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April 10, 2012

New York City hotels update for meeting & convention business

A full third of New York City’s business travelers come to attend meetings and conventions, to the tune of four million people each year. To cater to their needs and keep them interested NYC & Company’s First VP of Convention Development Jerry Cito says that convention centers and hotels are constantly renovating and improving their facilities.

Perhaps most notably, the city’s largest meeting space, Jacob Javits Convention Center, is in the middle of an ongoing renovation that is scheduled to be completed by the end of next year. A new “green” roof (reportedly the largest in the Northeast), curtain wall and skylights will be implemented, and the main entrances will be enlarged and reconfigured. The renovation will increase the Center’s energy efficiency by 25 percent, Cito says.

A large number of the city’s major hotels are also currently undergoing renovations. Cito notes the Marriott Marquis, the Grand Hyatt New York, the Sheraton New York and the Hilton New York as just a few examples. Chris Heywood, also of NYC & Co., estimates that the city now has 90,000 hotel rooms, and that meeting planners have grown more discerning. As such, hoteliers need to upgrade “to keep their product top-of-mind: They all have to have modern accouterments for meeting planner. Make sure it’s all wired properly.”

One of those hotels is the W on Lexington Avenue, the brand’s flagship (and largest) property, which recently completed renovations to its meeting and event space, including the hotel’s 3,690-square-foot Great Room. A major factor of the renovation was a new multi-colored lighting system. “Before the space was renovated, it had a very corporate feel,” General Manager Edward Maynard says. The new lighting system, designed by David Ashen of d-ash design, allow for more variety, and work in tandem with the large windows in each meeting room. Since he had to work within the confines of the existing space, Ashen says that he used light to make stylistic changes. “You can have infinite possibilities with light.” 

The renovated Great Room can hold up to 500 people for a standing reception, and can be easily configured for different types of events. Smaller rooms on the same floor can hold smaller groups. Technological improvements include satellite TV hookups to broadcast to or from meeting rooms (a recent event was displayed live on screens throughout the hotel for guests and passers-by to watch), and high-speed Wi-Fi service that can handle hundreds of computers and devices operating at once.

Kai Fischer, director of Sales and Marketing at the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers, said that the hotel has just emerged from a $160 million renovation of rooms and public spaces. The last major renovation was seven years ago, and the hotel needed the latest technology to remain competitive. Additions to the meeting areas include improved wireless high-speed Internet and digital signage for all meeting rooms. In December, the hotel will begin a new renovation of meeting spaces that will overhaul everything from HVAC to audio-video components to carpeting and even the restrooms. “Everything will be revamped on the second, third and fifth floor meeting spaces, which is 80 percent of all meeting space at the hotel.” The Executive Conference Center, which Fischer says is the “best space” for meetings, will be left untouched this year, but will be renovated in 2013. “We need some space available while we renovate the others,” Fischer says.

One of the most notable technological enhancements at the Sheraton is a “telepresence suite,” a virtual conference room that Fischer calls “Skype on steroids.” Voice-activated cameras capture people sitting at tables in different rooms—no matter where they are—and makes it seem, on screen, as though they are all in the same room. “It gives you a true, live virtual boardroom experience,” he says. “We’re the only hotel in Manhattan to offer this technology.”

At the Grand Hyatt New York, the Empire Ballroom, which dates back to 1917, recently saw a $12 million renovation. The 18,000 square foot space can hold 100 to 1,500 guests and can be divided into five function or meeting units. Audio-visual equipment has been installed along with permanent drop-down projection screens. An LED lighting control system can create multiple color tones for any given event. Both the ballroom and foyer feature enhanced communications and data packages, such as Category 6 branded communications infrastructure.

The hotel also added a flexible, multi-purpose space that management has dubbed the Gallery on Lex, meant to cater more to receptions and social events than traditional meetings. The 4,400-square-foot site was designed by Bentel & Bentel to feel like two pavilions connected by an open reception area that can become part of either pavilion. In total, the hotel now has 55,000 square feet of event spaces.

The New York Marriott Marquis is completing a $39 million renovation to its guestrooms and has recently added a new ballroom for events. The spaces are customizable, and events can book up areas that are normally open to the public, like the Broadway Lounge on the eighth floor. “Guests really want options that are different from the traditional meeting room with no windows,” says Kathy Duffy, marketing director at Marriott International. “For some of the more flexible events—a product launch, a press lunch—customers want non-traditional venues, even within the hotel. They want something like a loft space or a restaurant space. They don’t want a banquet space. These rooms aren’t going against the grain, but they offer something extra. It’s a plus if you have windows with a view for certain events.” The important thing, she says, is to offer as many options as possible within each space.

Ultimately, New York City’s meetings and convention industry is as competitive as it ever was. Kai Fischer feels that economic recovery begins in New York, and that the city must attract more people for the overall wellbeing not only of the city, but of the industry. “Get in front of your customers and stockholders to bring sales teams and professionals together,” he advises. “You must have a plan and a message. In today’s technology, a webinar does not accomplish the same effect. Providing a meeting environment at the center of it all is what’s critically important to a lot of organizations. New York is the backdrop for that.” Fischer notes that the city seems to be getting more meetings than in the past, but that the events are shorter than they used to be—two or three days instead of four or five.

Maynard estimates that Manhattan alone has 460 hotels, and that all of these properties must have plenty to offer in terms of features and pricing options. NYC & Co., meanwhile, has satellite offices throughout the country (and even internationally) to appeal to event organizers. “Whenever a meeting or convention comes to New York, attendance is very strong,” Cito notes. “When [a company has] a meeting in New York, it’s the strongest-attended meeting that they’ve ever had.”


Undergoing renovations: Marriott Marquis New York

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