Offer Personal Service Not Just A Deal 2009: United States8212the

Offer Personal Service Not Just A Deal

United States&8212The now infamous "AIG effect"&8212the public outrage over corporate travel/leisure spending after U.S.

insurer AIG last fall spent US$443,000 at St. Regis Resort Monarch Beach, California, just days after accepting US$85 billion in federal bailout funds&8212has resulted in the loss of US$1 billion worth of corporate meetings or incentive trips in January and February alone, according to the U.S. Travel Association. The luxury and resort sectors have suffered tremendously, with Las Vegas among the meetings markets hardest hit: Companies were canceling Las Vegas meetings at a rate of nearly four per day in the first quarter (with convention attendance down nearly 35% in February from the same month one year ago), and the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino itself has lost nearly US$131 million worth of business events to cancellation already this year, according to statements from Chuck Bowling, executive vice president. Bill Marriott, chairman and CEO of Marriott International, in a recent television interview said his company has lost millions in meetings business thanks to AIG political rhetoric. So what are hoteliers doing to combat the AIG effect and drive meetings business in a down economy The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. is even offering to donate 10% of meeting room revenue to charity for conferences held at its properties. "It helps to overcome the concern about holding a meeting in a luxury hotel during economic hard times and matches with many companies' growing emphasis on corporate social responsibility," says spokeswoman Vivian Deuschl. But some say that these catch-all strategies are dumbing down what the hospitality industry does best&8212providing personalized service.

"The deals and the 20%-off master account stuff, it's blurring to the customer. I think we are dumbing down our industry by throwing out these blanket... I'll call them 'crazy' offers," says Mike Mason, senior vice president of sales, Gaylord Hotels. "What we can do as a smaller sales organization is work around those, work the relationship, and find out what is important to the customer. If there are 100 steps in the sales process, we'll cover all of them. These offers are attempting to cut that short."


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