Back on the Chain Gang

By Lain Ehmann

When you plan a meeting, conventional wisdom says to play it safe and opt for a large, well-known venue. After all, how bad can a Marriott, Sheraton or Hyatt be? At the same time it’s natural to wonder if you’re missing out on some great sites – and possibly some great bargains – by not looking beyond the obvious. We spoke with Brian Stevens and asked him weigh in on the topic. Stevens is president of ConferenceDirect, a Los Angeles-based hospitality resource company that plans more than 3,000 meetings a year.

  • Chain doesn’t mean big. Chain hotels come in all shapes and sizes, as do independent properties. “The largest hotel in the world – the MGM Grand – is an independent property,” says Stevens. By the same token, Hilton has an 80-room hotel in downtown Los Angeles.
  • Chain doesn’t mean union. Only 1 percent of Marriott properties are organized, says Stevens, and other chains are moving away from unionization. Whether or not a property is unionized has more to do with the locale than whether it’s part of a chain, he explains.
  • Chain doesn’t mean expensive. Again, prices vary by market rather than by chain or independent status. Any hotel in Manhattan is going to out price the same size and quality property in a less popular city.
  • Know your power.
  • Stevens says most sales teams like to mix things up and try different locales instead of sticking with the same property year after year. If that’s your situation, it can be hard to command any pull when you never deal with the same hotel or caterer twice. You might want to work with an event planner who already has established relationships with a number of different service providers.

  • Know who you are dealing with. When planning meetings, something will always go wrong, says Stevens. When things do go wrong, the strength of your relationship with your contact at the venue can be a defining factor in how well things are resolved. If you don’t have a personal relationship with the property’s staff, “that is a lot riskier at an independent property than if you are involved with a Starwood or Marriott or Hilton,” Stevens says.
  • If you want to go independent, do your research. If you’re considering an unknown venue, there are ways to check out the property. Use ratings from companies such as Conde Nast or Successful Meetings, find other organizations that have used the site or opt for a third party who can make recommendations about a variety of different properties, suggests Stevens.

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