Marriott talks shop with insurance and financial services customers while showcasing three California desert resorts.

In early February, 20 meeting planners and 28 representatives of Marriott's sales force and corporate office got together, along with air partner American Airlines, in the California desert for the second Marriott Insurance and Financial Services Forum. The Forum offered an opportunity for planners to network with each other, meet Marriott salespeople, and experience three Palm Springs resorts: the newly renovated Marriott's Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa, which served as the headquarters property; the Desert Springs Marriott Resort & Spa; and the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort.

“The purpose of the Forum was to let clients know that Marriott and Renaissance want to be major players with them,” says Judy Parker, Marriott senior account executive, “and that we will continue to build value-added services.” A presentation from Mike Beardsley, Marriott's senior vice president, field sales, covered the company's growth plans and positioning. Tom Santora, director of marketing at the new Renaissance Hollywood (Calif.) Hotel, discussed the Renaissance brand, which has been in the Marriott portfolio for three years. “Renaissance is being unleashed a little in order to be unique and to appeal to ‘Generation Y,’” explains Greg Deininger, vice president in Marriott's Rosemont, Ill., office. In his talk, Santora reiterated the brand's tagline — “the heart of a full-service hotel, the soul of a boutique” — which was first presented by John Kalinski, Renaissance vice president of marketing, at the inaugural Forum, held in Washington, D.C., in December 1999.

Peer to Peer

Planner-led Round Table discussions were a highlight of the Forum. Chuck Lane, assistant vice president, public relations and meeting services, at Humana in Green Bay, Wis., led the discussion on third parties — primarily incentive houses. “It was a lively give-and-take,” says Lane, who occasionally uses an incentive house to help with all aspects of a meeting and other times uses its services on an à la carte basis. Because there are so many questions and variations in how incentive houses are compensated, he notes, the key to working with them is to find a partner you trust.

For Lane, the highlight of the Forum overall was getting to know the Marriott and Renaissance salespeople. “That's the real advantage of these things,” he says. “Then when I call on them, we negotiate as friends rather than as strangers.”

The same goes for Debbie Boschee, director, IFS conference and meeting services, for Prudential in Minneapolis. “The greatest benefit is the networking,” she says. “It's always good to have other people in the industry to bounce ideas off of.” She also was impressed with the dedicated involvement of Frank Garahan, GM at Rancho Las Palmas, throughout the Forum.

EventCom Technologies

Tom Maguire, CMP, introduced EventCom Technologies by Marriott (formerly Marriott Videoconferencing) at the Forum. The division offers everything from satellite broadcasts to the newest technology: Web streaming, live or archived, of meetings. Maguire's office serves as the single point of contact, helping planners find the best technology for linking their attendees, and creating a single contract and bill.

Let's Get Interactive: Highlights of Forum Q&A

For the second year, Meridia Interactive of Plymouth Meeting, Pa., provided wireless response keypads to the planner and hotelier attendees at Marriott's Insurance and Financial Services Forum. In a session moderated by Michael Murphy, director of sales and marketing, Renaissance Orlando Resort, the group answered questions about their business practices, their departments, and their projections for the future. Here is a sampling:

Do you anticipate handling more meetings in 2001 than in 2000?
Yes, we will handle more meetings:
No, we will handle fewer meetings:
We will handle the same number:

Which of the following do you use most often for site searches on the Web?

Hotel chains' Web sites 67%
PlanSoft ( 11%
StarCite ( 0%
EventSource ( 0%
Combination of above 22%

Hoteliers: During the past year, the number of RFPs your hotel has received by e-mail has

Increased 91%
Decreased 0%
Stayed the Same 9%

Will your company use interactive communications (satellite broadcasts, videoconferences, etc.) in the next year to enhance existing or new meetings?

Yes 75%
No 25%

What is the size of your meeting department?

1 to 3 people 37%
4 to 6 people 16%
7 to 9 people 26%
10 or more 21%

During the past year, has your meeting department been downsized?

Yes 28%
No 72%

During the past year, have you added staff to your meeting department?

Yes 32%
No 68%