Special Report on Conferences and Exhibitions: Hotels parcel up tempting package deals: Tailor-made meeting facilities are replacing drab banqueting rooms, says Lynne Curry

THE EXACT dimensions of the Yerba Buena ballroom in the San Francisco Marriott Hotel are, to the nearest inch, 281ft by 147ft 6in. Nob Hill, Russian Hill, Potrero Hill and Telegraph Hill, the small rooms along one side, measure 22ft by 32ft.

This esoteric information is unlikely to bring forth a welter of advance bookings from those who prefer to avail themselves of the 'dreamville beauty, thrilling entertainment and night life' of the city. But it may tip the balance in the highly competitive field of conference business.

Large hotels all over the world see the business as a lucrative way forward. Monied leisure travellers may be less relied upon to descend on the lobby, Orient Express-style, with an arm-breaking collection of leather luggage, but people are still meeting other people to talk business with comforting regularity.

Hilton International, with 160 hotels in almost 50 countries, has just launched Hilton Meeting 2000, which it calls 'the first-ever global, customer designed meetings product'. Hilton spoke to 2,000 conference planners and visited 700 different venues to come up with a package tailored to the 69 per cent of guests who stay in its hotels on business. Unsurprisingly, they wanted rooms which were not required later that day for a 21st birthday disco, staff that did not clatter in and out with megaphonic crockery, and a chair that did not numb the nether regions after two hours.

A small but significant arrival is the Hilton 'eight-hour chair'. This month the Duke of Edinburgh sat in a Hilton chair as he opened the Glasgow Hilton and told the chairman and chief executive, Michael Hirst, that he could see no difficulty in staying there for 12 hours. The hotel chain had it ergonomically designed to help it profit from a market growing by about 30 per cent a year and it now forms almost a third of Hilton International's business.

'This is a vital growth market for the future of the hotel business,' said Mr Hirst. 'Hotel companies which have set out to understand what the conference and meeting organiser wants and have responded with the provision of tailor-made facilities are doing well. Where the hotel is still offering drab banquet rooms, it's perhaps not doing so well.'

Business guests wanted professional and specially trained staff, dedicated and purpose-built meeting rooms with modern equipment, interesting and varied food served when they wanted it, and support services such as fax, photocopying, typing, translation and courier services. They did not want to wait behind tourists querying the mini-bar charges, so are now provided with express check- ins in business and meeting service centres.

Marathon lunches could still be served, but a special menu was devised to provide sustenance guaranteed not to consign the afternoon to post-prandial torpor. Major hotel chains provide their own packages for the conference trade. Marriott hotels will let rooms for eight hours from pounds 26 for the Aberdeen Marriott to pounds 48 for its sister hotel in London. Prices include the hire of a meeting room, conference stationery and sweets, morning coffee, afternoon tea and lunch. As an incentive to bring along spouses, single rooms cost considerably more per person than doubles for the 24- hour package, which adds breakfast, dinner and accommodation. The Marble Arch Marriott charges pounds 160 for a single and pounds 130 per person for a double.

Annie Brooks, Marriott's London-based director of sales and marketing for Western Europe, said hotels in exotic locations made a stronger bid for the spouse vote. Shopping expeditions in New York and fashion shows in Barbados were clearly designed to attract those who did not have to concentrate on the business in hand.

In 10 years with Marriott she has seen the trade change and develop. Hilton's research has found that 70 per cent of all conferences are for fewer than 50 people - Ms Brooks's observations are that more gatherings are not only small but secret, and prefer not to hold their discussions in a ballroom.

Business is done quickly and without distraction and hotels have to adapt to working breakfasts or lunches. 'Whereas lunches were long, now they tend to be the opposite,' said Ms Brooks. 'Companies are being more selective about how often they meet and how much they spend; they also utilise the time by having a shorter meeting and, say, breakfast on a particular subject matter.'

Organisers of larger conferences tend to choose the venue first and the hotels second. Alan Greening, executive secretary of the British Technical Council of the Motor and Petroleum Industries, suspected that some of the 500 delegates at the fourth international symposium on the performance evaluation of automotive fuels and lubricants might have preferred to go to the seaside. But he considered requirements - two large halls, a galaxy of smaller rooms for the presentation of 70 papers, hotels - and concluded that Birmingham's International Conference Centre was the best venue. Its package includes in-house catering and close links with the Birmingham Visitor and Conference Bureau, which is willing to shoulder - free - many of the organisational chores. 'There is a basic mechanism there already. It's still a nightmare to organise, but this makes it not quite as bad.'

(Photograph omitted)

News
people
News
people And here is why...
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsWelsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
News
Destructive discourse: Jewish boys look at anti-Semitic graffiti sprayed on to the walls of the synagogue in March 2006, near Tel Aviv
peopleAt the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Associate Recrutiment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Time to stop running: At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity

Time to stop running

At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence