Benchmark and Gemstone Merge, Disney's 21 Royal, and S'More

heard on the street

Each week, members of the Successful Meetings and Incentive staff and I attend events in New York City and beyond, or have folks visit the office for a desk-side visit. We also go out of town to attend our own events and industry gatherings. And of course, we're always scouring the web to keep our fingers on the pulse of what's going on the world outside of meetings and incentives that might have an impact on them. This new column will be a collection of notes we have made of off-the-cuff comments we've heard at all these.

If Grandma's Not Happy, No One's Happy

At a recent Benchmark Hospitality luncheon in New York, CEO Alex Cabanas was asked if Benchmark was planning any expansion into Cuba. (A natural question, since the Cabanas family immigrated to the United States when Castro took control of the island in 1959.) "It depends on who you ask," Cabanas said. "I think it's inevitable, so we might as well do something. My grandmother says: "Hell no!" My poor father [Benchmark founder and chairman Bert Cabanas] is kind of stuck in the middle."

Benchmark was in New York announcing its brand strategy since its recent merger with Gemstone Hospitality. "What makes us special is the cultural and experiential qualities of our properties," said Cabanas. "We're positioning ourselves to be the most experiential hotel company in the hospitality industry."

Search for Disney's Roots...

...and find them at Disneyland's 21 Royal, where, for a mere $15,000, Napa Roses' chef de cuisine Justin Monson, executive chef Andrew Sutton, and 21 Royal's manager and sommelier Matt Ellingson deploy their wisdom, talent, mad storytelling skills, and some extraordinary culinary ingredients. The result: a unique seven-course meal that conveys what they call "sense memories," but what I'm sure others call "the meal of a lifetime."

Terri Hardin, Successful Meetings contributor, found herself sitting with 11 others in the dining room of what had recently been the Disney Dream Suite and, way before that, the private apartment of the Disney family. The night, which had begun with cocktails in the foyer and flamenco guitar music within the apartment's interior courtyard, had turned to serious eating and storytelling.

"Guests," Chef Justin explained, "are not just joining us to eat and drink. They are joining us to be transported into this legendary home, and we want our guests to discover the extraordinary space through the food and the storytelling  -- to live the 21 Royal 'lifestyle,' if only for one magical evening."

Born to Run

Maybe The Boss should run for office. Bruce Springsteen certainly played a role in the repeal last week of North Carolina's controversial bathroom bill that restricted transgendered individuals from using the public restrooms of the gender they identify as. In the end, it was a GOP-controlled legislature that passed the bathroom legislation in North Carolina and a GOP-controlled legislature that repealed it. Which suggests something else was at play here: Economics. Specifically, the economics of events. Springsteen canceled his concerts in the state. The NCAA to pull all of the rights to host all college tournaments in the state for the next six years. And numerous lesser-known conventions and meetings also started looking elsewhere. An Associated Press review that came out last week that said the law could cost the state almost $4 billion over a 12-year period. Low and behold, the bill was repealed.

Sweet Invite

There's an old reporter's saying that goes like this: "If it ain't catered, it ain't journalism." Not very flattering to my profession, but I have to admit it works. The folks from the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort & Spa, situated on 200 acres of the former Rogers-Wiseman Ranch in Texas, took it to heart and sent us a great "make your own s'mores kit" along with a request for a desk side. Of course we met with them.

Alex Palmer, our managing editor and Texas beat reporter, sat down with them and found out that there's a lot more than s'mores to enjoy on the property: they've got no fewer than nine on-site dining options, including the casual Spring House restaurant, Texas saloon Charlie's Long Bar, and the high-end Antler's Lodge (which serves up wild game such as antelope and elk, and offers intimate spaces that groups can reserve). The property produces its own salsa, BBQ rub, poultry seasoning and more, all onsite.  

As for the s'mores, well, somebody had to eat them…