Marriott, Absorbing Starwood, Eyes Group Sales

Since closing on its $13 billion acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide in September, Marriott International has methodically gone about the massive integration process. Planners—especially those who were either Marriott or Starwood-loyal customers—have waited with baited breath to see how the deal would affect not only their site selection options, but their flexibility on dates and, most importantly, their negotiating leverage, now that they were dealing with the world’s largest hotel company (5,700 hotels, 1.1 million guest rooms, 110 countries).

In mid-December, the picture started to become clearer, particularly for large group corporate and association meetings that are national in scope and held annually.

The Marriott sales organization already had its successful CRN (Convention & Resort Network) up and running, so it made sense to expand that unit. Sixty-two of Marriott International’s “big box” convention hotels in the Continental U.S., Hawaii, Caribbean and Mexico were already members, according to CRN director Todd Sherstad, with roughly 25 Starwood properties under the Sheraton and Westin brands likely to be added to the roster in the coming weeks and months.

The first of the new Starwood entries (as of Jan.1) will be the 1,371-room Sheraton Centre Toronto. Not only is the hotel the first Starwood, it’s the first CRN in Canada, broadening the network’s geographical reach.

To qualify for inclusion in the network, hotels need to be of a certain size (guest room count, square footage of meeting and event space, including a ballroom of a certain size). The advantage for planners of large conventions is that it allows them to negotiate multi-year agreements, locking in preferred dates and room blocks in their preferred destinations as part of a single negotiation. Many of these types of events rotate East Coast-West Coast on alternating years. The bigger the combined piece of business, the greater the planner’s negotiating clout.

Not surprisingly, given the dynamics of the large conventions market, right now Florida holds the title for the destination with the largest number of CRN hotels with 10. Five Marriott brands are represented, including the Autograph “soft” brand. California, Washington, D.C. and Texas are runners-up with six CRN hotels each.

Once the Starwood contingent is fully in place, Marriott-loyal planners with that East Coast-West Coast requirement will have more choices than ever before (Toronto aside). Seattle, for example, has never had a “big box” CRN option. Sherstad expects that omission to now be corrected.

Data compiled by the CRN suggest that the booking window has widened for large meetings in the past few years. As the group market overall in the U.S. has strengthened along with the economy post-downturn, large annual national conventions (association meetings in particular) that had booked two or three years out (say 2019 and 2020) are now looking as far out as 2021, 2022 and even 2023 in order to access to their first choice locations, dates, room blocks and meeting facilities.

Photo credits: Shutterstock.com, courtesy of Sheraton Centre Toronto

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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