I never thought I'd see the day. The premier luxury brand, Ritz-Carlton, is offering rates starting at $150, including continental breakfast and meeting room, at its resorts in Marina del Ray, Half Moon Bay, even Maui, through the end of this month. That's about the same price as the Holiday Inn located in a town near me on the Boston beltway, where there's little to see other than vanilla office buildings and the brake lights from the endless stream of commuter traffic.
Things have gotten so bad for the luxury hotel sector that some properties have been taking the word resort out of their names, as you'll read in our report from writer Jeanne O'Brien Coffey on page 35. While Christie Hicks, senior vice president of global sales for Starwood Hotels & Resorts, told us that none of her properties have gone that far, her company did see a rash of cancellations earlier this year at, of course, the company's luxury brands: St. Regis, W Hotels, and Le Meridien.
It's not just luxury hotels taking a hit, it's luxe destinations. There's even a new word for taking your incentive to a place that won't raise any red flags: right-destinating. As Scott Siewert, divisional VP of sales at USMotivation, describes it, “It's like right-sizing. It's selecting a destination that is appropriate for the times. Flying to Europe or the Far East is out,” he says, adding that clients that had used Cabo in the past are now headed to Huntington Beach.
But there's another side to this story: Many luxury brands know meetings — and do them best. When Senior Writer Rachel Eccles interviewed Texas Roadhouse CEO G.J. Hart, who went on national TV in defense of a San Francisco incentive trip he held earlier this year (see page 30), he told her the reason he spoke up — which resulted in his becoming a kind of industry icon — was that The Ritz-Carlton asked him to help. Of course he said yes. “They know what kind of events we put on,” he told NBC. “They are there for our frontline folks.” He also spoke of how important it is to make his annual trip special and to invest in his people “just as you would invest in anything else.”
To me, that means an incentive-quality (translate: luxurious) hotel and, yes, a luxe destination. That's the premise of group incentive travel, after all — to create an experience that qualifiers could not create on their own, no matter how wealthy or well-traveled. These are your best people and best customers, even in the worst of times. Companies — and winners — shouldn't be made to feel guilty about that.
G.J. gets it, but I hope he's not the only one. Where are the rest of you?
The third annual CMI 25 list of the industry's largest and most influential full-service independent meeting and incentive travel management companies focused on the corporate market.