The setting alone won't improve your program, but it can improve attendees' experience--and, believe it or not, increase their concentration. Also: the latest in resort fees, how a new consortium can get you price breaks,the family-friendly meetings trend, and a resort news update.

Medical conference organizers highlight three concerns about resort meetings:

1. Will the environment be conducive to learning?

2. Is meeting at a resort going to add unnecessarily to costs?

3. Attendees are far more likely to want to bring children to resort meetings than to other venues. What provisions can be made for them?

Here are some quick takes on all three issues.

Sun, Fun, CME? It seems like a resort meeting would pose a conflict for your attendees--it might be a tad difficult for them to concentrate on CME or association business while glimpsing a multitude of pleasures just outside the window. But planners say that if you organize your resort meeting right, you can actually improve the quality of education.

Far from being more distracted in a resort than in a city facility, attendees can concentrate better, asserts Julie White, director of CME, Boston University School of Medicine. For the past 13 years, the school has booked its Obstetrics, Gynecology, Perinatal Medicine, Neonatology, and the Law Conference at resorts, alternating between Hawaii and the Caribbean. The conference brings together about 80 physicians and 80 attorneys to talk about medical malpractice issues.

Relax and Focus "This meeting is extremely academic and rigorous," White says. "People do not leave the room until the day is over. The resort is conducive to learning, because they are removed from their work environment, freed from distractions. Participating in recreation helps them relax, and they are more focused on the topic of the meeting."

While the view from the meeting room window might not be so appealing, downtown venues actually lure attendees with more distractions than resorts, White says. "It is more tempting to duck outside for a bit of shopping, or if it is in your home town, to run back to the office."

The non-work environment was a plus for the California Medical Association Alliance, an organization of physicians' spouses in San Diego. When the group held its first resort meeting this May at the Hyatt Newporter in Newport Beach, CA, attendees ". . . got a great deal more accomplished at the business meeting than in years past," says Barbara Sperling, event planner. "People were able to open up a lot more, share ideas in an unthreatening situation." Not only was the meeting productive, but attendees rated the meeting as the best annual session ever.

Golf Course Captives Networking, a crucial aspect of physicians' learning experience, is easier at resorts, planners say. Not only is the atmosphere more relaxed, but attendees are, well, captives in a contained environment. "By the end of the week, they are running into each other socially," says White. And, if they need a foursome for golf, they'll call on another attendee.

Sperling observed a better quality of networking among her attendees during the resort meeting. "The talking wasn't your usual cliquish groups," she says. "There was more intermingling of people."

Time Out If you schedule your resort meeting program the same way you do in city destinations, you'll lose out on the benefits of the resort, and you may lose your attendees as well. While registrations for this year's meeting of the Maine Dental Association at the Samoset Resort in Rockport are up, few doctors are buying tickets for the full-day CE session, says Frances Miliano, executive director for the Manchester, ME-based organization. Next year, she says, she may schedule half-day sessions instead.

Other planners have already found that half-day sessions work best at resorts. "You have to work hard to get people to sessions," says Stewart A. Hinckley, CMP, who works with Ruggles Service Corporation, a Richmond, VA-based association management firm that handles medical societies. Alternate morning and afternoon sessions, and start earlier, suggest planners. Hinckley recommends informal, interactive "cracker barrel" sessions during the early evening hours. For ski resort meetings, he has scheduled sessions from seven to nine in the morning, and again in the afternoon. "There's always that balance you try to achieve, to provide enough CME credits and allow people time to go out," he says. "That's the trick." To ensure attendance, Hinckley informs physicians they will be required to turn in their evaluation forms for each session before they are given their CME certificates at the end of the meeting.

Not By Venue Alone While resorts can give you a jump start on creating a positive learning experience, don't count on them to automatically improve your meeting. Not by venue alone does learning occur--a resort environment is not a substitute for good programming. Stephen Mattingly, president of Medical Education Resources in Littleton, CO, points out that while resorts are relaxing locales, it is the program format that ensures success. "We hold our programs to under 75 attendees. Our programs are interactive and in a relaxed atmosphere," he says. "We think we have a high learning experience because of the atmosphere, which is partially due to the resort, and partially due to the format." In fact, Mattingly doesn't see much difference between the city and resort meetings he holds. Resorts, after all, are only the venue. It is up to the providers, no matter where they hold CME programs, to create the relaxing atmosphere that makes for a good quality learning experience.

Ouch! The Trend Toward Daily Service Fees Prepare your attendees for a new charge on their folios at some resorts: a daily service fee. While it may sound like one more aspect of the seller's market squeeze, resort staffers say they instituted the fees to help, not hurt.

"We kept getting a lot of complaints," says Christopher Pipes, CHSP,director of association sales, The Broadmoor, in Colorado Springs, CO. "Clients felt like they were being nickeled and dimed every time they turned around. A charge to pick up the phone to make a local call, a charge to go to the fitness center." In response, The Broadmoor conducted a survey of 500 social and group guests, asking if they would prefer an all-inclusive daily fee on their folios. "Ninety-some-odd percent said, 'Go for it,'" reports Pipes.

Instituted recently, the mandatory charge, $10 per day for single occupancy, $12.50 per day for double occupancy, includes housekeeping gratuities; incoming faxes; local calls and 800-number access fees; the fitness center, including aerobics classes; and in-room coffee, tea, cider, and hot chocolate. "Guests can come into their room and immediately enjoy a nice cup of coffee or spot of tea, without being charged $3," Pipes says. "It's a real win/win."

Gratuities? Got 'em Covered Other resorts are doing variations on a theme. The $5 per day charge recently instituted at the Walt Disney World Dolphin in Lake Buena Vista, FL, covers services similar to those at The Broadmoor, plus daily newspaper delivery, but the fee doesn't cover gratuities. The charge now appears in association contracts. "When planners sign, they are acknowledging the resort services fee," says Bob Nicoli, director of convention services. "It's not really such a bad thing," he adds, pointing out that the package is valued at $12.70 per day.

The Peaks at Telluride in Colorado bills guests $15 daily to cover gratuities for all service staff, except food and beverage staff. Spa access is free, while guests pay on an item-by-item basis for other outlets such as handball courts, although planners can arrange for a daily, package fee instead. The automatic gratuities charge was instituted about two years ago, when the resort was bought by Carefree Resorts, because the policy was standard at other Carefree properties. "Guests had felt awkward," says Elaine Demas, director of conference services. "They had to keep taking money out of their pocket every time someone did something for them. We wanted people, once they get here, to relax."

The Lansdowne Conference Resort in Leesburg, VA, recently instituted a $3 per day charge that also covers gratuities. Amenities such as parking and health club, are free. For the past three years, Westin Resorts have charged a daily fee that includes services such as the health club and local calls, but gratuities are left to the guests' discretion.

Old Ways Best? Are the package fees a trend? Maybe. Properties such as the Copper Mountain Resort in Colorado and Opryland Hotel Convention Center in Nashville, TN are currently reviewing the idea. Others are unconvinced. The Ojai Valley Inn is building a spa, but "we aren't going to tack on a $5 admission," says Michael Ellingson, director of sales and marketing. "We didn't want to get into nickel-and-dime comments." Nor is the property going to institute a daily charge. Instead, it will absorb the cost internally.

"We pride ourselves in not having any hidden service costs," asserts Alvin Bettcher, director of sales and marketing, Crowne Plaza Resort Hilton Head Island (SC). Housekeeping, the health club, and parking are free, although guests pay for tennis and golf, as is standard. Gratuities are left up to the guest, and that's the way it's going to stay, says Bettcher.

Avoid Surprises: Ask Early To avoid unpleasant surprises, make sure you clarify all the price structures, not just the room rates, when you book your meeting, advises Sam Garcia, CMP, director of convention services at Desert Springs Marriott Resort & Spa in Palm Desert, CA. "Ask about costs for golf, spa access, and other services. Those discussions should occur in the contract negotiation stage, not later on. "A lot of times, when the convention services manager jumps in a year out and sends out reconfirmation, [planners say] we didn't know about [amenities fees]," says Garcia. Some resorts won't negotiate golf fees years out, he adds. But negotiating isn't the only issue. "If you can negotiate 'em, more power to you, but if you can't, understand that [the fees] are there." That way, you can take those costs into account when determining your registration fees. Your knowledge will have a "trickle-down effect," says Garcia. Inform members about costs, he advises, so that they can budget accordingly before they come on-site.

STRENGTH IN NUMBERS: THE RESORT CONSORTIUM The only negative about resort meetings, say planners, is the cost. Now, planners have a way to mitigate that obstacle. The Resort Meetings Consortium (RMC), a Cherry Hill, NJ-based company launched a year ago, guarantees it will get planners the lowest group rates available during their meeting dates.

The RMC offers a range of services, including site selection and program guidance. Staff members will negotiate resort contracts and handle negotiations with other suppliers such as airlines and destination management companies. A newsletter keeps members updated on resort renovations and value dates, and members also have access to a library of resort brochures and videos.

Try Before You Buy Membership in RMC is $495 per year, a fee planners don't have to pay up-front, says Jerry Janove, vice president, sales. "We want planners to use us first to see if we do what we say we can do," Janove says. Planners can deduct their membership fee from revenues they earn through RMC's revenue-sharing program. Here's how it works: the consortium earns a ten percent marketing fee from the resort (based on total room revenue), and then passes on ten to twenty-five percent of that fee to the group, depending on how many meetings the group books through the consortium. For an additional fee, RMC will also provide on-site program management.

Janove cofounded RMC because "there are consortiums in every other industry but the meetings industry," he says. "It makes sense because the dollar volume of meetings is just as high as other industries." With the seller's market driving the industry, Janove adds, "People need to band together to show their strength."

That combined strength is one obvious benefit for planners. While an individual association may bring a resort a $50,000 meeting, "imagine the power of $5 million worth of business in your pocket when you go to specific resorts," Janove points out.

Encyclopedic Knowledge All RMC staff members come from resort or hotel backgrounds and can capitalize on their long-term industry relationships, benefiting both planners and suppliers, says John Washko, national sales manager for Bahamas-based Atlantis Paradise Island. Janove is an 11-year veteran of the hotel sales and marketing field, most recently serving as vice president of the Grand Wailea Resort, Hotel & Spa in Hawaii. "With his extensive resort and hotel experience, Janove is like an extension of our sales force," Washko says. Because consortium staff members know the inner workings of resorts, they appreciate the importance of seasonality of demand, arrival/departure patterns, and optimal use of function space, says Washko. That knowledge helps planners save time as well as money. "A planner may want to do site inspections at three resorts, but with Janove's vast knowledge of different properties, he might be able to say, 'These two aren't going to work. Here are the reasons why,'" says Washko. "He is able to find the right fit."

The Family Vacation/Education Combo The Alabama Dental Association, in Montgomery, switched its meetings from city locations to the Perdido Beach Resort in Orange Beach several years ago, hoping the beach environment would encourage younger members to attend with their children. The strategy worked. "Attendance doubled," says Meri Fleming, meeting planner. "Members combined their vacation with their CE."

The family vacation/education combination is a growing trend, says Ruggles Service Corporation's Hinckley, whose organization manages seven anesthesiology subspecialty societies. He sees doctors in today's health care environment attending about half as many meetings as they used to, due to the time and money squeeze. And because of those constraints, Hinckley says, "There's more of a demand to combine meetings with vacations."

It's The Value, Not The Price That demand even supersedes concerns over the high costs of resorts, he says. When The Society for Pediatric Anesthesia held its 1995 winter meeting in a Phoenix resort, attendees paid about $200 per night. The next year the meeting was held in Tampa, with rates of about $150. "Attendance dropped," says Hinckley. "People complained, 'What are we supposed to do there?' The bottom line is that rate isn't necessarily the biggest issue."

When organizing a resort meeting, investigate the property's children's programs. "Some are great, some are not," cautions Julie White, director of CME, Boston University School of Medicine. Good programs, such as Camp Hyatt, are an excellent marketing tool, says Hinckley. He suggests writing up children's programs in your brochure. "If you're going to a resort, you have to put that in," he underscores. "Your job isn't done if you don't."

Togetherness--With Dirt To accommodate the family-friendly meetings trend, resorts are also offering programs for children and parents to do together. "We've incorporated kids into raft-building and beach Olympics," says Diane Yost, director of marketing, Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach (FL). During Family Feud, a version of beach Olympics, children play opposite adults in games that kids have a chance to win. In the kitchen, while their parents are at meetings, kids don chef hats, prepare dessert and serve it to their parents. They also whip up a "gourmet" meal called "Dirt"--Oreo cookies, chocolate pudding, and gummy worms. "It's really awful," laughs Yost, "but kids thinks it's cute."

Resort News Construction is under way on 250 new oceanfront hotel rooms and 23,000 square feet of additional conference space at Amelia Island Plantation in northeast Florida. The resort will have a total of 360 ocean-front hotel rooms when the addition opens in April 1998.

The PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, FL, recently opened the Oasis Bar & Grille poolsde restaurant and a new Mexican restaurant, Ta-Kil-Ya Cafe. The resort features five 18-hole championship golf courses.

Nemacolin Woodlands Resort & Spa in Farmington, PA, opened its 125-room Chateau Lafayette in late May, with an 8,500-square-foot ballroom, a French bistro, and a smoking parlor for the cigar crowd.

The Waterfront, a six-year-old resort in Huntington Beach, CA, is adding a new 500-room luxury property. The Waterfront Grand Resort Hotel, and an 80,000-square-foot conference center are breaking ground in early 1998.

Renaissance PineIsle Resort, Lake Lanier Islands, GA, completed a $5 million, top-to-bottom facelift at the beginning of March. A 2,000-square-foot meeting room was added.

Marking its tenth anniversary, Marriott's Desert Springs Resort and Spa in Palm Desert, CA, just completed $14 million in renovations. Heritage Inn, a 163-room conference resort in Southbury, CT, managed by Dolce International, completed renovations earlier this year on its 22 meeting rooms.Construction has just begun on the $70 million Fiesta Americana Cabo del Sol resort in Baja California Sur, near Los Cabos, Mexico. A 250-room hotel and 50 villas are expected to be open by December 1998.

Grand Bay Hotel and Resort de la Navidad opened in February on Mexico's Pacific coast between Puerta Vallarta and Manzanillo in Colima, Mexico. The hotel, one piece of the new 1,200-acre Isla Navidad golf resort and marina complex, offers 191 guest rooms, 27 holes of golf, tennis, a 700-slip marina, and 15,500 square feet of meeting space.

In Cebu, the Philippines, construction begins later this year on a 325-resort on Mactan Island, with plans that it will open under the Marriott umbrella in late 1999. The Mactan Island Marriott will be a full-service property with 9,900 square feet of meeting space.

Resort Meetings It seems as though a resort meeting would pose a conflict for your attendees--it might be a tad difficult for them to concentrate on CME or association business while glimpsing a multitude of pleasures just outside the window. But planners say that if you organize your resort meeting right, you can actually improve the quality of education.

Far from being more distracted in a resort than in a city facility, attendees can concentrate better, asserts Julie White, director of CME, Boston University School of Medicine. For the past 13 years, the school has booked its Obstetrics, Gynecology, Perinatal Medicine, Neonatology, and the Law Conference at resorts, alternating between Hawaii and the Caribbean. The conference brings together about 80 physicians and 80 attorneys to talk about medical malpractice issues.

Relax and Focus "This meeting is extremely academic and rigorous," White says. "People do not leave the room until the day is over. The resort is conducive to learning, because they are removed from their work environment, freed from distractions. Participating in recreation helps them relax, and they are more focused on the topic of the meeting."

While the view from the meeting room window might not be so appealing, downtown venues actually lure attendees with more distractions than resorts, White says. "It is more tempting to duck outside for a bit of shopping, or if it is in your home town, to run back to the office."

The non-work environment was a plus for the California Medical Association Alliance, an organization of physicians' spouses in San Diego. When the group held its first resort meeting this May at the Hyatt Newporter in Newport Beach, CA, attendees ". . . got a great deal more accomplished at the business meeting than in years past," says Barbara Sperling, event planner. "People were able to open up a lot more, share ideas in an unthreatening situation." Not only was the meeting productive, but attendees rated it the best annual session ever.

Time Out If you schedule your resort meeting program the same way you schedule a city program, you'll lose out on the benefits of the resort, and you may lose your attendees as well. While registrations for this year's meeting of the Maine Dental Association at the Samoset Resort in Rockport are up, few doctors are buying tickets for the full-day CE session, says Frances Miliano, executive director for the Manchester, ME-based organization. Next year she may schedule half-day sessions instead.

Other planners have already found that half-day sessions work best at resorts. "You have to work hard to get people to sessions," says Stewart A. Hinckley, CMP, who works with Ruggles Service Corporation, a Richmond, VA-based association management firm that handles medical societies. Alternate morning and afternoon sessions, and start earlier, suggest planners. Hinckley recommends informal, interactive "cracker barrel" sessions during the early evening hours. At ski resort meetings, he schedules sessions from seven to nine in the morning, and again in the afternoon.

"There's always that balance you try to achieve, to provide enough CME credits and allow people time to go out," he says. "That's the trick." To ensure attendance, Hinckley tells physicians they must turn in their evaluation forms for each session before they are given their CME certificates at the end of the meeting.

Not By Venue Alone While resorts can give you a jump start on creating a positive learning experience, it's not realistic to expect them to automatically improve your meeting. Not by venue alone does learning occur--a resort environment is not a substitute for good programming. Stephen Mattingly, president of Medical Education Resources in Littleton, CO, points out that while resorts are relaxing, it is the program format that ensures success. "We hold our programs to under 75 attendees. Our programs are interactive and in a relaxed atmosphere," he says. "We think we have a high learning experience because of the atmosphere, which is partially due to the resort, and partially due to the format."

In fact, Mattingly doesn't see much difference between the city and resort meetings he holds. Resorts, after all, are only the venue. It is up to the providers, no matter where they hold CME programs, to create the atmosphere that makes for a good quality learning experience.

The Trend Toward Daily Service fees Prepare your attendees for a new charge on their folios at some resorts: a daily service fee. While it may sound like one more aspect of the seller's market squeeze, resort staffers say they instituted the fees to help, not hurt.

"We kept getting complaints," says Christopher Pipes, CHSP, director of association sales, The Broadmoor, in Colorado Springs, CO. "Clients felt like they were being nickeled and dimed every time they turned around. A charge to pick up the phone to make a local call, a charge to go to the fitness center."

In response, The Broadmoor conducted a survey of 500 social and group guests, asking if they would prefer an all-inclusive daily fee on their folios. "Ninety-some-odd percent said, 'Go for it,'" reports Pipes.

Instituted recently, the mandatory charge, $10 per day for single occupancy, $12.50 per day for double occupancy, includes housekeeping gratuities; incoming faxes; local calls and 800-number access fees; the fitness center, including aerobics classes; and in-room coffee, tea, cider, and hot chocolate.

"Guests can come into their room and immediately enjoy a nice cup of coffee or spot of tea, without being charged $3," Pipes says. "It's a real win/win."

Gratuities? Got 'em Covered Other resorts report variations on the theme. The $5 per day charge recently instituted at the Walt Disney World Dolphin in Lake Buena Vista, FL, covers services similar to those at The Broadmoor, plus daily newspaper delivery, but the fee does not cover gratuities. The charge now appears in association contracts. "When planners sign, they are acknowledging the resort services fee," says Bob Nicoli, director of convention services. "It's not really such a bad thing," he adds, pointing out that the package is valued at $12.70 per day.

The Peaks at Telluride in Colorado bills guests $15 daily to cover gratuities for all service staff, except food and beverage staff. Spa access is free, while guests pay on an item-by-item basis for other outlets such as handball courts. Planners can arrange for a daily, package fee instead, however. The automatic gratuities charge was instituted about two years ago, when the resort was bought by Carefree Resorts, because the policy was standard at other Carefree properties. "Guests had felt awkward," says Elaine Demas, director of conference services. "They had to keep taking money out of their pockets every time someone did something for them. We wanted people to relax."

The Lansdowne Conference Resort in Leesburg, VA, recently instituted a $3 per day charge that also covers gratuities. Amenities such as parking and health club use, are free. For the past three years, Westin Resorts have charged a daily fee that includes services such as the health club and local calls, but gratuities are left to the guests' discretion.

Old Ways Best? Are the package fees a trend? Maybe. Properties such as the Copper Mountain Resort in Colorado and Opryland Hotel Convention Center in Nashville, TN are currently reviewing the idea. Others are unconvinced. The Ojai Valley Inn, Ojai, CA, is building a spa, but "we aren't going to tack on a $5 admission," says Michael Ellingson, director of sales and marketing. "We didn't want to get into nickel-and-dime comments." Nor is the property going to institute a daily charge. Instead, it will absorb the cost.

"We pride ourselves in not having any hidden service costs," asserts Alvin Bettcher, director of sales and marketing, Crowne Plaza Resort Hilton Head Island (SC). Housekeeping, the health club, and parking are free, although guests pay for tennis and golf, as is standard. Gratuities are left up to the guest, and that's the way it's going to stay, says Bettcher.

Avoid Surprises: Ask Early To avoid unpleasant surprises, make sure you clarify all the price structures, not just the room rates, when you book your meeting, advises Sam Garcia, CMP, director of convention services at Desert Springs Marriott Resort & Spa in Palm Desert, CA. Ask about costs for golf, spa access, and other services. Those discussions should occur in the contract negotiation stage, not later on. "A lot of times, when the convention services manager jumps in a year out and sends out reconfirmation, [planners say] we didn't know about [amenities fees]," says Garcia. Some resorts won't negotiate golf fees years out, he adds. But negotiating isn't the only issue. "If you can negotiate 'em, more power to you, but if you can't, understand that [the fees] are there." That way, you can take those costs into account when determining your registration fees. Inform members about costs, he advises, so that they can budget accordingly.

The Family Vacation And Education Combo The Alabama Dental Association, in Montgomery, switched its meetings from city locations to the Perdido Beach Resort in Orange Beach several years ago, hoping the environment would encourage its younger members to attend with their children. The strategy worked.

"Attendance doubled," says Meri Fleming, meeting planner. "Members combined their vacation with their CE."

The family vacation/education combination is a growing trend, says Ruggles Service Corporation's Hinckley, whose organization manages seven anesthesiology subspecialty societies. He sees doctors in today's health care environment attending about half as many meetings as they used to, due to the time and money squeeze. And because of those constraints, Hinckley says, "There's more of a demand to combine meetings with vacations."

It's The Value, Not The Price That demand even supersedes concerns over the high costs of resorts, he says. When The Society for Pediatric Anesthesia held its 1995 winter meeting in a Phoenix resort, attendees paid about $200 per night. The next year the meeting was held in Tampa, with rates of about $150.

"Attendance dropped," says Hinckley. "People complained, 'What are we supposed to do there?' The bottom line is that rate isn't necessarily the biggest issue."

When organizing a resort meeting, investigate the property's children's programs. "Some are great, some are not," cautions Julie White, director of CME, Boston University School of Medicine. Good programs, such as Camp Hyatt, are excellent marketing tools, says Hinckley. He suggests writing up children's programs in your brochure. "If you're going to a resort, you have to put that in," he underscores. "Your job isn't done if you don't."

Togetherness--With Dirt To accommodate the family-friendly meetings trend, resorts are also offering programs for children and parents to participate in together.

"We've incorporated kids into raft-building and beach Olympics," says Diane Yost, director of marketing, Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach (FL). During Family Feud, a version of beach Olympics, children play opposite adults in games that kids have a chance to win.

In the kitchen, while their parents are at meetings, kids don chef hats, prepare dessert and serve it to their parents. They also whip up a "gourmet" meal called "Dirt"--Oreo cookies, chocolate pudding, and gummy worms. "It's really awful," laughs Yost, "but kids think it's cute."

Resort News Construction is under way on 250 new oceanfront hotel rooms and 23,000 square feet of additional conference space at Amelia Island Plantation in northeast Florida. The resort will have a total of 360 ocean-front hotel rooms when the addition opens in April 1998.

The PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, FL, recently opened the Oasis Bar & Grille poolsde restaurant and a new Mexican restaurant, Ta-Kil-Ya Cafe. The resort features five 18-hole championship golf courses.

Nemacolin Woodlands Resort & Spa in Farmington, PA, opened its 125-room Chateau Lafayette in late May, with an 8,500-square-foot ballroom, a French bistro, and a smoking parlor for the cigar crowd.

The Waterfront, a six-year-old resort in Huntington Beach, CA, is adding a new 500-room luxury property. The Waterfront Grand Resort Hotel, and an 80,000-square-foot conference center are breaking ground in early 1998.

Renaissance PineIsle Resort, Lake Lanier Islands, GA, completed a $5 million, top-to-bottom facelift at the beginning of March. A 2,000-square-foot meeting room was added.

Marking its tenth anniversary, Marriott's Desert Springs Resort and Spa in Palm Desert, CA, just completed $14 million in renovations.

Heritage Inn, a 163-room conference resort in Southbury, CT, managed by Dolce International, completed renovations earlier this year on its 22 meeting rooms.

Construction has just begun on the $70 million Fiesta Americana Cabo del Sol resort in Baja California Sur, near Los Cabos, Mexico. A 250-room hotel and 50 villas are expected to be open by December 1998.

Grand Bay Hotel and Resort de la Navidad opened in February on Mexico's Pacific coast between Puerta Vallarta and Manzanillo in Colima, Mexico. The hotel, one piece of the new 1,200-acre Isla Navidad golf resort and marina complex, offers 191 guest rooms, 27 holes of golf, tennis, a 700-slip marina, and 15,500 square feet of meeting space.

.

Strength In Numbers: The Resort Meetings Consortium The only negative about resort meetings, say planners, is the cost. Now, planners can mitigate that obstacle. The Resort Meetings Consortium (RMC), a Cherry Hill, NJ-based company launched a year ago, guarantees it will get planners the lowest group rates available during their meeting dates.

RMC offers a range of services, including site selection and program guidance. Staff members will negotiate resort contracts and handle negotiations with other suppliers such as airlines and destination management companies. A newsletter keeps members updated on resort renovations and value dates, and members also have access to a library of resort brochures and videos.

Try Before You Buy Membership in RMC is $495 per year, a fee planners don't have to pay up-front, says Jerry Janove, vice president, sales. "We want planners to use us first to see if we do what we say we can do," Janove says. Planners can deduct their membership fee from revenues they earn through RMC's revenue-sharing program. Here's how it works: the consortium earns a ten percent marketing fee from the resort (based on total room revenue), and then passes on ten to 25 percent of that fee to the group, depending on how many meetings the group books through the consortium. For an additional fee, RMC will also provide on-site program management.

"With the seller's market driving the industry," Janove says, "People need to band together to show their strength." That combined strength is one obvious benefit for planners. While an individual association may bring a resort a $50,000 meeting, "imagine the power of $5 million worth of business in your pocket when you go to specific resorts," Janove points out.

Encyclopedic Knowledge RMC staff members come from resort or hotel backgrounds and can capitalize on their long-term industry relationships, benefiting both planners and suppliers, says John Washko, national sales manager for Bahamas-based Atlantis Paradise Island. Their knowledge helps planners save time as well as money. "A planner may want to do site inspections at three resorts, but with Janove's vast knowledge of different properties, he might say, 'These two won't work, '" says Washko. "He is able to find the right fit."