Wednesday, September 29, 2010

HVS Issues Revised Forecasts for the US Lodging Industry

Super Sustainable Seafood (now say that 5 times fast!)

Sustainability -- you know the word, but can you define it in reference to our fishy friends?
This is a "green" detail that I am seeing more and more requests for made by meeting planners and groups.  Not only are people wanting to green their meetings by reducing paper and plastic waste, they also wish to eat food that was obtained through measures that did not harm the ocean environment (I'm sure we all agree that there has been enough of that this summer with the oil spill).

A recent article on's food blog website, Eatocracy, defined what "sustainable" actually means and went into greater detail on sustainable seafood efforts within the United States.  "In a nutshell (or clamshell, in this case), in the context of seafood, 'sustainable' means harvesting and consuming at a rate that will not deplete fish and other marine life faster than their populations can replenish - and there are plenty of factors that weigh into this...[such as] overfishing, climate changes, physical damage to the environment..." 

Two key organizations that educate fishers, buyers, and consumers on how to make sustainable choices for seafood are the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Seafood Choices Alliances. 

To keep your property in line with the desires of clients, encourage your chefs to download the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch application to receive notifications and e-mails about what seafood is a good, sustainable buy for the current time of year. 

Written by:
Meghan Bollenback
Food and Beverage Manager
R. David Thomas Executive Hotel & Conference Center

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Few More Excel Basics...

Written by James Bland
Group Marketing Manager
The Sundial Group, Highgate House

Having looked at manipulating text-based information in the last Excel post; names, addresses and suchlike; this time I want to quickly introduce a few numbers into the mix…

Bringing Order to Chaos

So your booking/sales/CRM system will export orders/sales/enquiries in a big list with dates attached, but you’re currently ploughing through that manually to obtain monthly totals.

You’ll get more than the data below, of course, but for the sake of this example let’s say your columns go as such…

• A: Customer Name

• B: Value of Order

• C: Date of Order

So long as the dates are properly formatted and Excel recognises them as such, using the formula =MONTH(D1) with return, numerically, the month of the year in which the date in Cell C1 falls. Repeat down the column to begin your categorisation. When complete, use the expression =COUNTIF(D1:D100,1) to count the number of orders placed in January, month 1. Change the number in the second part of the expression to view for February, March etc.

Your “COUNTIF” function though doesn’t have to just work with numbers. You could count all of the people named “James Bland” in your customer list by simply changing the column it looks at from D to A, and then changing the number 1 to “James Bland” (include the speech marks – that’s quite important when ever you want to look at text within a formula instead of numbers)

Show me the money…!

Having obtained in column E the numbers corresponding to the months in column D, you can then acquire your monthly order totals. Use the expression =SUMIF(E1:E100,”=1”,B1:B100) to do this. In the first segment you are telling the formula to look in column E, where your monthly classification numbers reside. In the second segment, you are telling it only to find orders where the month is January (=1) – increasing this number will interrogate your other months. In the third segment, you tell it to take the order values from Column B.

Your “SUMIF” function can again count the value of orders that “James Bland” has placed. Again, change the column initially interrogated from E to A, and then change “=1” to = “James Bland” (again, remember to include the speech marks). Your column B data will have to be numerical though – Excel cannot add letters to numbers!

A Little Pointer

It’s a bit manual this one, but let’s say you’re the sort of person who likes writing telephone numbers without spaces. Or maybe you need them like that to upload them into a SMS transmission system. When you type a string of numbers into Excel, it quite rightly thinks it’s a number, so it suppresses leading zeros – hence the telephone number 01604731850 becomes 1,604,731,850.

The difficulty with Excel is that when you begin to overtype a cell, the previous contents disappear instantly, meaning you have to remember the number that was there initially. One way is to repeat it back to yourself so it stays in your immediate memory, but eventually your co-workers will get annoyed, or think you strange, or both.

A quick way to sort this out is to go into the cell and just type an apostrophe in front of the number, ‘01604731850. The apostrophe tells Excel that whatever follows is to be treated as text. This does mean, however, that you now cannot add two telephone numbers together, but why on earth would you want to…?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Quality Committee Update: Members React to Quality Audits

When they’ve undergone Quality Assurance Audits this year, member conference centers have raised a few questions. Most commonly they wonder, “Why aren’t the Quality Assurance Checklist and Pre-Audit paperwork identical to the documents that the BARE auditor uses?” During my property’s recent audit, I puzzled over some of these differences, too. Though the variances were not so striking that I couldn’t answer the questions, I thought it might be a good topic for the Quality Committee to consider. And, in August the subject appeared on our agenda. The committee determined that we’d like to close the gap between the two sets of questions and began considering ways we might accomplish that aim.

Let me offer a couple examples of the sort of questions we’re talking about because we understand that members might not immediately see their relevance to our Universal Criteria.

(1) “How many meeting suites does the facility have?” The Criteria don’t make any direct reference to meeting suites (or guest suites that can easily be converted to meeting space). However, when you look at criteria numbers 5 and 33 you can see the validity. These criteria concern the separation of dedicated conference rooms from living and leisure areas. So, the Auditor asks about meeting suites in order to ensure that members do not typically allow meetings outside of the conference center.

(2) “How many portable sound systems does your property have?” This question directly correlates to criterion number 18. “Do all meeting rooms larger than 1,000 sq. ft. have built-in voice reinforcement sound systems?” If you answer “no” when this question comes up, the auditor must determine the extent to which that’s true for the whole facility because IACC may allow for less than 100% compliance as long as you have enough portable sound equipment to accommodate client needs.

In any case, IACC’s Audit only scores members according to their compliance with the Criteria. Any questions that don’t directly relate to membership criteria either supply facts to support determinations about compliance or provide data that refer to IACC’s Recommended Guidelines. And neither of these types of question count toward or against a member’s Audit score.

When the inspection occurred at my property, the auditor mentioned how pleased she was to see all of the pre-audit paperwork completed as BARE instructed. Shortly after the audit, we received our preliminary score and I feel confident that the audit went well overall.

Despite the positive outcome, most of us find audits and inspections daunting, regardless of what organization conducts the review, but IACC audits can be very instructive. When we become overly comfortable, even complacent, about our properties and their fitness as conference centers, we may miss things that customers don’t overlook. In the course of our daily routines, we don’t always recognize that a little extra touch could make all the difference for some customer. Audits provide fresh eyes. They keep us on our toes and give us the opportunity to correct potential issues. In particular, IACC Audits ensure our clients that they can expect the best possible meeting experience at a member conference center.

Next Quality Committee meeting: September 30.

Written by:
Michael Blackley
Banquet/Conference Center Manager
Hilton Washington DC/Rockville Executive Meeting Center

Monday, September 20, 2010

IACC to host 2011 Client Roundtables

Based on the overwhelming success of the discussions held in 2010, IACC will be conducting a second set of International Customer Roundtables. These events will be held from November 2010 through January 2011. Small groups of current conference centers clients and non clients will be coordinated at varies IACC certified locations in the United States and Canada.

These intimate gatherings provide insight into the priorities and preferences of professionals in the meetings industry. Planners are offered questions related to their vendor selection process as well as the benefits and detriments of meeting venues. The roundtable discussions also allow the participants to review the differences in the experience at certified conference center versus a traditional hotel.

Focus groups are an easily implemented method for gathering research. They allow a diverse group of individuals who share a common interest to provide feedback on a range of topics. Often the group dynamic encourages participants to speak more freely, and triggers thoughts that they may not previously have considered voicing. Facilitators also have the advantage of observing non verbal cues, which cannot be gathered in surveys or phone interviews.

For more information on participating in an upcoming IACC International Customer Roundtable, please contact:

Kasey Snyder
Sales Manager for Destination Hotels
New York/New Jersey Area
Main 973.301.9716
175 Park Avenue
Florham Park, NJ 07932

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Package Pricing vs. A la Carte Pricing

Written by Neil Pompan, CMP, Chairman & CEO of Pompan Hospitality Global and IACC-Global President.

Package pricing continues to be mysterious and threatening to may meeting planners. Resistance to package pricing stems from a number of common misperceptions such as that packages contain many things that the planner does not need, or that because of the all inclusiveness of packages, the price must be greater than if the components are purchased separately. Many planners also resist using conference centers because they feel a loss of control over the experience. This last point is ironic because conference centers pride themselves on creating a meeting environment totally dedicated to supporting the outcomes of a meeting.

But of all the reasons planners have for not using conference center, the number one reason is price perception. The fact of the matter is that if a planner were to total all of the elements of a complete meeting package using the a la carte pricing of a traditional hotel and then compare it on a per person basis to a competitive conference center in the same market, the conference center will be less expensive 99% of the time. This calculation is quite east and a free tool exists for planners to use assist them in the analysis. This tool can be found at

Most planners will argue that they do not need all the items in a complete meeting package. Perhaps they would not normally purchase three meals a day, or maybe they will bring their own LCD projector, etc. When a planner uses this tool, they can input only those things they would normally purchase at a hotel for their meeting. By inputting only those items, they can then compare the prices apples-to-apples and make an informed decision as to which venue. If the prices at the conference center are more per person then at the hotel under consideration then it is likely they are not including a great man of the all inclusive items.

In this situation one of two possible decisions can be made. First, the meeting under consideration may not be right for a conference center and should therefore be booked at a hotel. Second, the added value of a conference center may be worth a few extra dollars per person. The added value is all the elements that provide the best possible chance of successfully achieving the outcomes of the meeting. These elements include dedicated meeting space reserved on a 24 hour hold, ergonomic chairs and hard surfaced tables, tackable surfaces and meeting planner tool kits – all things that help promote a distraction free environment. Added value is also achieved thought the gift of time. At a conference center meeting planners do not have to spend time on menu selection and because they have a single point of contact, a single phone call or e-mail can handle all of their requests. This time can then be devoted to the important job of planning the content and taking care of the participants. Conference centers pride themselves on removing the drudgery of meeting planning and servicing the all inclusive product they promote and sell – a total meeting experience.

Pompan Hospitality Global, Inc. is a one-stop hospitality consulting firm that supports the business objectives of developers, owners, asset managers, independent and brand operators and meeting professionals around the world. Specializing in the Total Meeting Experience™, PHG, Inc. draws on the talents of a core group of hospitality and meetings industry leaders to serve the needs and demands of today’s global hospitality market. For additional information about Pompan Hospitality Global, visit the website at or call 610 252 8511.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Few Excel Basics...

Written by James Bland
Group Marketing Manager
The Sundial Group, Highgate House

I’m always wary of sentences that start with “I’m no expert…but”, but then that’s because I rarely use them. However, I’m going to make an exception and share a few pointers on Excel that make my life as a marketing manager easier. When I was studying for my CIM (Chartered Institute of Marketing) qualifications, a few of my classmates, all experienced marketing professionals, recoiled in horror at the sight of a number, fled for coffee when shown a spreadsheet and I’m pretty sure one lady fainted when talked through a simple DCF analysis, so I’m fairly confident that a good number of marketers won’t know their way around Excel. None of the below is any big secret, and Googling most Excel questions will give you plenty of really well-constructed guides, but the ones I list below have helped me out of many a hole in the past!

So, I’m no expert, but…

We’re Better Together

Let’s say you have a mailing list where First Names and Last Names are stored in different columns (A and B) but you really want one column to have people’s full names in. The formula that you type into column C is…

=CONCATENATE(A1,” “,B1) – where A1 represents whatever is in that cell, likewise B1, and whatever is inbetween the speech marks is inserted inbetween. You could put any text or number you want in there, but I wanted a space so that’s what I typed.

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

Maybe though, you want to reverse that procedure, because cell A1 contains “Mr James Bland”, but what you want to do is address a letter “Dear James”. Slightly different process this one – first you have to make sure that the next three cells (B1, C1, D1) are empty, because otherwise you could overwrite something important. Then, highlight Cell A1 and go to “Data”, “Text to Columns”. For this example, you want to choose the “Delimited” option, and then choose “Space” as your delimiter. By doing this, you tell Excel that a space marks where the cell should be split. Then hit finish and the job is done. If you’re doing a big list, be careful with the number of specific words though. “Mr James Edward Bland” will spread into column E1, again potentially overwriting something important. For lists containing names like these, best make yourself plenty of empty columns and then go back over the list using CONCATENATE to re-attach the two bits of someone’s surname.

Don’t Lose Your Head

A word of caution here, Excel saves a Cell’s formula, not necessarily its text content. If you had CONCATENATE-d two bits of a name together and then wanted to delete the old individual columns, doing so will empty your combined column do, as Excel will be referencing empty cells. To get round this, save your file as type “*.csv” (comma separated variable), close the spreadsheet, and re-open the CSV file. The contents of the cell will be ‘banked’ and you can delete at will. A word of warning though, if you have made pretty patterns using bold type or coloured backgrounds, that information is not saved in a *.csv file, so it will have disappeared when you reopen the file.

Say What You Say…

And, of course, a personalised letter is so much more powerful than a generic one. But when I say “personalised”, please don’t fall into the trap of thinking that just putting my first name, or company name, into the middle of a sentence is going to cut it. People are generally savvy enough to see right through that gimmick. Thankfully, using Excel and Word to mail merge, you can customise whole paragraphs of text to fit what you need to say. There’s nothing particularly difficult about this either – all you need to do is put a longer string of text into your spreadsheet in a designated column for “Comments” or “Extras”, and then merge this field into your letter like it were a postcode. You can then add a line or two of customisation really quickly into Excel, and the mail merge process will guarantee it gets attached to the right letter! Pioneering schoolteachers have been using this technique for years when formulating school reports for classes of thirty kids or so. Much better than just noting “Could do better” each time.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Foursquare, Facebook Places, and the Future of Location-Based Social Media

Just last week, Facebook launched a new application called Facebook Places and entered the world of geo-location social media.  This type of social media has been growing in popularity in the past year, mostly due to another brand of this application called Foursquare.  The main idea behind this social medium is that app users can "check-in" at businesses using their cell phones, PDAs, and othe rmobile devices and thereby show to friends and family where they are at any given moment.

As described in this Open Forum article, Foursquare " part social tool, part applications enable users to connect and compete with friends by updating their location (pinpointed via satellite) in real time. Members earn points and unlock badges by 'checking in' at places ranging from restaurants, museums and nightclubs to florists, grocers and gas stations — otherwise known as your business."

Now you may be thinking, "This can't benefit me as I'm at a professional conference center and market to specific clientele.  I don't get foot traffic like stores and restaurants do."

Not the case, in my opinion.  To me, this is a win-win for both conference centers and meeting planners.  Many meeting planners and site-specialists work remotely and are not on-site to greet participants when they arrive at their chosen conference center.  Imagine how easy it would be for that planner to know all of her participants had arrived safely if she just requested that they all check-in using Facebook Places or Foursquare.  On the other side of this, conference centers would receive free publicity on those sites once the meeting participants disclosed their location.  This could incite more business (or at least website traffic for your center) as the participants' contacts on Facebook and Foursquare would see where they were checked in and grow curious about the location.

Before jumping onto this new train of social media, it's necessary to do your homework.  Facebook Places and Foursquare are not the only geo-location social media sites.  Google is a top leader in this technology with Google Places, as is Twitter and Gowalla also feature similar applications.  You need to do your research.  Facebook's websites is a great place to start.  There is a full page dedicated to Facebook Places that explains what this application is and how to use it in full detail.  You can access it by going to the Help Center when you are logged into your account.  You can also visit to see what their application model is like.

Lastly, another blog posted about this trend last week in an article entitled "What Your Business Should Know About Facebook Places," which you can read by clicking here.

Written by Meghan Bollenback
Food & Beverage Manager
R. David Thomas Executive Hotel & Conference Center

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Importance of Meeting Planner Feedback in Today’s Economy

By Joan King

Although booking events continues to be a vital source of revenue for hotels and resorts, meeting planners today have increased bargaining power. So getting those bookings is more challenging—yet it’s only half the battle: since today’s discounted rates increase the cost of customer acquisition, keeping the business is now more critical than ever. As planners lock in attractive rates, exceeding their expectations becomes paramount.
The one common denominator among venues that deliver consistently successful events is having the ability to take the pulse of their customer at any time. Acquiring knowledge about the meeting planner’s experience is an ongoing process that enables critical issues to be identified at any point in the event timeline. This capability enables you to see where revenue is at risk and take action; otherwise, when customers are dissatisfied, few complain and the rest go elsewhere.

Behind the scenes of any great conference event are the savvy venue personnel that plan and host the event, and know how to properly execute from start to finish. Typically that process begins by capturing feedback prior to the event and taking immediate action that will positively impact the client’s perceptions. In fact, much can be learned by getting online feedback before, during and after an event, so that when the next group arrives for the pre-convention meeting, everyone has already stepped up their game.

If an event host does their part and keeps customers happy, that increases the probability that they will book repeat business, in spite of price wars. One way for a hotel or resort to equip their venue for ensured success is finding an advanced online feedback system that streamlines communication, analytically correlates all aspects of service delivery and provides historical data capture for trending and strategic planning—all of which cumulatively enhance relationships with meeting planners.

Bottom-line: Look for a system that can help your organization compete in the meetings business, capture market share, effectively deliver impeccable service and execute service recovery quickly if something isn’t just right. The more advanced systems available today are sophisticated and customizable technologies that are already in production. In addition, having such a system in place enables you to have a repository of valuable competitive intelligence.


Today meeting planners are under pressure to spend dollars wisely and will only patronize hotels or resorts that truly pay attention to their needs and requirements. Today’s more advanced online survey approaches capture continuous feedback and produce actionable information in the form of “hot button” reports—useful information about how venues can improve the service experience, from first contact to event delivery—even in first-time-business situations.

Remember, if you take care of meeting planners, you will be protecting a vital revenue stream that you can’t afford to be without, recovering possible lost revenue and getting an unmatched ROI.

Joan King is Managing Director, Loyalty, for UniFocus. She can be reached at or by phone at 972-512-5169.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Benchmark Hospitality International's Top Ten Beverage Trends for 2010

Chief Sommelier Mary Watson One of Few Woman Wine Experts in US
The Woodlands (Houston), Texas, August 2010 ... Benchmark Hospitality International, a leading US-based hospitality management company, has just released its Top Ten Beverage Trends for 2010. The beverage trends were released in response to requests following the distribution of the company’s popular annual dining trends this past June.
“This is an exciting time for the beverage industry, with lots of positive changes occurring,” said Mary Watson-DeLauder, chief sommelier for Benchmark Hospitality International. “Some of the changes are economically driven, some taste oriented, and still others created out of necessity in response to changing palates and a new generation of consumers.”

To see the trends:

Are Concierges Obsolete?

Now that travelers and conferees have instant access to mobile apps and mobile-compatible web sites packed with information normally dispensed by the capable concierge, is this position going the way of the dinasaur? Not so fast, says "Hotel Interactive:"