Participants in a recent roundtable discussion held by Doubletree (front row, left to right): Barbara Mulligan, Helms-Briscoe; Elizabeth Campbell, Discovery Toys; Kathy Knox, Meeting Sites Resource; and Lisa Austin, PRC, Inc.; (second row) Scott Lemmer, GE Travel Management Services; Judy Mooney, Rosenbluth InternationalMeetings Across America; and Jeff Senior, Doubletree Hotels; (third row) John Lavin, Doubletree Hotels; and Doug Wheeler, Conference Locators Intl.

During an October familiarization tour of Portland, OR and Seattle area properties, sponsored by Doubletree Hotels Corporation, meeting executives came together with Doubletree management for a roundtable discussion. Doubletree execs were looking for input to help their sales staffs work better with planners following Doubletree's merger with Red Lion Hotels.

Doubletree's Red Lion merger added 675,000 square feet of meeting space (for a companywide total of 1.9 million square feet). With 258 hotels and 59,000 rooms in 40 states, Mexico, and the Caribbean, Doubletree is one of the largest U.S. hotel management companies. As Jeff Senior, vice president, field sales & marketing, Doubletree Hotels Corporation, told executives, the company "is in the process of creating a corporate culture."

Doubletree used the event to announce several new programs, including Meeting Facts by Fax, which allows planners to preview meeting space at any Doubletree property via fax; the Ticket to Success incentive program, in which planners can earn free airline tickets when they book 50 or more rooms at participating hotels; and Online Meeting Planner, a new Web site (www.doubletreehotels.com) where planners can request sleeping room blocks and schedule a meeting agenda.

The planners seemed less than enthused, however, about using the Internet to book meetings--or even to research a hotel's available meeting space. "Internet research is very time-consuming," said Terry Carrow, Meeting Sites Resource, Federal Way, WA. "I would much rather speak to a person on a phone."

Meeting executives also expressed irritation at being unable to contact a sales rep at a hotel with a first phone call, just to get basic information. "It's a major frustration, trying to book business and the sales manager is not available," said Elizabeth Campbell of Discovery Toys, Livermore, CA.

"When I call a hotel, I just want a general idea of availability. If planners could get a quick answer in terms of availability, you'd be way ahead of the other chains," said Doug Wheeler, president, Conference Locators Intl., San Diego, CA.

On the subject of contract and rate negotiation, Wheeler said, "There's no standard formula for meeting room rentals. It almost feels like they're pulling the rates out of the air."

Lavin emphasized that Doubletree is still a young organization. "We want to built a distinct brand, and deliver consistent quality service," he said. "We're going to take action on this stuff as a company."--Barbara L. Brewer