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by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | January 13, 2014

Marriott International is no slouch when it comes to market research. Two years ago the global company's top executives took note of the growing popularity of Pinterest -- the online pinboard driven entirely by visuals -- and decided it was time to harness and showcase the creative inspirations of their own internal event teams.  Late last week the company launched MeetingsImagined (www.meetingsimagined.com), which features hundreds of inspirational images from actual group events, along with tips from experts on everything from lighting trends to the science behind color concepts and music. It is, said Marriott, an innovation born out of data collected from the 40,000 meetings hosted at its hotels annually.

"Customers were coming in with pages torn out of magazines, photos of their past events and images they had downloaded from Pinterest," said Jenny  Hsieh, vice president, insight, strategy and innovation, for Marriott International, who sat down to a one-on-one chat with The Hotel Insider. "They had all these ideas but didn't know how to executive them. We realized it was a huge opportunity for us to highlight what our teams can deliver."

Marriott is on the right track. According to a study released in December 2013 by "fact tank" Washington, D.C.-based Pew Research Center, Pinterest's popularity has grown more than Twitter and LinkedIn combined over the last year. In fact, the number of online adults using Pinterest grew by 6 percent -- more than Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. MeetingsImagined allows anyone planning a meeting or event to create an account and collect the visual inspirations they see. And, to keep content fresh, the site will be updated multiple times per week.

After creating an account, planners can then collaborate with participating hotels to design custom experiences and also view each hotel's signature experience. In addition, they will have the ability to tailor details like food and beverage, meetings breaks, technology requirements and room setup, all based on the inspirations they discover on the site.

"Proof of concept is the hardest part of the planning phase. Planners want to know their ideas can be an actual, realized experience. So we have created a community for them to view their peer's ideas and experiences," said Hsieh. "None of our competitors is changing the conversation to be about the purpose of the meeting. They are still talking dates, rates and space. Well, we are laying the  focus on the next generation. How they plan and what inspires them."

Five Marriott hotels within the U.S. currently are testing MeetingsImagined: Chicago Marriott O'Hare, Tysons Corner (Va.) Marriott, Gaithersburg (Md.) Marriott Washingtonian Center, Orlando World Center Marriott and the Atlanta Marriott Marquis. It is also available at a few European properties, and Marriott said it expects to expand the online platform to more hotels this year.