In its seventh year, the Westin Insurance Advisory Board became the Starwood Insurance Advisory Board, reflecting Starwood's 1997 purchase of Westin Hotels and Resorts. "We're in the midst of merging three different cultures and companies," said Patti Mottolese, Starwood's director, global insurance sales, to open the meeting. Starwood's current portfolio is more than 660 properties big--and expanding.

"Trying to put it all together is exhilarating," said Rick Hance, Starwood's vice president, global sales offices, giving the advisory board an overview of the new sales structure (see box). The company now is based in White Plains, N.Y. Westin's national sales offices are being closed and the new Starwood global sales offices will be in the former national offices of Sheraton.

For the insurance market, Mottolese will have a new associate. John Jeffrey, former director of group sales at the Westin Mission Hills in Rancho Mirage, Calif., will be moving to Dallas and handling insurance accounts other than the 60 or so that Mottolese will retain.

The new portfolio of properties finds the St. Regis in New York as the Starwood flagship. The "St. Regis" name may be given to a select group of luxury hotels around the world. An entirely new Starwood brand--and a new concept in hotels--is the W brand. Designed as business hotels with minimal meeting space, W properties will emphasize guest comfort with a residential feel, according to Brian Windle, the brand's new vice president of sales. They'll also be hip, with a distinct style based on their locations, each with a bar/restaurant run by a well-known local restaurateur. The first W hotel will be an $80 million redo of the Doral in Manhattan, to open in November, followed by two other Manhattan properties plus San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, and New Orleans.

Big Plans for the Westin Copley Meanwhile in Beantown, Frank Calaguire, the new general manager of the Westin Copley Place, talked about upcoming renovations and the benefits of three Boston hotels (the Westin, the Sheraton Boston, and the Boston Park Plaza) now being in one company's portfolio.

To be tops in the trio, the Westin Copley will undergo a $15 million guest room rehab in 2000, plus a lobby renovation and the addition of retail outlets. "And we may get out of the minibar business," Calaguire said. Refrigerators will be kept in the rooms, he said, and guests may have them stocked as they like from a new lobby general store. "With this kind of investment, we can ratchet up who we are and where we're positioned," the new GM said.

The Planners Speak As they do every year, advisory board members updated their peers on changes in their companies and jobs. A trend among this group is charging back internal clients for meeting services. In the extreme, one meeting planner is about to have her department's performance judged on whether or not it turns a profit.

Also during the advisory board meeting, Mary Keough-Anderson, manager, conference and meeting management, at Liberty Mutual in Boston, shared her "Small-Meeting Planner's Guide" with the group. Designed for people within the company who plan meetings for 20 or fewer, the guide includes information on everything from setting goals to seating diagrams.

Lynn Averill, director, travel and conferences, at National Life of Vermont in Montpelier, Vt., summarized her experience with an efficiency initiative and the threat of outsourcing. The bottom line: Averill demonstrated the cost-efficiency of keeping meetings in-house. But she also found that asking questions about how the department did things was a valuable exercise. (For more, see ICP March/ April '98, page 26.)

Kelly Stratton, consulting manager, meeting services, at Nationwide Insurance Enterprise in Columbus, Ohio, went through a similar experience. Averill's buzz phrase was Efficiency Improvement Process; Stratton's is Aggressive Cost Management. In 1996, Stratton explained, Nationwide decided to look into outsourcing meeting planning. So, Stratton said, "we researched every possible detail regarding our financial contribution to the company and then presented to the executive committee." Also in the presentation: a mission statement, case studies of other companies' meeting departments, and, most important, a cost comparison. "We sent out several meetings to the large incentive houses to bid on. Most of the quotes were anywhere from 30 percent to 60 percent over the cost of doing the meetings internally." A compelling argument.

Advisory board attendees were impressed by the weekend's many networking events, including an Italian dinner (complete with accordion player) in Boston's North End, and the city's famous Duck Tours--a trip on land and river in former Army amphibious vehicles.