The six brands with a total of about 2,157 properties that comprise the Hilton family of hotels aim to become preferred suppliers for corporate and association meetings — particularly the lucrative pharma market business — by bringing added value to the table. That was a key message expressed by a group of top execs from Hilton Sales Worldwide who spent a day at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York last fall with editors of meeting industry magazines.

Hilton execs view the meeting planning consolidation trend as an opportunity to build group business across the brands. “We're seeing more companies wanting to do all of their business with fewer partners,” notes Steve Armitage, senior vice president, sales.

In addition to the obvious economies of scale that come with multiple bookings, Hilton aims to woo planners with technology solutions that can help streamline and simplify the planning process.

A case in point is a new group reservation reconciliation tool that is currently being rolled out to Hilton's 30 top convention hotels. This free tool allows the planner's registration list to interface with the hotel's reservation system: It will take about 15 minutes to generate a comparison of the two that notes any bookings outside the block — and accurately establishes how many rooms the meeting brings in. Hilton credits all of the room nights driven by a meeting regardless of how they were booked, says Larry Luteran, vice president, group sales and industry relations. However, planners should negotiate in the contract at what room rate the “circumvented rooms” will be credited, he advises.

Among other Hilton news and comments on industry trends:

  • As of the first week of December, all the Hilton brand Web sites were updated with new search and mapping features, such as one-step group value dates searches. The HiltonDirect.com group reservations site will be updated with similar features in March. Online group reservations have grown to 10 percent, and there was a more than 200 percent increase in Web site usage in 2003.

  • The last quarter of 2003 saw “a tremendous increase in the volume of business activity,” says Armitage. On the corporate side, the pharmaceutical market has been robust, booking a healthy volume of product announcements and other related events.

  • While the short-term meetings trend continues, the booking window is starting to lengthen to 18 months or more for some meetings. The slowdown in training meetings at Hilton's 17 IACC — accredited conference facilities has eased, led in part by pharmaceutical sales training with longer booking windows.