Hotel Groups: Expansion plans

Many leading hotel groups are focusing on the events market and competing with dedicated venues. Claire Bond examines their impact on the sector.

STARWOOD HOTELS AND RESORTS

The Starwood group boasts more than 700 hotels within its worldwide portfolio, including brands such as Westin Hotels and Resorts and Sheraton. Like many hotel groups, the majority of Starwood's properties focus on conference and meetings business.

"Across the nine UK and Ireland properties around 10% of bookings are made up of events. It tends to be focused on The Park Lane Hotel, London and the Sheraton Grand in Edinburgh because both offer large ballrooms that lend themselves to gala dinners, launches and exhibitions," says Paul James, Starwood regional director sales and marketing, north west Europe.

One example of such an event was the group's Luxury Collection Showcase, held in the Park Lane Hotel last month. The Art Deco ballroom hosted a selection of Starwood's international hotels, showcasing its Luxury Collection portfolio to more than 250 guests, including travel agents, tour operators and press.

"The Park Lane is probably the most flexible function space we have in terms of being in central London, being self-contained and of a unique Art Deco style," says Dirk von Kries, Starwood events manager, central London hotels.

The venue has also hosted the Brit Award nominations alongside other award dinners, charity gala receptions and launches. Guy Ritchie also used the ballroom for two days last year when shooting his forthcoming film Revolver.

The group remains committed to events business, continually seeking opportunities to offer packages. "Starwood Hotels & Resorts has a real emphasis on the events sector as part of our MICE business," says James. "Along with meetings, conferences and incentives business, events is a key area. However, for the majority of our hotels meetings and conference business has more impact."

The Sheraton Grand in Edinburgh has just refurbished its 500-capacity ballroom. The venue can accommodate year-round press launches and conferences, particularly during the Edinburgh Festival. The venue also provides adequate space for car launches, as do the Sheraton Skyline Hotel, Heathrow and Sheraton Heathrow hotel.

Starwood's Sheraton Heathrow property also has a purpose-built 985sqm conference centre available for events. The space has proved hugely successful in the Heathrow/ M4 corridor area.

PARK PLAZA HOTELS

Park Plaza Hotels is part of the larger Carlson Hotels Worldwide, which offers nearly 900 hotel and resort operations in 68 countries.

"As the majority of our hotels are geared towards the business and leisure market, we do invest a lot of time and money in promoting our meetings and events facilities," says a Park Plaza spokesperson.

The Park Plaza group is currently undergoing an extensive period of growth.

The Park Plaza Cardiff opened in February following the launch of the Belfast franchise late last year and a new Berlin hotel will add to the portfolio in spring next year.

Last month also saw the opening of the group's flagship hotel, the £140m Riverbank Park Plaza in London, which will host the Event Awards 2005.

The new development is a four-star deluxe hotel, with five areas offering extensive event space. A large ballroom, able to host 900 guests at a reception, accompanies the Plaza Suite - which accommodates 500 for a reception - and smaller Park Suites on the hotel's mezzanine level. The hotel also offers a unique events room on the first floor called the Thames Room, which due to its location on the banks of the river provides an ideal setting for lavish events and stylish receptions and parties.

The Thames Room has floor-to-ceiling panoramic views across the river and of some of London's most impressive landmarks, including the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament. The room offers space for 450 delegates.

"We work hard to ensure Park Plaza Hotels Europe offers guests a great deal more than our competitors and the Riverbank Park Plaza, with its amazing riverside setting and outstanding facilities, will do just that," says Park Plaza Hotels Europe president Boris Ivesha.

The Riverbank Park Plaza is part of a larger development that includes a five-star all-suite hotel, Plaza on the River - Club and Residence, which is due to open later this month.

MACDONALD HOTELS AND RESORTS

The Macdonald group is the UK's eighth-largest hotel and leisure group, offering a large range of properties. Although the group boasts leading flagships able to drive big numbers and accommodate large events and conferences, Macdonald Hotels also prides itself on catering for the small and unique products that allow for more specialised events. The Macdonald Pittodrie House is one venue that excels at this.

Pittodrie is set in 2,400 acres of estate at the foot of the Bennachie hill range, but is located only 20 minutes from Aberdeen. The hotel offers a wide range of activities including quad biking, grass karting, off-road driving and all-terrain hovercrafts.

Around a third of Pittodrie's business turnover is from conferences and events and the site is committed to expanding this sector, as is the rest of the group.

"Meetings, conferences and events currently comprise 45% of business across the group," says Macdonald Group sales and marketing director Manju Goel. "Our plan is to continue expanding this to 50-55%. We have a portfolio of 60 hotels all in their own grounds, so we can tailor-make requirements due to the flexibility of the surrounding grounds."

Macdonald's Aviemore Highland Resort is another of the group's versatile spaces. The new £5.2m Aviemore Highland Conference Centre is one of the largest conference venues in Scotland.

The new centre comprises a 650-seat tiered auditorium, a 1,000 sqm exhibition hall, eight break-out rooms, food court, boardroom and the exclusive Peregrine Suite, which incorporates a ballroom that can seat up to 500.

This year will see the development of a covered shopping mall, tennis courts and a championship golf course. Last month also marked the opening of the Macdonald Hotel's Aviemore Academy, the first dedicated training facility for the hospitality and catering industry in the UK, which will offer accredited courses in a 'live' training environment.

INTERCONTINENTAL HOTELS AND RESORTS

The InterContinental group has venues worldwide with more than 3,500 hotels currently in its portfolio. The InterContinental brand includes the Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn and Candlewood Suites, with properties spanning 100 countries.

"All InterContinental Hotels and Resorts properties have superb facilities for conferences, events and meetings," says an InterContinental spokesperson.

"Properties are located in the heart of the cities, convenient to business districts and entertainment areas, offering conference and incentive planners the ultimate in luxurious accommodation, exceptional facilities and international service."

Although there is no flagship property for the events side of the business, a number of the group's hotels have expanded their offering and have proved themselves to be strong contenders as event venues.

The InterContinental Le Grand Hotel Paris - Opera Salon offers an impressive 2,260sqm of event space, which is able to host an array of events. Following 18 months of renovation, the space can cater for highly technical conferences through to sophisticated special events and awards dinners, with the conference and banqueting facilities spread across three floors.

The new dedicated conference centre at the hotel has been introduced to ensure a higher level of service and commitment for event organisers.

It also offers both a premium and classic package for event bookings.

Another hotel within the group to expand its event facilities is the InterContinental Malta. With direct access from the hotel, the new Eden Arena has been transformed to hold up to 900 for a gala dinner. Despite having been open for just two years the InterContinental Malta has already established itself as a leading international conference venue in that country, with one of the largest indoor spaces in the region. It offers more than 2,400sqm of uninterrupted floor space and a high, arched ceiling, making it the perfect setting for tailor-made, specialised events.

The Eden Arena complements the hotel's 21 meeting rooms, comprising 2,000sqm of meeting, banqueting and exhibition space. As well as claiming to be the largest luxury property in Malta, this additional space means the hotel has become one of the largest available options for international conferences, meetings and exhibitions.

In a similar vein, the InterContinental Carlton Cannes has expanded its facilities with the opening of the Zephyr Centre, one of the largest hotel-based centres on the Cote d'Azur. The venue can cater for all kinds of events, and the new centre is able to hold up to 1,400 people for a cocktail event.


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