Service, technology, consolidation, competition for producers - these are just a few of the topics coming to the fore in 2001. It's time again to look ahead.
4Back to the Buyer's Market? Some experts see buying power returning by year's end. By Regina Baraban and Alison Hall
It seems like the U.S. hotel seller's market is never going to end. But, according to at least one hospitality industry forecaster, meeting organizers may gain some negotiating clout in the second half of 2001.
LodgingForecast.com (www.lodgingforecast.com), a Durham, N.H.-based firm that tracks the hotel industry, predicts an overall softening in occupancy rates from 74.32 percent in the first six months of 2000, to 74.29 percent in the first six months of 2001. That seems minuscule, "but even a small shift like this has impact. Think of what happens when the Federal Reserve raises interest rates by even a small percentage," says LodgingForecast.com chief economist Evangelos Simos.
However, room rates - which according to Simos should also be trending down in response to the lower occupancy levels - as yet show no signs of softening. "It's taking a while for the law of supply and demand to catch up with hoteliers," he notes, "but when it does, they will have to lower prices to boost occupancy back up. We think the lodging industry's boom will flatten by the end of 2001."
Meanwhile, according to Atlanta-based hotel consulting firm PKF Consulting (www.pkf.com), 2001 will see double-digit room rate hikes in San Francisco (19.9 percent), New Orleans (14.2 percent), and Boston (11 percent). Also seeing increases, though not as great, are Atlanta (3 percent) and Honolulu (2.7 percent). Runzheimer International, a travel management firm based in Rochester, Wis. (www.run zheimer.com), predicts an 8 percent increase in corporate hotel rates overall in 2001, but also forecasts that new properties will offer rate breaks.
Mike Shannon, president and CEO of KSL Recreation Corp. in La Quinta, Calif., sees signs of a shift in the hotel market as well, pointing out that there has been significant building in the hotel sector. "This year we'll see the beginning of the buyer's market again," Shannon predicts.
In addition, he notes that the combination of a slowing economy and "credit quality concerns, as we saw in the early '90s," may create acquisition opportunities for nimble companies such as KSL. "Many people overpaid for things over the past two years," he says. "Some of the high flyers are getting burned, so there are some great opportunities coming in the insurance business and in the hotel business."
KSL owns and manages a select portfolio of properties: La Quinta Resort & Club in La Quinta, Calif.; Grand Wailea Resort, Hotel & Spa on Maui; Doral Resort & Club in Miami, Fla.; Claremont Resort & Spa in Berkeley, Calif.; Grand Traverse Resort in Grand Traverse, Mich.; Lake Lanier Islands Resort in Lake Lanier Islands, Ga.; and the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix.
The company is among the smaller, privately held hotel companies ready to make strategic purchases as properties or groups of properties are put back on the block by their erstwhile parents. "In our business, people only sell the trophy properties when they can no longer afford them," Shannon says. "Those days are coming."
4Romancing The Chip A contrarian look at our current love affair with technology By Dr. Robert W. Joselyn, CTC
They say that love is blind (whoever "they" are), and they aren't that far off. When smitten, we tend to, if not forget about most everything else, at least relegate it to a lower rung on the "importance in life" scale. In the past few years most industries, including the travel industry, have been having a love affair with technology. We've been buying it, using it, and talking about it almost as if nothing else in the world mattered. I have spoken at conferences in 23 countries in the past three years, and the topic of technology has dominated, if not consumed, the agenda at every single one of them.
Technology is important. The issue is whether our current infatuation has gotten out of proportion, has so consumed our agendas that it is taking attention away from issues of equal or greater importance, though they are less novel and sexy.
Who Is Technology Helping? One problem with infatuation is that it is often selective. We focus on attributes that engage us and tend to overlook faults. Since we probably all know about the many positive qualities of technology, let me point out two of its potential downsides. First, too much of today's technology is being embraced for the convenience and efficiency of the seller or service provider at the expense of the customer or service receiver. For example, while some phone management systems actually provide added service to callers, the vast majority manages callers for the convenience of the recipient. Or, how about the all-too-familiar "You can get that from our Web site" response to customer questions? Because of this shift in time and expense to customers, much of today's technology will never be truly embraced. The truth is that there are too many "chip heads" that have confused an ability to do something with a marketplace desire to do it.
The second potential downside to obsessing over technology is an inherent loss of personalization. With increasing frequency I am accessing Web sites that provide no option to talk to a human no matter how much I desire to have that option. With increasing frequency I am calling businesses whose phone systems are purposely designed to protect their humans from any contact with me.
Balancing Service and Silicon The bottom line: We are spending too much time and attention on technology at the expense of an issue that has always been the core of business success - personalized, caring, customer service. No, it's not a new topic. No, it's not as sexy as "wow" technology. Yes, we've talked about it for years. It is, however, an objective where excellence is never mastered and where attention must never be abandoned.
It's this simple: The success of your meeting will always be less a consequence of the quantity and quality of technology employed than it will depend on the way your meeting attendees were greeted at the door of the hotel, the reception they received at the front desk, the quality and timeliness of room service, the effort and care of the banquet and audiovisual staff, the quality and efficiency of your planning and registration staff, and the like. At the end of the day it is always the people who will matter most. It's time for a little more balance between service and silicon.
4The Modern Concierge: Service, Knowledge, Tradition Why your meeting hotel's chef concierge must be at your pre-con By Alison Hall
In 1981, when Marjorie Silverman traveled to Barcelona for her first meeting of the Union Internationale des Concierges d'Hotels Les Clefs D'Or, the international society of concierges, she was one of 10 women in attendance. Today Silverman, chef concierge at the Hotel Inter-Continental Chicago, is the president of Les Clefs D'Or - the first woman and the first American to lead the 3,000-member international "Keys of Gold" society. "It was wonderful because I learned a lot," Silverman says of that first meeting, "but it was frustrating because I didn't feel accepted. A lot of these men had started when they were 15 years old and they were now in their 60s. We were seen as usurpers."
By now, says Silverman, many of those "legendary concierges of Europe" have retired. Interestingly enough, the legacy of her term as president will be a return to tradition, including stricter requirements for membership in the prestigious society. "For a while, some countries were doing multi-tasking," Silverman explains. "The receptionist was doing the job of the concierge, for example. During my presidency we put the title concierges d'hotels back into our name." The message: You're a concierge first and only.
What It Means to You The hotel concierge can be your best friend during a meeting, so don't skip the concierge desk during your site inspection. Marjorie Silverman offers just a few ideas on how you can help them help you:
* Ask the concierge about handouts: They have directions, club lists, lists of restaurants within walking distance, monthly theater lists, guides to antique shopping, you name it.
* Give photos of your VIPs to the concierge staff: People are blown away when you recognize them.
* Invite the concierge to your pre-con meeting and make sure he or she has a copy of your up-to-date itinerary. (There are always stragglers in the lobby asking where their group has got off to.)
* If you have a free night during your meeting, work with the concierge to send restaurant lists to attendees and have them make their selections ahead of time so the concierge staff can get all your reservations.
* Remember that concierges don't compete with each other hotel to hotel: It's all about getting things done and cutting red tape.
* You never know what your attendees are going to ask for. If you don't have it, the concierge probably does. Silverman, for example, stocks an "Oh, dear" cabinet that contains everything from adapters to pierced-earring backs.
* Tips are always shared by the entire concierge staff. How much you tip depends on the amount of work and research the concierge has done for you and your group. And sometimes your words go as far as your dollars do: A positive comment card or a letter to the hotel's general manager is always appreciated.
4All Together Now One of the biggest motivators for your employees is knowing that they're part of a winning team. By Joan Lang
In today's tight labor market, companies are offering everything from concierge services to pet-walking services to lure employees. But the United States @Work 2000 study, recently released by Chicago-based Aon Consulting's Loyalty Institute (www.aon.com), suggests that employers are wasting money on such costly perks - and ignoring some of the most basic tools for achieving staff commitment.
The fourth annual study (formerly known as America @Work) identified seven key workplace habits, called Commitment Drivers, that have a great influence on employees' level of loyalty. In addition to predictable drivers such as good salaries and skills training, researchers turned up this: management's ability to create "a sense of spirit and pride."
"We were surprised by that, I must admit," says Dave Stum, president of the Loyalty Institute. "But what it indicates is that organizations need to take a good hard look at the basics before launching new and trendy benefits or other human resources practices."
According to Stum, it all comes down to the very nature of the American character. "Americans are joiners; they want to be on a team, and preferably a winning team," he explains. "They need to be enthusiastic about what they do."
Progressive companies use various techniques to get employees psyched about their jobs, says Kristen Accipiter, a spokesperson for The Society for Human Resource Management (www.shrm.org) in Alexandria, Va. Xerox, for example, takes staff on "vision quest" outings to commune with nature and clear their heads. The retreats have led to the development of many new ideas and products. And a program at Dana Corp., an automotive-systems manufacturer based in Cape Girardeau, Mo., asks all workers to contribute two new ideas a month. A lottery awards $1,500 to two employees for their ideas every six months.
Successful loyalty programs need not be complicated. "One of the best ways to create a sense of spirit and excitement among employees is to do a better job communicating the company's successes, not just the failures and problems," says Stum. "It's great to put out your story to Wall Street or the shareholders, but you really need to let the staff know they're in on something important, too."
If qualifiers do their own thing, can you still reap the benefits of bringing them together with their peers and your executives? A recent survey conducted on behalf of American ExpressServices could have struck fear in the hearts of executives who rely on annual group incentives to motivate employees. Asked what kind of trip worth $2,000 would motivate them most, 88 percent of the 1,010 respondents said a trip that they would take with a companion to the destination of their choice. Only 10 percent wanted a trip with their coworkers.
So what's an insurance company to do when it wants the biggest motivational bang for its buck - but also wants top producers networking with each other and with the home office? "Our trips are aboutand about binding people to our company," explains Charlotte Stott, the chief marketing officer at London Pacific Life Insurance, Sacramento, Calif. "I don't believe in giving people a personal vacation. We want to know them, we want them to know us."
Stott acknowledges that her philosophy is somewhat "bucking current trends," so she has injected choice into recent trips. For example, in London this year, attendees will choose from several tours (or no tour). Meanwhile, she has added activities that set up the networking she wants. Take the "white elephant" afternoon, for example: Each couple gets 25 and then they're sent out shopping (which, of course, they want to do anyway) for a white-elephant gift for another qualifier. The gifts become that night's pillow gifts. The game encourages the desired camaraderie - everyone knows who got whose gifts - and the theme wraps up with dinner at the White Elephant Restaurant.
Despite the AEIS survey, in the most recent ICP Agent Preferences Survey, 62 percent of the agent respondents listed "camaraderie with fellow attendees" and 48 percent of agents listed "building relationships with home office executives" among their top three reasons for attending incentive meetings. They like doing their own thing - but they also want the recognition of their peers and they want to bend the ears of your company's decision-makers.
The key in 2001: balance.
Preventive medicine programs offer a powerful new amenity. Getting poked and prodded with a barrage of medical tests may not sound like an effective motivational tool. But think about it: Who among us has the time and energy to properly monitor our own well-being?
"People feel that they get better treatments for their cars than for their health," says Dr. Daniel Cosgrove, founder and medical director of the WellMax Center for Preventive Medicine at La Quinta Resort & Club in La Quinta, Calif. "The stick is that you have to manage your risk," he adds. "The carrot: I can change your energy level and make you feel 10 years younger with a tune-up."
While modern medical technology affords the means to detect and deflect diseases years before they strike, in-depth preventive health care is rare. In response, Cosgrove and a few other pioneering physicians, including Dr. Florence Comite at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa in Ojai, Calif., have partnered with resorts to offer health assessments that complement traditional medical care. "We have systems in place for managing financial portfolios but not for a customized health portfolio," says Comite, an associate clinical professor at Yale University who launched Destinationshealth at Ojai in 1999. "Modern medicine is extraordinary, but it's meaningless unless we create a model that allows us to take proper advantage of it."
Top producers are so busy in their everyday lives that they are most likely to invest time in their health when they get away from the daily grind, says Comite. "The alliance of health care with spas is natural," she says. "A spa is a place for a healthy escape - a relaxed, nonclinical atmosphere in which people can develop strategies for optimizing their health." Spas also offer alternative therapies such as acupuncture that may become part of a preventive health plan.
Both WellMax at La Quinta and Destinationshealth at Ojai offer a selection of wellness programs that include procedures such as bone density measurement and stress tests. The "customized health program" at Ojai is tailored to the individual and includes a takeaway health portfolio. Groups with an afternoon of optional activities might add a wellness option to the usual choice of golf, massage, or pool time, suggests Comite. This could be anything from a consultation with a mind/body trainer to a nutritional evaluation by a registered dietitian.
Similarly, the WellMax services range from a two-hour consult that includes a computerized health assessment, to a comprehensive evaluation that can take several days and tests fitness, nutrition, stress, biochemistry, genes, cognitive function, and lung function. "We are aggressively preventive," says Cosgrove, "and measure things that most people have never heard of." Even something as simple as a WellMax luncheon speaker talking about nutrition is a memorable gift for attendees.
Other resorts are jumping on the diagnostic health track as well. A new partnership between Westin Innisbrook Resort and The Ironman Institute, both located in Palm Harbor, Fla., offers guests a one-day "health enhancement exam" with exercise specialists, dietitians, and sports psychology counselors.