Hall, Jamaica. “It’s our business to be in the meetings business,” he said. “My promise is that we are not going to change our commitment, our standards, or our level of service.”
In a separate educational session led by Kelly Wood, Ritz-Carlton vice president, global sales organization, and Gary Grove, regional vice president, sales and marketing, planners said that while they continue to carefully look at every aspect of meeting spend and content, incentive qualifiers are hungrier than ever for recognition.
Other educational highlights included Ritz-Carlton’s Pam Ferguson, director of global accounts, insurance, interviewing Paco Saldana, the 2009 “Face of Travel” and director of guest services, The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island. Saldana’s inspiring story of how he forged his hospitality industry career in the U.S. as a non–English-speaking immigrant, laced with funny anecdotes, drew tears and cheers from the audience.
Attendees also heard updates from sponsoring partners. Charles Jones, manager, global sales group and meeting travel, American Airlines, reminded attendees that American has “never abandoned its meetings program,” and noted that planners can lock in rates up to one year out. Inge Campbell, national account manager, corporate gifts, Maui Jim Sunglasses, talked about details of Maui Jim’s corporate gift program, a new gift card program, and a community service option for groups of 100 or more that donates one pair of sunglasses for every three pairs purchased.
Community service as an element of group recognition programs was a hot topic, with planners looking for easy ways to integrate corporate social responsibility () activities into their meetings, and Ritz-Carlton providing attendees a hands-on experience with a Community Footprints project.
As part of the Community Footprints program, each hotel has its own local charity: in the case of Ritz-Carlton, Rose Hall, it’s the SOS Orphanage in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Attendees donned T-shirts and shorts and traveled to the orphanage to paint the kindergarten building during the last afternoon of the advisory board meeting. What was especially heartwarming was the obvious affection the children have for Ritz-Carlton, Rose Hall, General Manager Bernd Kuhlen, and his commitment to their progress and well-being.
“The well-balanced itinerary delivered interesting information on industry and Ritz-Carlton trends, and big emotional takeaways with the presentation of Paco Saldana and our Community Footprints experience at the SOS Orphanage,” says Todd Zint, CMP, CMM, vice president, meetings and, NFP Insurance Services, Inc.
With 427 guest rooms and suites, more than 25,000 square feet of meeting and event space, elegant yet informal interiors, and all the amenities for which the Ritz-Carlton brand is known, the secluded beachfront hotel did a great job showcasing its suitability for groups. Perhaps its most memorable attribute is the warm and genuine staff, all of whom turned out to cheer the sweaty, paint-splattered attendees when they returned from the orphanage.