Any resort worth its salt is accustomed to handling special requests. Vegetarian meals? No sweat. Staff members dressed up as penguins? You've got it. Requests to accommodate the special needs of certain nonhuman attendees? No problem. (See how Safety Harbor Resort and Spa handled the latter, below.)
Often considered forbecause of their enticing settings and alluring leisure facilities, resorts can also help meeting professionals solve some down-to-earth logistical challenges. Sometimes, though, a group is looking for a resort setting that's distinctive in other ways. Why not consider one of this country's grande dame resorts? It's not only their grandeur that sets these resorts apart but the history, myths, and legends that resonate in their corridors.
The ingredients that make any resort a captivating setting for medical gatherings can also pose additional challenges for meeting executives. There's the matter of children, for example, sure to be a factor at a resort meeting. Can planners rely on a resort's children's program or do they need to provide their own, and if so, how should they go about it? Negotiating for a resort meeting brings its own peculiar twists, given the larger package of amenities usually involved. Here, we take a look at these issues, plus provide an update of resort news.
Case Study Lucky Dogs Have Their Day There were no theme parties. No scavenger hunts, golf tournaments, or fireworks--none of the usual bells and whistles that often go along with resort meetings. In fact, there was nothing fancy about this medical meeting at all. Still, this was no ordinary resort meeting. When the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society held a series of classes at Safety Harbor Resort and Spa on Florida's Tampa Bay, the gatherings were pretty much all business. On four occasions in 1997 and 1998 about 100 veterinarians assembled from around the world for four- and five-day sessions to learn basic veterinary acupuncture from a teaching staff of 20.
The sessions were content-heavy, says Beth Brown, DVM, a member of the society's education and exam committees. "The doctors generally are brain dead by the end of the meeting. We throw an awful lot of information at them."
Nothing unusual about that. But the society did have an atypical request that was critical to the success of its program. It had to be able to accommodate some very special attendees at the gatherings. "We needed to have the ability to bring in dogs and to have special rooms for labs and demonstrations so the veterinarians could put their hands on the dogs," Brown explains.
Paul Richey, director of sales at Safety Harbor, says that from his perspective the "original challenge was allowing the pets in and, so they don't disturb any of the other guests, keeping them in a certain part of the resort."
When all was said and done, everybody--including, no doubt, the dogs, who were rescued greyhounds provided by a local Humane Society--was satisfied. "It's a perfect setting for something like this because of the way the resort is set up. You couldn't do something like this at an up-and-down hotel. And it's nice and quiet here, so the dogs aren't going to be alarmed by kids running around," Richey says.
For most sessions, Safety Harbor arranged for the veterinary group to practice its traditional Chinese medicine on the dogs in a permanently tented area that encloses the resort's shuffleboard courts. That way, explains Convention Services Manager Kim Green, "if the dogs did have an accident, we could just hose it off." Plus, she says, "we have a lot of acreage behind the hotel so when the dogs needed to go for walks, they knew where they could take them."
Negotiating a Resort Meeting: What's the Difference? It's a truism of the meeting planning profession that one of the first rules of the road is this: Know your group. When negotiating for a resort gathering, this ground rule is especially critical. That's because the resultingis likely to include many more services and facilities than at downtown meetings, making it all the more essential that planners be fully prepared with information about meeting-goers' spending habits and leisure preferences.
"It's imperative that you know the total value of your meeting and that you make sure the hotel knows what the value of your business is," advises Jacy Hanson, director, meeting services, for the American Diabetes Association in Alexandria, Va.
In negotiating a resort, meeting planners should be sure to consider all the resort's services, incorporating them into the contract where appropriate. "Look at other things such as golf and tennis, recreational activities, and make sure you're negotiating rates and deals on those types of things as well as just room rates and meeting space," advises Heidi Voorhees, convention manager for the Chicago-based Smith, Bucklin & Associates, where she handles meetings for the Southwestern Surgical Congress.
Bruce Bellande, executive director of the Alliance for Continuing Medical Education in Birmingham, Ala., says he has found that the amenities side of a resort contract represents "the real value of a resort." He adds that "generally, resorts will provide extracurricular recreational and social activities at reduced [rates] or at cost or in some cases complimentary, depending on the scope of the meeting."
"Whether it's golf, tennis, skeet shooting, use of the spa, whatever, generally it's wise to negotiate it on the front end," Bellande says. If planners do decide to include recreational components in the total package they should make sure they're negotiating a better deal for individuals than if meeting goers were paying separately, since attendees are sure to compare prices, Bellande cautions. "If they find out they could have gotten it for less if they had paid for it themselves, they're going to let you know."
One ace that medical meeting planners bring to the table when negotiating resort meetings is the fact that their attendees typically have higher incomes and are likely to make full use of a resort's services. "Resorts do like medical meetings. The physician is a good, recognizable market for resorts because of their income level," Bellande comments. Planners can boost their leverage by entering negotiations prepared with in-depth data about meeting-goers and their spending habits at previous resort meetings.
Bellande recommends that meeting professionals also boost their negotiating edge by reminding the resort that they can feed other potentially lucrative business to them. "Work with the resort to help them identify other clients of your membership or of your constituent group to make the value of the group go beyond the association meeting."
During high season, planners are apt to find their negotiating power constrained. "Resorts' ability to negotiate in high season is quite limited. It's their peak point in the year to make money" Bellande notes.
Hanson cautions that in some arenas she has found resorts to be less flexible than downtown properties. "They are much more strict and inflexible in taking any risks forbecause they are not going to get walk-ins off the street. They'll make you commit just about at the time of signing for both food and beverage and number of rooms."
RESORT NEWS UPDATE A sampling of what's new *Florida's Boca Raton Resort & Club opened a $40 million meeting and conference center in January. The 128,000-square-foot Mizner Center encompasses 34 meeting rooms and more than 80,000 net square feet of function space, including a 26,000-square-foot
* The 1,250-acre Amelia Island Plantation resort in northeast Florida opened its new $55 million Amelia Inn and Beach Club in April. The new facility adds 250 oceanfront rooms and contains 30,000 square feet of conference space, giving the resort more than 700 guest units and more than 50,000 square feet of conference space.
* In Lake Buena Vista, Fla., the Caribe Royale Resort Suites and Villas opened its Grand Caribe Convention Center in March. The facility houses 65,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 26,400-square-foot ballroom. The Caribe Royale Resort, an independently owned and operated property that opened in October 1997, has 1,218 one-bedroom suites and 120 two-bedroom villas and offers 27 meeting rooms.
* On Florida's west coast, the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa completed a $3.5 million makeover earlier this year. The project added six breakout rooms in the DeSoto Meeting Area and a second executive boardroom in the Bayshore Conference Center, giving the property a total of 30,000 square feet of function space. Also new are a full-service business center and an on-property golf academy.
* On the Florida Panhandle, the Sandestin Beach Hilton in South Walton has added 200 guest rooms, boosting its total room count to 600. The addition was part of a $45 million expansion project completed in May, which included two new restaurants, an outdoor pool, and a 10,000-square-foot ballroom, giving the property a total of 34,000 square feet of meeting space.
* In Tarpon Springs, Fla., the 1,000-room Westin Innisbrook Resort is undergoing $15 million in capital improvements this year. Already open are a new restaurant and the Eagle's Watch and Hawk's Run golf courses, which give the property a total of 90 championship holes. A $3.5 million Loch Ness family pool and water slide complex is scheduled to open this month.
* The 220-room Rocky Gap Lodge & Golf Resort made its debut in Cumberland, Md., this April. The lakeside resort offers 12,500 square feet of function space and extensive recreational amenities, including an 18-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course that's due to open by the fall.
* An October 1 opening is planned for The Inn at Bay Harbor, located on Lake Michigan shorefront just south of Petoskey, Mich. The inn will have 140 rooms and 7,000 square feet of meeting space, and will offer tennis and water sports. It is a member of Boyne USA Resorts, which owns Big Sky Montana.
* In Phoenix, the 600-room Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa will open a 120-room Arizona Wing in March 1999. The addition will include two meeting rooms and an Olympic-sized pool. The 600-room resort, which completed a $50 million, property-wide renovation and expansion in 1996, opened a $3.5 million, 20,000-square-foot spa in January.
* Construction is under way on a 23,000-square-foot spa at California's La Quinta Resort & Club, outside Palm Springs. The new facility is scheduled to open this summer.
* The 207-room Ojai Valley Inn, 73 miles outside Los Angeles, opened a 31,000-square-foot spa in December. The property, sited on 220 acres, contains more than 11,000 square feet of meeting and banquet space.
* Bermuda's Elbow Beach Hotel is in the midst of a $40 million project. In addition to overhauling guest rooms and public areas in the main building and adding a business center and new restaurant, the work includes converting a dining room into five meeting rooms and a boardroom and refurbishing the existing 10,000 square feet of meeting space. New facilities on the resort's Hawkins Island are now available for private functions in the evenings. By spring 1999 the historic Fritholme Mansion is scheduled to be converted into a full-service spa. *