A FOCUS ON changing client needs and the values of a new generation were prevailing themes at Marriott's 6th annual Insurance and Financial Services Customer Forum, held May 11 to 14 at the JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa. Marriott Hotels & Resorts, Renaissance Hotels & Resorts, Delta Air Lines, JW Marriott Hotels & Resorts, and The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co., LLC are the main sponsors of the event, which brings together high-level meeting professionals from across the country with representatives from Marriott corporate and properties in the United States and the Caribbean.

A New Generation of Hotels

David Marriott, recently named senior vice president, global and field sales, Marriott International, set the tone for the forum in an opening presentation that focused on current upgrade initiatives in the approximately 2,700-property chain. His youthful charm was warmly received by attendees, who got a kick out of hearing that his favorite band is The Grateful Dead and his favorite drinks are Dr. Pepper and Mountain Dew. These choices are not surprising for a typical American guy in his early 30s, but unexpected from the youngest sibling in the conservative Marriott clan fathered by CEO J.W. “Bill” Marriott Jr. (son of founder J. Willard Marriott).

By the end of this year, Marriott said, 2,400 hotels across the company's brands will have revamped guest rooms with upgraded bedding that includes 300-thread-count sheets and comfy, pillow-top mattresses. Perhaps most noteworthy is the emphasis on cleanliness: a white-sheeted duvet will be freshly laundered for each new guest.

“We've come through what my father says were the three toughest years of his career, but now the industry, and Marriott, is back,” he noted. “Our RevPar grew 8.4 percent in the first quarter of 2005.”

Ritz-Carlton hotels are also on a roll, said Ritz-Carlton Vice President, International Sales John Harper, in another presentation. In fact the luxury hotel brand has had “the best 18 months in the history of the company,” he said. During the past six years, the portfolio of properties grew from 35 to 59, mostly with new domestic hotels and resorts. Today, there's a growth spurt of international properties — and a “huge emphasis on our spa product.”

Action-Packed Agenda

Once again, Marriott's Director, National Accounts Judy Parker put together an agenda packed with interesting presentations, lively interactive sessions, and fabulous events that showcased what the Cancun area has to offer corporate groups. New this year was a “Three-Minute Marketplace” for planners and hospitality partners that gave everyone the chance to meet and exchange business cards, speed-dating style. Other highlights included a pirate-themed dinner cruise and boat-building team activity orchestrated by destination management company International Incentive Travel, and an elegant tequila-tasting reception held at the Ritz-Carlton, Cancun.