Over the last year, there’s been a corporate-wide revolution at Marriott Hotels revolving around a series of forward-thinking initiatives. It began with the launch of the Innovation Lab in early 2013 at the Bethesda, Maryland, headquarters, where Marriott brings together designers and clients to test out new product design and functionality.
That was followed by the new Travel Brilliantly website, which prompted over 700 U.S. travelers to submit ideas about product enhancements. Travel Brilliantly’s success inspired a February relaunch by Marriott, with plans to expand it into Europe. The brand’s new vision is tagged simply as “The Future of Travel.” Late last year, that was reworked for the MICE trade into “The Future of Meetings,” integrating new digital tools and meeting product designed for the next generation planner.
First, Marriott introduced the Red Coat Direct meetings app that allows planners to connect with hotel staff in real time on any mobile device. Planners can adjust any component of any event on the fly and receive instant feedback from CSM staff.
In an effort to maximize usage of its meeting space, Marriott collaborated with LiquidSpace to create Workspace on Demand. These are meeting areas with flexible furniture, digital/tactile business tools and F&B service that are bookable for short term, last-minute meetings.
Following that, the new Meetings Imagined website launched in January. The portal’s most unique characteristic is its “Inspiration Gallery” with sample photos of all of the different components that go into destination meetings. Much like a bridet-to-be who creates customized inspiration boards of wedding-themed photos on Pinterest, planners log in and “heart” specific photographs to save them in personalized sets.
Planners can then email an entire set of collected F&B options to a client or senior executive for feedback. Or they can send the set to the CSM at any participating Marriott property, asking if that hotel has something similar.
“Marriott Hotels is on a transformational journey that will enable our guests to travel brilliantly,” says Paul Cahill, senior VP of brand management for Marriott. “While others may focus on just meeting logistics, Meetings Imagined infuses a more sophisticated approach based on objectives and outcomes.”
All of the new Marriott programs apply to the Renaissance sister brand, which has been developing REN Meetings, its own brand-specific program over the last year. It incorporates the ongoing RLife LIVE events at all of the hotels, ranging from live concerts in the lobby to cooking demos and mixology lessons. With enough notice, the hotels can integrate groups into those experiences by adapting the location or moving the event to a larger location.
“We’re finding that planners love that because it enhances their program and adds another networking experience,” says David Keamy, senior director, sales/marketing at Renaissance Hotels. “Especially for incentive-type meetings, that can be very valuable for groups to interact in a new and natural way.”
As with everyone else in the MICE industry, Millennials are driving the evolution.
“Really, there has been little that’s changed to make meetings more stimulating to Gen X/Y, or Millennials,” says Keamy. “So these are some key initiatives that really speak to how we’re changing the overall meeting experience.”
The motivation behind all of this is finding better ways to engage the Connected Generation, where spontaneous personal relationships are paramount.
As Keamy suggests, “Meetings don’t begin with tables and chairs today. They begin with people.” – Greg Oates