Head of Marriott's European Convention Network Talks Technology and Incentives

The Westin Resort, Costa Navarino, Greece

It has been almost three years since the Marriott European Convention Network was launched with an initial collection of 14 convention-designated properties in key markets. Since then, the ECN has been largely flying under the radar of North American meeting planners, as it concentrated first on building European-driven group business. 

That focus is about to change. This year, the ECN is finally poised to step out of the shadows of its much larger, more sophisticated sister collection in North America, the Marriott Convention & Resort Network, as it looks to draw more inbound business from North America.

"In 2017 we added 10 legacy Starwood properties to the portfolio, which enhanced it greatly in terms of destinations we didn't have any presence in previously, as well as in brands that now include Westin, Sheraton and Le Méridien," said Barcelona-based Pauline Bronkhorst, head of the ECN, who spoke exclusively with Northstar Meetings Group on the ECN's development and its vision. "This year, we have added four resorts, as well as another hotel. We weren't previously considering resorts, but they are the largest ones we have, and they bring a different angle to the network. What is interesting is we are seeing more incentive business with them on board."

The ECN network, which has grown to 24 properties in 13 countries, and includes seven  Marriott brands, is taking its cue from the Marriott CRN in terms of building the portfolio -- the CRN now numbers more than 100 convention hotels -- and increasing the ECN's marketing reach, but Bronkhorst said they are not afraid to tweak the criteria for membership, in terms of room count and meeting space, to strengthen its offerings. 

"We were definitely created based on the success of the CRN, but we made a few adjustments to their blueprint model to adapt it to the European market, because we just don't have all those large convention hotels that you have in North America," said Bronkhorst. "Our hotels are much smaller." While CRN hotels are required to have at least 600 rooms (350 rooms for member resorts), the ECN model requires only 350 rooms for either a hotel or a resort.

In October 2017, the ECN dialed up its marketing reach by launching live virtual site inspections through its partnership with London-based video-commerce company Go Instore. Comparable to Facetime, the tool allows meeting planners to take a virtual site tour of an ECN property conducted by the on-site sales person on a dedicated Web channel, with two-way audio so they can speak to each other. There is only one-way video, allowing participants complete privacy. 

As with any new technology, Bronkhorst acknowledged it has been a challenge to get clients to warm up to the concept of a live virtual site inspections. As such, she is considering creating an educational video of the tour process, which would help planners understand better how it works and what they can expect. Current plans call for the ECN to broadcast one virtual site inspection tour per month of one of its member properties. Clients will be able tune in at a certain date and time and watch a live tour of the property being featured that month, as if they were tuning into a television broadcast.

"It's a great way to get a better feel for a property, especially for our clients that are based overseas in North America," said Bronkhorst. "Our hotels have had great success with this tool closing business. But, because the tours are recorded, the client can also go back at any point in time to refresh their memory of the ballroom space, or the distance between the ballroom and the breakout."

The first broadcasted site inspection featured the 364-room Budapest Marriott Hotel which had just wrapped up a multimillion-dollar renovation. The video drew more than 100 viewers worldwide. The next broadcasted virtual site inspection will take place next Friday, Feb. 21, at 4:00 p.m., Central European Time, from the 587-room Frankfurt Marriott Hotel. To take part, click here.