The first-ever Sheraton Hotels General Manager Summit took place earlier this year at the Sheraton Seattle Hotel, bringing together over 400 GMs from around the world. Sheraton-branded properties represent over 40% of Starwood’s 1,200-hotel portfolio, and over half of its meeting space.
This month at Starwood Hotels’ annual Rendezvous buyer/supplier conference in Boston, we sat down with Hoyt Harper, SVP, global brand leader for Sheraton Hotels & Resorts, to discuss the planning and logistics behind the GM conference. We were curious how a brand with such a large focus on meetings and events went about designing such a high-profile event of its own.
As it turns out, the summit illustrated the potential to personalize large meetings for each attendee based on pre-meeting surveys and educational programs, followed by smart onsite event tech and meeting design.
“It was eye-opening for me, because we’ve always talked about helping our customers have more successful meetings, but being the meeting planner and content developer put things in a new perspective,” says Harper.
Six months before the event, Sheraton created 11 online training modules that each GM was required to finish. Everything was tracked, and after the program ended, Sheraton was able to empirically measure where each GM needed more educational support.
Based on their test results, GMs were then scheduled to attend sessions at the GM Summit that focused on their weakest areas, ranging from crisis management public relations to group sales.
Sheraton also customized the event experience during the online registration process. With 82% of the North American hotels operating as franchises, and so many new hotels opening in Asia and elsewhere, it was important that the GMs were able to get to know each other as soon as possible. So all of them were asked to submit photos, general personal information, and their specific areas of interest in hospitality via Microsoft’s Yammer platform.
“We asked profile and survey questions, and then we consolidated all that data that we provided in advance of our meeting, so they could be networking and talking about the things we wanted to get out of our meeting, and the key areas they wanted to address,” says Harper. “So we adapted our meeting content based on feedback.”
Based on that data, Sheraton organized some of the breakout sessions by bringing together GMs with similar likenesses, while others were based on complete contrasts. That way, everyone could discuss many different shared and differing points of view on topical industry themes.
Continuing with the event personalization, every attendee curated their own arrival experience, choosing online things like what specific amenity they wanted in the room, still or sparkling water, pillow preferences, special requirements due to allergies and dietary needs, etc.
“We were also able to pre-key our attendees based on their arrival times,” explains Harper. “We had people sign up for the spa, sightseeing and all of their events in advance, so the long and short of it was, the whole meeting could be personalized. And the beauty of that was, we let our hotel CEOs learn what we wanted to deliver to all future meeting attendees.”
The GM Summit was also paperless so everyone was required to be proficient in navigating the event app. Toward that end, every GM was presented with a new Lenovo 9-inch tablet, and Sheraton offered a series of one-hour, pre-session training classes for anyone unsure about how to use the tablet. The tablet was loaded with corporate news, product developments, financial analytics and new staff training, which the GMs could easily take home with them to share with their senior staff members.
Lastly, because all of the communication and knowledge sharing during the event was handled by the app, and only the app, Sheraton was able to collect all of that data to better understand how their people were using the platform and what info they were accessing most.