“The worst is behind us. We no longer have to say yes to every piece of business,” said one regional sales manager for Hyatt Hotels & Resorts when chatting about the economy during Hyatt’s 2010 Insurance & Financial Business Exchange July 29–31. His comments reflected an overall buzz that meetings in the financial and insurance sector are moving forward and that the hospitality industry as a whole is moving into recovery mode.
Held at the Hyatt Regency Boston, the event drew 24 high-level meeting professionals for education and networking. Major news came from Hyatt’s Gus Vonderheide, vice president of sales, group, at the opening session. As of September 1, Hyatt is consolidating all of its hotels and resorts worldwide under one national sales umbrella. This means financial industry planners will have two points of contact—David Riederman and Michael Williamson, both directors of worldwide accounts—for their global site sourcing.
Big news for big meetings is that the totally rebuilt and redesigned Hyatt Regency New Orleans will reopen late next year with 1,193 guest rooms and expanded meeting space, including a 500-square-foot exhibit hall. There are some new choices for small meetings as well. Hyatt has been diversifying its portfolio of about 430 hotels in more than 47 countries so that it “hits on all cylinders,” said Vonderheide.
Having made its name back in the 1970s for pioneering the soaring atrium lobby in big convention hotels, the Chicago-based chain has once again broken new ground with its Andaz and Hyatt Place brands. There is no front desk at the luxury Andaz properties, for instance, where “hosts” carrying computers check in the guests. In a July 27 article in USA Today, writer Barbara DeLollis said that these and other Hyatt innovations are “challenging hotel traditions” and have “started to re-invent the hotel stay.”
One-stop-shopping was stressed by American Airlines’ Charles Jones, manager, global sales, group and meeting travel, who said that his department will work with groups of 10 or more. Among the airline’s news is an alliance with Jet Blue and the ability to do international check-in online.
Also speaking at IFBE’s opening session was PRA Destination Management’s Tracey Brenneman, CMP, global sales manager, who updated the group on PRA’s merger with Allied International and Destination Services Colorado. “We understand,” she said, “that the traditional menu of DMC services is no longer what planners necessarily need.” During the meeting, attendees got a taste of the untraditional in such events as a ballgame at Fenway Park and a choice of activities such as bicycle riding in Boston’s residential neighborhoods.
Keynote speaker Mike Staver was introduced by Ruth Levine, founder of Speak Inc. speakers bureau, who said that after a few years of cutting back on professional speakers, companies are now “getting back on track.” Most popular for financial and insurance meetings, she said, are “vivacious, what you see is what you get” speakers. This was certainly the case with Staver, who delivered an animated and interactive session that got attendees face-to-face with their issues, their expectations, and the keys to taking action.
Among the educational highlights were three breakout sessions that covered trends in social media, incentive programs, and business etiquette. A fabulous farm-to-table luncheon featured speakers Steve Enselein, Hyatt’s vice president, catering and convention services, and Henry Wainer, president, Sid Winer and Sons Specialty Foods, who talked about food-and-beverage trends.
Attendees chose two of three workshops: Joe Zabik, FLMI, manager, research data analysis, LIMRA, on incentive trends; Corbin Ball, CSP, CMM, on using social media to market, manage, and improve results; and Colleen Rickenbacher, CMP, CSEP, CPC, on how to be on your best business behavior.
The evolution of social media, said Ball, is the fastest-growing trend he’s ever seen, and in terms of meeting planning, it is “shifting the power from meeting planners to meeting attendees.” Your brand in the new age of social media, he explained, is “not what you say it is—it is what people are saying about you.”
While you may have many opportunities to market your meetings through online social media, you have only one chance to create a face-to-face impression with a business partner, said Rickenbacher. It takes only three to five seconds of interaction, she noted, to start building a relationship. “When you’re at a meeting, you’re on 24/7” she said, “and you should treat every business meeting as if it is an interview.”
Hyatt’s 2010 IFBE concluded with a buffet lunch that reflected today’s hot food trends: food sourced from local suppliers, seasonal ingredients, delicious vegetarian options, and innovative small plates using less expensive but tasty cuts of meat. “More than half of today’s top F&B trends relate to healthy eating,” said Enselein.
Among the other trends he cited: Latin street foods, Moroccan food, sliders, donuts, classic cocktails, beer-tasting menus, and single-concept food flights—think a trio of sliders consisting of veggie burgers, beef burgers, and lamb burgers. “Farm-to-table has become mainstream,” Enselein said, “and Hyatt is strongly encouraging chefs to partner with local suppliers.” Planners can expect to bid farewell to the thick catalog of traditional banquet menus. Instead, Hyatt is rolling out three seasonal banquet menus: summer, fall/winter, and spring.