Meeting at the elegant Four Seasons Resort Aviara north of San Diego, a group of insurance conference planners and Four Seasons representatives — including June Locke, national insurance sales manager, and Thomas Hubler, vice president sales, North America — spent two days in early September discussing industry issues and new Four Seasons developments. The group also had time to hit the links at the resort's Arnold Palmer — designed golf course or enjoy a treatment at the posh, newly renovated spa.

While the meeting took place prior to the events of September 11, all agreed there are challenging times ahead. Many planners in the group work on short lead times that can change on a dime, and have difficulties booking hotels far out. Mergers of insurance companies and corporate cutbacks have resulted in a lot of unknowns when trying to predict the future. Such uncertainty makes planner/supplier relationships more critical than ever.

Planners' challenges dealing with their corporate senior management is a theme that resounded throughout the discussions. For example, when senior management insists on booking a certain property, planners have no choice, even if they are charged rack rates. And if senior management wants to cancel a meeting, for whatever reason, planners are obliged to comply. The consensus was that planners actually like having cancellation clauses in contracts because that helps them to convince senior management of the economic consequences of canceling.

Contract discussions also revealed that most insurance planners in the group use their own contract, or their amended version of a hotel contract. It was suggested that contracts could become more user-friendly if there were short, two-to-three page contracts for small or short meetings and lengthier contracts for larger or longer meetings.

Not surprisingly, a lively conversation ensued when the topic of attrition was discussed. It was suggested that, six months prior to the meeting, planners let their hotel contacts know if they think their numbers might be off. It was also suggested that hotels consider the total value a given meeting brings to the property before levying attrition charges. If there is $5,000 in attrition charges for a group that has spend $50,000 on the golf course, for instance, the hotel might consider dropping the attrition charges. All agreed that the role of the national insurance sales manager is critical to iron out attrition disagreements.

Another issue brought up by planners was credit applications. They liked the idea of filling out a yearly credit application with the national sales office of any given chain and then not having to fill out credit applications for individual properties in the chain during that year.

Updating the group on Four Seasons developments around the world, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts Vice President Sales, North America Tom Hubler said that group business is important to the brand, which annually sells about one million group room nights each year in its portfolio of 51 properties. He noted that hotels in locations with group demand will expand future capacity by adding meeting and guest room space.

Travel Partner: American Airlines

American Airlines representative Dennis Tucker was on hand as Four Season's air partner. Tucker reminded attendees that relationships are critical when negotiating with any supplier, including the airlines. American, he said, will reduce fees for good customers.

New Developments at Four Seasons

With its elegant design, attentive and friendly service, a 29,000-square-foot conference center, and a beautiful and challenging golf course, Four Seasons Resort Aviara in north San Diego is well-suited for incentive programs. The newly renovated 15,000-square-foot spa is a restorative retreat that is extremely popular with both women and men. There are 20 indoor and five outdoor treatment rooms, plus a couple's suite with a fireplace, private whirlpool, and lounge area.

Also new at Aviara: the addition of a second pool with an expansive patio area for outside functions (see photo at right), which has made the property even more attractive for groups. That's the kind of group-friendly renovation that Four Seasons is looking at in certain properties worldwide, says Vice President Sales, North America Tom Hubler.

Other news from Four Seasons:

  • Additional landscaping at Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North, Scottsdale, Ariz., has enhanced its Southwest design.

  • A recent $80 million renovation at the Regent Sydney in Sydney, Australia, involved upgrades throughout the property.

  • One of Four Season's most popular new resorts, the deluxe Four Seasons Resort Punta Minta, outside Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, can accommodate groups of up to 170 people in the off-season.

  • The Four Seasons Nevis has been upgraded with two new pools, renovated guest rooms and public spaces, new landscaping design, and a wider and deeper beach.

  • The 162-room Four Seasons Hotel Prague, Czech Republic, opened in March 2001.

  • The eagerly anticipated Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco, with 277 guest rooms, opened in October.

  • The 259-room Four Seasons in Dublin, Ireland, opened in February. It is the city's largest hotel.

  • Coming in 2002 and beyond are Four Seasons properties in Shanghai, China; Emerald Bay, the Bahamas; Budapest; Hungary; Papagayo, Costa Rica; Provence, France; Whistler, British Columbia; Jackson Hole, Wyoming; and Miami.