Business-oriented luxury resorts tempt executives to squeeze a little fun into trips
Pizazz. Spending on business travel included $33.6 billion on major conventions and $41.8 billion on association meetings in 2005, according to Meetings & Conventions magazine. Having your meeting at an easily accessible but upscale resort makes busy managers more likely to attend.
"You should want to go to a meeting based on content alone," says Mantill Williams, national director of public affairs at AAA. Yet with increasing demands on workers' attention, "every convention needs a certain edge," he says. Lavish digs also foster networking, and that creates better meetings, says Warren Breaux, vice president of sales and marketing at Gaylord Hotels.
Gaylord is upping the ante on otherwise ho-hum convention centers by injecting decadence and theater into its resorts. Its 1,511-room Dallas hotel has replicas of a Guadalupe River waterfall, a nine-story oil derrick, and even a canyon.
The company's latest project, the National, near Washington, D.C., won't just be the largest East Coast hotel convention center; it will also include enough flair to entice attendees to bring family and stay longer. Scheduled to open in 2008, the 2,000-room hotel will connect to 470,000 square feet of meeting and exhibition space, all being built in a $4 billion project that is transforming a raw stretch of land along the Potomac River into a new city with apartments, hotels, restaurants, and even its own fire and police departments.
Two piers will jut out into the water for water taxis, river cruises, and boat shows. The central artery, American Way, is being modeled after Barcelona's Las Ramblas. The vibrancy of the planned minicity will give business visitors more places to network outside of meetings and a reason to stay the weekend, says Breaux.
The National will occupy 41.7 acres of the 300-acre project. Construction is just getting underway, but convention planners have been lapping up the rooms, which will cost an average of $275 a night. Gaylord has already booked 800,000 room nights at the $800 million hotel.
A fountain that spikes 90 feet into the air and changes colors for water shows will mark the National's entrance. Inside, dark wood will mingle with wood and stone columns, dark blue accents, and pictures of tall ships, creating a clubby, D.C.-meets-boathouse feel. A red carpet will lead to the airy 1.25-acre atrium, replete with champagne and martini carts. Two private elevators will whisk guests to the top-floor Pose nightclub, with its floor-to-ceiling, 18-foot windows and optical walls that can change to accommodate company logos. Every restaurant will have its own executive chef, and the resort will employ a full-time fromager.
With 85 percent of its visitors projected to be business and convention travelers, Gaylord is making sure the resort satisfies a businessperson's needs. Inside guestrooms, safes are large enough to not only store laptops but charge them as well. The planned convention center has a separate entrance to handle busloads of attendees. The center's third level will house 25,000 square feet of breakout space. What is to be the area's largest hotel ballroom will have a full stage and leads to an outdoor balcony overlooking the Potomac.