REPORT FROM THE U.S.—It's time to shed the image of dark boardrooms and stuffy conference spaces. Hotels are reinventing their meetings spaces in an effort to appeal to a younger, hipper and more tech-savvy crowd.
Today's hotel conference rooms are equipped with updated technology, adjusted lighting based on time of day and "mood" settings. The new features offer innovative options that bring a bit of culture into the traditionally drab meetings space while also focusing more on the work-life balance that busy execs juggle on a daily basis.
During Marriott International’s Global General Manager's Conference last week in Los Angeles, the hotel company unveiled its "Future of Meetings and Work" space, which they anticipate will take the traditional conference arena to the next level and will roll out by the end of this year. Working with Steelcase and IDEO, Marriott Hotels & Resorts intends to add more appeal to its hotel's meeting spaces, giving the next generation of meeting planners something to look forward to.
The bottom line to the future of work, according to Marriott: being mobile.
“By 2013, almost 35% of the global workforce will be mobile. We are designing hotels for a new generation that is used to working how, where and oftentimes whenever they want,” said Paul Cahill, senior VP of brand management for Marriott.
At the conference, MHR, Steelcase and IDEO unveiled 10 different work-labs, all of which can be implemented into hotel meeting and conference room spaces. Among them were Tech Guru stations, which would be placed outside meeting rooms to help execs with any tech needs, from iPads to computers and audio-visual requirements. The new labs are hotel specific. For example, a Marriott in one city might want the tech lab, but not any of the others while a Marriott in Miami might want it all.
The "RED" app (a play on Marriott's traditional "red coat" service) can be used by meeting planners to connect with members of the hotel.
New ergonomic, flexible chairs give way to stretching during meetings so muscles won't become tight and uncomfortable. Rolling chart boards and easels help keep meetings more interactive, and plug-in stations outside of conference rooms keep busy executives connected.
Of the more innovative work-labs was the debut of an app called "RED" (a play on Marriott's traditional "red coat" service) that can be used by meeting planners or execs in the room, which would connect with members of the hotel. For example, if the temperature needed to be adjusted or coffee needed to be refilled, a simple request via a mobile app would send a message from the conference room to the specific area of the hotel with the meeting room request. The hotel’s meetings staff could reply back through the app letting guests know they've received the request, and then offer a time of delivery or service update.
At Mandarin Oriental, rear-screen projections for general sessions are a thing of the past thanks to new built-in technologies most ballrooms now offer, said Tom Ernsting, director of group market sales for Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group. He said drop-down screens, catwalks, concierges and increased levels of Internet access are trending in today's meeting space.
At some of the Mandarin properties, a Conference Concierge, which is already in place, is on the floor at all times ready to assist meeting planners with any last-minute requests. The advent of increased technology also is giving Mandarin Oriental a few new, innovative options, including an onsite "Geek Squad" (similar to Marriott's new Tech Guru site), on-demand delivery of electronic devices and the renovations of the traditional business center, which are now being referred to as business "lounges,” complete with Microsoft surface tables and an iPad “library”; both of these will be rolled out later this year.
To hotels, the meeting space of the future is more about consumer culture and less about traditional schedules and setups.
Trends that buck conventions
At Mandarin Oriental, the hotel group has been working on more creative angles to help build interest in meeting and planning spaces. The newest trend in meetings is taking place outside of the conventional meeting rooms, Ernsting said.
"Clients are willing to get “creative” with meeting spaces," he said. "We are seeing basketball courts converted into (general session) rooms to dinner venues on the beach, patios, foyers, driveways and rooftops.”
Clients are using lounge furniture to create more comfortable, relaxed settings. These intimate meetings draw smaller and more targeted audiences."
At InterContinental Hotels Group, getting people out of the meeting room is just as important as getting them in. As part of the newly-implemented InterContinental Meetings system the hotels offer insights from their "Insider Collection," which provides a range of local experience options for guests to enjoy when they're not in the boardroom, ranging from off-site excursions to community involvement and team building exercises.
A full sensory experience
One of the most unique aspects Mandarin Oriental has brought to the boardroom isn't around technology, but instead on environment.
"To celebrate our Asian Heritage, some of our hotels offer what is called “Meeting Sense,” a sensory approach to meeting programs, which is an enhancement to the meetings based on our Asian heritage," Ernsting said.
Examples include infusing citrus scents into meeting rooms as a way to boost creativity through aromatherapy, and playing melodic sounds of Tibetan Spa chimes, signaling the conclusion of a break.