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Any hotel operator who is serious about meeting and conference offerings has been quick to get on board with smart technology and innovative pricing. Today’s work-friendly environment factors in size, comfortable furnishings, menu offerings, appealing design and plenty of electrical outlets, Internet ports and storage for the wealth of electronic devices and audio-visual equipment that have become essential to today’s meeting spaces.

“Meetings are a big part of our business, especially here because we’re connected to the Calgary Telus Convention Centre,” says Tiffany Richards, director of Sales and Marketing at the Calgary Marriott Downtown Hotel, which recently added 4,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and four meeting rooms to the property.

But, the renovation wasn’t just about adding a few extra rooms. It also provided the impetus to introduce a new web-based tool called Meetings Imagined, an interactive site where potential customers can pick and choose decor, furnishings, configurations and menu preferences. “We met with customers to get their feelings on meetings and events. The response was, it’s generally boring. They want to get away from tables and chairs to have something more engaging,” says Richards.

Customers can click through an “inspiration gallery” to view different options based on the type of event, whether it’s a celebration or a brainstorming session. The requests are then forwarded to the event manager who coordinates furnishings, technology, music, lighting and more. “It’s great to be able to visualize what customers want,” adds Richards. Packages range from $100 to $135 per person. The $100 package, for example, includes a tripod screen, flip chart, continental breakfast, morning coffee break, hot lunch buffet with assorted soft drinks and an afternoon coffee break, complete with homemade cookies.

Additionally, the hotel offers a meeting services app called Red Coat Direct that can be managed via a smartphone or tablet. Customers can use it for everything from ordering coffee to regulating the room temperature simply by logging in via their device. “They can send a text through the app and the notification will go [to the department] right away for action,” Richards says. “Users can link to it three days prior to the event and start communicating with the event manager in real time to send notifications and updates.”

DoubleTree by Hilton West Edmo-nton is one of a handful of SilverBirch properties in Canada serving as a testing ground for the newly minted SilverBirch Conference Centre concept. To date, the response has been promising. In fact, the hotel won a Venue of the Year award at the Meeting Professionals International Greater Edmonton Event Management Awards for its innovative approach.

The West Edmonton location has 35,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting and banquet space in a horseshoe design on the main floor, including a common area that serves as a reception and breakout space when needed. “There are also small chatrooms where guests can make personal calls or have one-on-one conversations,” says Grant McCurdy, GM.
The ambiance is enhanced by ample natural light throughout the venue. “We have windows or skylights in all rooms. Some meetings are very long so natural light helps a lot. We also offer lots of lockup closets and extra bandwidth.”

All services, including audio-visual equipment, a concierge, meeting room rentals and food-and-beverage, are priced at a flat fee of $89 per person (including gratuities, plus tax). “It surprises a lot of people who are thinking there are always additional costs,” says McCurdy. “Those who have experienced it love it because they know what they’re getting into.”

Once word of mouth got around, people were hooked on it, he adds. “It took time to get people to understand what the one-stop shop approach really is and how easy it is to budget around it.”

McCurdy says the SilverBirch Conference Centre is an idea that came along at the right time. “Everyone is downsizing and working with smaller groups in locations across the country rather than larger Canada-wide events. With the economy the way it is, people don’t want to be excessive in their spending. They’re looking at value for their money and are careful about what they spend.”

The SilverBirch Conference Centre is one of only two in Edmonton (the other is at the Radisson Edmonton South) that have piloted the concept, and now it is being slated for test markets in the U.S.

When it comes to smaller meetings, the Opus Hotel in Vancouver’s Yaletown district is primed for business, having recently added a new meeting room called Opus III. While the meeting rooms may be on a smaller scale, (a 30- to 50-person capacity, depending on layout), the hotel offers a unique and intimate experience for its customers. “Opus III evolved when business centres went the way of the dinosaur,” Nicholas Gandossi, GM explains. “So we got our sales and marketing people together to determine the best use of the space. Because it was a technologically advanced space it had a great synergy with the hotel.”

In designing the new meeting space, the intent was to make customers feel they were somewhere special and being attended to, he adds. “We wanted the meeting experience to be one that is remembered for a long time.” The new boardroom-style meeting room can host up to 12 people, but it packs a lot of technology power, including a theatre-style, 70-inch plus flat-screen Smart TV. There’s also a panel to control lighting, connectivity, temperature, music and other features in the room.

The crowning touch is a vibrant design and a window that overlooks a small courtyard to give the impression of more space, along with an award-winning restaurant on the property that also supplies food for banquets. As Gandossi says, “We decided when we designed the new space to go big or go home. So we went big — and our customers love it.”

Written By: Denise Deveau

Volume 27, Number 8

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