Starwood Introduces Turnkey On-Site Meeting Activity Packages

Starwood Hotels & Resorts in recent months has rolled out prepackaged event offerings to 100 of its upper upscale and luxury brands in North America, an offering the hotel company said is gaining traction among meeting planners facing tight budgets and increasing responsibilities.

The company in September began offering the turnkey Planner's Edge On-Site Specialty Events, customizable by size, at select properties. Events ranged in price from $10,000 to $75,000 and included such options as cooking contests with the aid of professional chefs, building bicycles for underprivileged children and Nintendo Wii tournaments. As of February, Starwood offered the programs—four to 10 event varieties per property, based on hotel size—at 100 Sheraton, Westin, St. Regis, Luxury Collection and W hotels.

"We're really focusing this as a one-stop shop for a planner, looking for something to take the burden off them," said David Dvorak, Starwood's vice president of catering and convention services. "The reaction we've been getting is a 'Where has this been all my life?' kind of mentality."

Planners using the events program have trended largely toward the corporate side thus far, Dvorak said, but association planners now are beginning to explore it. Starwood senior vice president of global sales Christie Hicks said corporate planners trying to avoid negative publicity over meeting programs in particular have been drawn to the events, as many have a giving-back component and all eliminate the need for transportation from the property.

"This is a big selling point," Hicks said. "Those planners are doing more and more business with less and less staff."

Dvorak said the program will expand to other properties as demand arises and that Starwood would monitor usage levels of the different event offerings, removing those that do not sell well and adding new types that fit in with demand. Even when group travel and budgets fully recover, the program will remain in place, he said.

"This is not a short-term thing, but we want to make sure to keep it fresh," Dvorak said. "We want to evolve this year over year with taking some chances with things you don't normally see."

Originally published March 1, 2010