Hotel Programs Adding Local Color

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After decades of stressing consistency and conformity in service, amenities and guest room design as they expanded their respective brands, hotel companies in recent years have done an about face. Travelers—meeting attendees included—no longer want the assurance of knowing that their experience in a Marriott, Hilton or other major brand hotel in Dallas will mirror their experience  at that brand’s hotel in St. Louis, Kansas City, St. Paul or Salt Lake City.

Travelers having grown more sophisticated, hotels’ emphasis in recent years has shifted to individuality and authenticity wherever possible. And what better way to communicate the new mindset than to up the quotient of local color and flavor?

Meeting planners are certainly on board, their challenge being to choose sites that spark the interest and elicit the curiosity of their increasingly well-traveled attendees.

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Banana bread, a delicious cultural staple at The Mayflower.

Case in point, The Mayflower Hotel, Autograph Collection in the nation’s capital with just shy of 40,000 sq. ft. of meeting and event space. Dating to 1925, the 581-room hotel, which is part of Marriott International’s Autograph Collection, has an abundance of distinctive period detail, so on those grounds alone, it’s hardly cookie-cutter. But management hasn’t stopped there.

With Washington, D.C. being essentially southern in character and charm, it turns out banana bread of all things has had a long history in the city, local cooks not wanting to discard overripe bananas, which were expensive back in the 1920s.

Accordingly, Mayflower chefs perfected their own high-end recipe in the early-1960s and today it’s a signature item. The kitchen turns out 10,000 loaves a year, using 20,000 bananas. Banana bread is featured in the hotel’s restaurants and room service. Planners include it (with fruit or crème fraiche) on banquet menus, not to mention straight up on breakfast buffets, refreshment breaks, and in arrival gift bags as well as an in-room turndown amenity. Time allowing, banana bread baking classes can also be arranged.

At Hilton Worldwide, one focus has been on sustainability, ensuring that locally sourced food is available at hotel restaurants, group meal functions and on banquet menus. As part of a program called “Local Scene,” each hotel maintains a list of popular neighborhood restaurants and nightlife destinations. Planners can obtain the list from the catering manager when selecting venues for off-site dinners. Planners can also circulate the list to attendees, should the agenda allow for a “free night,” where people are free to make their own dining arrangements.

How do the hotels know which local venues to include on the list? There used to be the concierge, then there was the Zagat Guide. Today there’s Uber. Yup, the hotels consult local Uber rider data in choosing the most popular.

Beyond the culinary, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts is an example of a brand that takes “local” literally as in “local walking tour.” Last month, in fact, it introduced a private guided walking tour of the Old Town neighborhood of Prague.

The 157-room Four Seasons Prague, which is an adaptive reuse of three former palaces, is situated prominently in Old Town, steps from the landmark Charles Bridge. The tour coincidentally celebrates the 700th birthday this year of Emperor Charles IV for whom the bridge is named.

Planners should note that the tour itinerary can be customized to suit attendees’ special interests.

Photo credits: Old Town Prague, Shutterstock.com; Banana bread courtesy of The Mayflower Hotel.

 

Bruce Serlen

Bruce Serlen

Bruce Serlen is a veteran travel writer, based in New Jersey, who has written extensively on meetings management and hotel operations. Most recently, he was executive editor at Hotel Business.

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