SOME MEETINGS ARE never going to take place at a luxury hotel. Alicen Holmes, a meeting planner with Cisco Systems in San Jose, Calif., and panelist at the Ritz-Carlton Luxury Meetings Forum, an event for meeting trade editors held at the Ritz-Carlton Lake Las Vegas January 26 to 29, said that she is one of few in her company allowed to book Ritz-Carlton, because her events are for top executives of Fortune 500 companies. The all-employee meetings are a different kettle of fish. Echoing the experience of many financial services planners, Holmes pointed out that “Frugality is one of our [corporate] values. We don't want to send the wrong message.”

Nevertheless, the use of luxury properties for sales incentives and client meetings appears to be going strong, with intense competition for the business. At the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co., in addition to building bigger properties with more meeting facilities, the sales and operations staffs are being trained to cater to meeting planner needs. Among the initiatives:

  • A program requiring everyone in catering and conference services to earn a CMP designation is anticipated for 2004 or 2005.

  • In response to the growing role of procurement in site selection, salespeople are being trained to be more data-driven. “They need to be able to show the return on investment [of luxury meetings,] says Jo-Anne Hill, regional vice president, sales and marketing, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co.

  • Ritz-Carlton is targeting specific group markets, including insurance.

  • Efforts are being made to get on the preferred vendor lists of major corporations.

  • Meeting planner preferences are stored in a computerized data base called CLASS (customer loyalty and satisfaction system), so that personalized service can follow the planner at future events.