Hilton San Francisco Union Square illustrates how large branded hotels are evolving as destination portals and knowledge hubs in specific sectors. The 1,908-room property has been developing turnkey ways for planners to create offsite events. Coordinated through the events/IT, catering and culinary teams, the hotel organizes events and takes care of all logistics at unique venues such as California Academy of Sciences and City Hall.
The goal behind this is to work with planners more as partners in the meeting design process, transcending the typical buyer/supplier transactional relationship.
“Groups are demanding that, so we’ve made it easy for them by delivering the food and beverage to make it a seamless experience,” says Scott Baublitz, director of sales/marketing at Hilton San Francisco Union Square. “We have all of the equipment, we have all of the transportation, we have everything planners need, and since we’ve now done it so many times, we know who to reach out to for permitting and everything else.”
Baublitz adds that this is essentially to “get people out into the city to give them a San Francisco experience versus a ballroom experience.”
In addition to that, he says the group sales team is continually undergoing sector-specific educational training to stay on top of the needs of different types of groups in different industries. The team has developed extensive networks throughout the city to better align the destination with the purpose of any given meeting.
“We have really transformed our networking experience around sectors such as bio-tech, tech, green businesses, whether it’s cars or solar, and that’s growing significantly year over year,” says Baublitz. “We have something called ‘Value Selling’ where our people know how to be a collaborative partner in doing business with a meeting planner or organization. They work to understand the purpose of the meeting, the goals and objectives, so we can truly be collaborative when it comes to putting together proposals.”
We also spoke with Darlene Smith, events director for Guidewire Software, who organizes the company’s annual user conference at Hilton San Francisco Union Square for 1,500 clients, partners and employees. She’s seeing a slight shift in attendee preferences for destination venues for offsite programs based on age demographics.
Her older attendees tend to want more traditional group experiences, such as the dinner cruises and fine dining restaurants, but the younger crowd is seeking cool loft studio-style party venues like those on the Embarcadero.
“There are definitely different trends with Millennials, who want everything done digitally and through the apps,” says Smith. “For them, everything is much more casual and much more about fun, while the older audience likes the more traditional venues and the boat cruise. You need both because you have to make sure people can get the information that they want.”
Seeking to answer everyone’s demands, Smith will be using the Pathable native app for the first time this year so attendees can share recommendations and meet up on their own at night during off-schedule hours. The company already uses the Pathable web-based community platform to engage attendees before the event.
“People use Pathable to communicate about the destination and where they plan on going at night, for example,” she says. “It’s very cool, and it’s something we’re going to focus on more and more…. I think all planners and attendees value more information about the destination.”