Marriott's Meetings Focus, Up Close

Dave Nostrand 

While Marriott International’s worldwide portfolio of properties extends to nearly 3,900 hotels in 72 countries under 18 different brands, the company also recognizes that there are a certain number of properties that excel as meeting destinations. These 60 hotels and resorts from the JW Marriott, Autograph Collection, Renaissance, Marriott and Gaylord Hotels brands make up the Marriott Convention & Resort Network, which was formed more than 25 years ago. 

Today, those properties continue to excel at hosting meeting groups; last month, 26 properties in the CRN were given Gold Key Awards from our sister publication, Meetings & Conventions.

We recently interviewed Dave Nostrand, Marriott International’s vice president of sales for the Americas, to ask him about the evolution of the CRN, and what Marriott plans to do this year and beyond to work with meeting planners.

SM: What is the main purpose of the Marriott Convention & Resort Network, and how is it designed to help meeting planners?  

Nostrand: The Convention & Resort Network (CRN) was formed more than 25 years ago to build a greater consistency within our convention services and catering, and to help support meeting planners and groups execute larger meetings/events seamlessly. Today, the mission is still very similar and we continually strive to improve through service, technology, creativity, and innovation with the main goal to deliver the “Ultimate Meeting Experience.”

SM: What do you want planners to know about the CRN? 

Nostrand: We are dedicated to providing the ultimate meeting experience for group planners and customers. With more than 60 award-winning JW Marriott, Autograph Collection, Renaissance, Marriott and Gaylord Hotels and Resorts, the network has the largest collection of meeting space in the industry. There are more 150 certified meetings professionals within the network providing unmatched service and consistency through the planning process.  Also, our world-class member hotels and resorts have received numerous industry awards and accolades; in some cases, over twice as many awards as our competition. 

SM: What are some of the most notable properties included in the network? 

Nostrand: The CRN is made up of more than 60 world-class hotels and resorts from Boston, Hawaii, and San Francisco to Cancun, Chicago, and Tucson. Some of these include: Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort in St. Thomas, JW Marriott Los Angeles L.A. Live, Orlando World Center Marriott, and The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. 

New CRN hotels opening over the next few years include the Marriott Marquis in Washington, D.C. (opening May 1, 2014), the JW Marriott Austin, TX (opening 2015) and two large convention hotels that were recently announced — the Houston Marriott Marquis and the Chicago Marriott Marquis. Both of these hotels will have over 1,000 rooms and will be connected to the convention center via indoor walkways. 

SM: What’s the criteria for being a part of the CRN?

Nostrand: Our goal is to provide consistent, creative, innovative and exceptional service to our large group accounts to ensure that they continue to book their meetings and events at one of the Network hotels or resorts. Member hotels and resorts must be group-focused, have a certain number of rooms and square feet of function space, maintain high levels of guest-and meeting planner satisfaction, and share post-con reports and key learnings to the next hotel, so that group is set up to also execute a successful event. Also, with our multiple properties in North America, meeting professionals can easily find their preferred location and quickly book their meetings and events. 

SM: What, in your opinion, are some of the biggest challenges facing meeting planners today?  

Nostrand: In a recent national study, event planning was listed as the fifth most stressful job.  It’s understandable. Meeting planners today are being asked to do more, and often with the same staff, or in some cases, less. They always need to keep their finger on the pulse with the constant changes in technology and the impact of the economic and business environment. Planners also act as the consultant and resource for their organization and have to produce exceptional meetings/events with a high return on investment, all while staying within the budget. 

SM: How is the Marriott CRN addressing those challenges?  

Nostrand: Our experience sales and event management team work with planners to really understand their overall objectives, and make recommendations and suggestions to ensure that events are executed seamlessly and successfully.

SM: What are some of the biggest trends or changes that you have observed in recent years when it comes to meetings? 

Nostrand: The biggest trend I’ve noticed is technology and how it is being used from registration, to conference apps, to surveys, and more.  With the new Generation Y/Millennial attendees, there is a need for more creative and innovative meetings. Meetings need to be engaging, concise, and valuable. If not, these attendees will tune out and turn their attention to something else. 

SM: Where do you see meetings headed to in the future?  

Nostrand: I think meetings will need to be more collaborative, allowing attendees time to meet with their peers to share and learn. General session speakers will need to deliver their message in short, engaging sessions. Ninety-minute general sessions will still be on the agenda, but three to five speakers will present during the session, not just one or two. Meeting room set-ups will also change to allow for more flexibility and there will be more time for networking or open discussions as part of the agenda.

SM: What's in store for the future of meeting properties? 

Nostrand: Innovative technology and accessibility. We launched the Red Coat Direct app in 2013 in all of our full service hotels in the U.S.  It will be rolled out globally in 19 languages by the end of 2014. It’s a personalized meeting app that allows planners to make requests without leaving the meeting (i.e. change the room temperature, order more chairs, request additional food and beverage, etc.). 

We also recently began offering space for small meetings that can be booked online through a partnership with Liquidspace. It’s as easy as booking a room online. Marriott is focused on providing the technology and connectivity inside/outside the meeting rooms, but also offering meeting room set-ups designed to maximize learning, sharing, and interaction. Innovative technology and setup support as well as exceptional experiences are what distinctively separate Marriott meetings from our competition.

SM: Are other tools and apps like Marriott's Red Coat Direct currently in the works and, if yes, can you tell us more about them?
Nostrand: Marriott Hotels launched Meetings Imagined in January. It’s an online platform that provides expert tips, the latest meeting trends, and hundreds of inspirational images to spark creativity for meetings. The site allows anyone planning a meeting or event to infuse creativity down to the smallest detail. It offers tips from icebreakers, to food and music to set the mood. Planners can tailor food and beverage, setup, technology, and experiences based on the ultimate goals of each meeting, to design more inspiring and engaging experience for attendees.