This article is sponsored by Marriott International.
The recent Global Meetings Industry Day on April 7 offered an opportunity not only to celebrate the importance of meetings but to advocate for their value. It was also a time to reflect on lessons learned over the past the year and to consider what the future holds. Few people are as well positioned for this kind of big-picture thinking than Tammy Routh, senior vice president of global sales for Marriott International and Julius Robinson, chief sales and marketing officer, U.S. and Canada, for Marriott International. Both have been at the center of the hospitality brand's efforts to help planners manage the extraordinary challenges of the past two years — and to its current work helping in-person events to come back better than ever.
We caught up with Routh and Robinson on GMID to discuss what makes this an especially meaningful moment for meetings, why planners are looking to do much more than "return to normal" right now and all that Marriott has been doing to fuel the event industry's comeback.
This Global Meetings Industry Day comes at what feels like a transformational moment for the meetings industry. Groups are returning to in-person events and seem ready to fully get back to business. Is that what Marriott is seeing at its properties?
Tammy Routh: Customers are excited to be together again. While there are certainly benefits of using technology for meetings, the energy and heightened collaboration that come from meeting in person simply cannot be replicated virtually.
Julius Robinson: Our hotels are ready to welcome customers and are hosting meetings of all sizes. For example, New York Marriott Marquis just completed a major renovation, including its restaurants, bars, and meeting space. This hotel, along with several other New York hotels in the Marriott Bonvoy portfolio, just hosted a citywide conference for a technology customer in February. The Renaissance Washington, DC Downtown Hotel recently completed a redesign of its event space, part of a phased renovation. The initial response from customers has been outstanding.
Routh: As we look to the future, we're not looking to "return to normal." We're focused on what's next, and we're confident that we are well-equipped to adapt to the ever-evolving needs of today's customer.
This seems like a fitting moment to reflect back on how far the industry has come in the past two years. Can you describe the resilience of event professionals and how Marriott helped planners in the face of such unpredictability?
Routh: Marriott has been on a journey over the last two years to help our customers feel confident and excited about meeting in-person again. Our teams have built an enormous amount of experience around how to help customers host meetings responsibly and confidently.
Marriott International's Connect with Confidence hybrid event, held at Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner, in which the brand's leaders demonstrated best practices for safe meetings.
For example, as part of Marriott's "Connect with Confidence" program, we hosted Learning Labs at hotels across the country from Denver to Chicago to Dallas to demonstrate – in person – how meeting professionals could plan and execute a successful meeting. Customers could physically step into a designed meeting space and experience first-hand how to set up evolved food and beverage concepts, virtual streaming capabilities for hybrid meetings, health protocols and more.
Robinson: We also hosted our largest customer event since the start of the pandemic last summer at Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin in Orlando, Fla. Not only did this event represent a milestone for us and for our customers, with over 800 meetings industry and hotel professionals in attendance, but it also illustrated for meeting planners how they could host in-person events. Eighty-two percent of attendees said following the event that they now feel confident to hold an in-person meeting.
We have shared these learnings with customers through Marriott Bonvoy Events, which provides resources and best practices for meetings professionals.
With such a wide range of properties and shifting challenges, how were you able to ensure you were staying a step ahead of your customers' needs?
Routh: Listening to the voice of the customer and adapting to customer feedback is vital to our approach. We are communicating with our customers in advance on what to expect when they travel and meet, and we're working with customers to develop a meetings experience that meets their individual goals.
Robinson: Our hotels have also adapted to changing trends shaping the way people now travel, such as the continued blurring of lines between work and play as office environments become more fluid. For example, Sheraton Orlando Lake Buena Vista, which features more than 31,000 square feet of event space, have offered groups with room blocks of 50 or more special incentives to take advantage of the destination, such as Walt Disney World Resort tickets.
Now that in-person meetings are coming back, where would you say planners' priorities are now?
Robinson: We're seeing requests for more nontraditional venues, outdoor setups and reimagining creative meeting spaces. For example, Muir, Autograph Collection, an oceanfront property in Halifax, Canada, which opened in December 2021, has meeting spaces with 360-degree water views as well as a 36-foot private yacht available to rent for a truly extraordinary gathering.
Routh: Meeting professionals are looking for a hotel partner who can help them meet their business objectives creatively and intentionally while navigating a dynamic environment. Transparency, open dialogue and flexibility will continue to be critically important.
What lessons taken from the pandemic would you say Marriott continues to apply now, as the industry comes back?
Routh: How we create a sustainable path forward has been arguably one of the biggest topics and challenges we are faced with today, both in the meetings industry and the travel and hospitality industry at large. We are working to embed sustainable meeting practices so we can provide responsible, exemplary experiences for event attendees.
Robinson: The last two years have validated that the power of face-to-face interaction is unparalleled. The excitement we see with our customers who have met for the first time after two years is just palpable. We've also seen how resilient travel is, and the creativity that continues to come out of the meetings space. The health of our industry depends on the success and recovery of groups, meetings and events — and we are optimistic about the future.