Going green and giving back emerged as major themes during Marriott’s 2008 Insurance & Financial Services Customer Forum, held last week. Discussions hit topics from budget cuts (bad) to bottled water (really bad) to community service at meetings (really great).

Host hotel Desert Springs, a JW Marriott Resort & Spa located in Palm Desert, Calif., welcomed guests with a reception at its year-old Desert Spa, with 48 treatment rooms, an organic-food bistro, and two spa suites, one for couples and the other for groups of up to eight people. The spa provided a lovely, warm setting for planners and hoteliers to reconnect, while its private pool featured some unique entertainment: a quartet of synchronized swimmers who brought to mind the glamour of old Hollywood.

Opening the forum’s business session, author and speaker Tim Sanders grabbed the group’s attention with his prediction that a new era of corporate social responsibility will change the business world forever. How does your company give back to the community? How does it make a positive impact in the world? What is your company’s carbon footprint? If you’re not already working on answers to these questions, you soon will be, said Sanders. His latest book, Saving the World at Work, will be released in September.

Attendees discussed green issues and other topics during two roundtable sessions, and this year the forum’s popular Reverse Marketplace, where planners are seated at small tables and suppliers rotate among them for three-minute chats, was expanded to two sessions as well.

Growing Global
Mike Waterman, vice president, sales, Marriott International, and Daren Kingi, vice president, sales and marketing, Renaissance, gave customers an overview of the company’s extensive international growth plans. In China, 25 hotels are planned or under construction; in India, the number is 22; in Thailand, 11; in Eastern Europe, 5; and in the Middle East, 39 hotels, including 13 in Dubai.

Recent renovation highlights include the reopening of the gorgeous, historic Shelbourne Dublin, a Renaissance hotel, which closed for two years for a top-to-bottom redo; and the sleek and modern Grosvenor Hotel in London, an international flagship for the JW Marriott brand.

Marriott launched two new brands in 2008: Edition, with renowned designer Ian Schrager; and Nickelodeon, aimed at families. The master plan for the Edition brand, Marriott’s entry into the boutique market, plays to the strengths of each partner: Schrager handles concept, design, marketing, branding, and food and beverage while Marriott takes on development, operations, and management. So far, properties are planned for Waikiki, L.A., Chicago, Miami, Costa Rica, Madrid, and Paris. The first Nickelodeon resort opens at Liberty Station in San Diego with a 100,000-square-foot waterpark.

Meanwhile, Renaissance received a $2 billion capital infusion from Marriott to “drive the brand forward,” said Kingi. “The goal for Renaissance is to break out of a sea of sameness.” Food and beverage is a major focus for the brand, along with creating properties that celebrate and build on the character of their locations. To that end, many properties have seen major overhauls, including the Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld, the Renaissance Mayflower in Washington, D.C., and the Renaissance Blackstone in Chicago.