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by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | August 6, 2014

Dave NostrandTwenty-five years ago, close to 30 of Marriott International's largest meeting hotels, in terms of number of guest rooms and meeting space, were collectively marketed under one umbrella in a strategy aimed at pooling resources, sales leads and marketing dollars. Today, the Convention & Resort Network (conventionresortnetwork.com) has grown to 60-plus properties, which collectively represent 6.5 million square feet of meeting space and 70,000 rooms. The CRN has its own dedicated sales team, more than 150 certified meeting professionals within its staff ranks, and has rolled out a number of key initiatives designed specifically for large, complex conventions.

For an in-depth look at the inner workings of Marriott's CRN, and what planners can expect from this organization as it continues to grow its collection and offerings, I spoke with Dave Nostrand, right, vice president of sales, the Americas.

What criteria does a hotel or resort need to meet in order to be included in the CRN?
There are two distinct criteria. The first is physical. They must have  a certain number of guest rooms, ballroom space and total square feet of function space, and host national large group meetings. They must also maintain high levels of guest and meeting-planner satisfaction scores, which we track on a regular basis.

How does the event satisfaction scoring work? Is it like a guest satisfaction survey, but for groups?
Exactly. We send out a report card to meeting planners and ask them to rate the hotel's performance on a number of issues. Properties receive a score for sales, planning, F&B, for the event itself. There even is a score for billing at the end of the event. This gives the planner an opportunity to rate all the assets and functions that make up their event. And it gives us important feedback that all the hotels in the CRN can learn from.

Are there cost benefits to planners for staying within the CRN?
A lot of large associations rotate around the country. When we capture them in our network, we offer them multiyear contracts, which gives them concessions and benefits. One of the big benefits is they don't have to renegotiate their contract every year, which saves them a tremendous amount of time. Also, we share information across the network. We host a general manger hand-off call to share learnings between many key individuals about hosting a specific meeting, along with distributing a post-convention report.

Is the GM hand-off call a new feature of the CRN?
It is something we have really focused on as an organization, and these calls have been a real home run with meeting professionals. For example, if a client were moving from the Philadelphia Marriott to the San Diego Marriott, both general managers would get on the phone with the meeting planners, our event staff, as well as the national sales office, and have a frank discussion about the event. Here's where you did an exceptional job, here's what could have been done a little differently, and this is what needs to be improved. It gives us an opportunity to anticipate their needs and not be in a reactionary mode, because from a hotel's operational standpoint, it's good to know the flow. And it assures the client we are doing everything to keep them satisfied and deliver a successful event.

Marriott Marquis Washington, DCWhat properties can we expect to see be added to the network in the next few years?
We have some exciting new properties coming on board. We just opened the Marriott Marquis Washington, DC, on May 1. In addition, we have three new properties, each with more than 1,000 rooms, opening in the next two to three years: The JW Marriott Austin, which is scheduled to open Feb. 20, 2015; the Marriott Houston Marquis, opening late 2016; and the Marriott Marquis Chicago, which will be opening in early 2017.