News for the Hospitality Executive
|By David Wethe, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Feb. 22, 2004 - Gaylord is hoping to do for Grapevine what J.R. Ewing did for Dallas -- put it on the national map.
Instead of leaning on the nationally known "Big D" brand to lasso conventions for its new Texas resort, Gaylord has opted for a different, and some say riskier, approach, playing up the Grapevine location.
Bob McPherrin, the hotel's vice president of sales and marketing, said the company believes that meeting planners consider Grapevine a fresher name than Dallas. The Dallas brand name, he said, appears to have lost its luster.
Pitching the Gaylord Texan as a Grapevine attraction also helps establish the hotel as a quiet, secluded resort rather than a hotel wedged between large, downtown buildings in the bustling city of Dallas, he said.
"With Lake Grapevine being as beautiful a setting as it is, it made more sense to affiliate ourselves with Grapevine," McPherrin said.
"I think Dallas has always been one of the top convention spots in the U.S., but what we've found out in the last three or four years is that so many of the meeting planners don't know Grapevine, and we wanted to make it our business to introduce them to it."
Gaylord isn't alone in thinking that Dallas has lost some of its luster.
Over the past decade, Dallas lost five of the country's largest conventions and fell from sixth to seventh in the national rankings for large convention destinations, according to Tradeshow Week, an industry publication. Meanwhile, Orlando, Fla., passed Dallas, going from 11th to third in the rankings, which count the number of top 200 trade shows hosted in each city.
Even the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau agrees that the city needs an updated image. The bureau recently hired an advertising firm to help it craft a new identity.
But Gaylord's decision to identify with Grapevine also presents a double challenge: popularizing a new hotel whose name doesn't exactly trip off the tongue -- the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center on Lake Grapevine -- and popularizing a city that many people have never heard of.
"I think if we just said to the general public that our meeting is in Grapevine, they wouldn't have the foggiest idea where that is," said Ed Weggeland, president of the Electrostatic Discharge Association. "I would have a better understanding geographically if it said the Dallas-Fort Worth area."
Gaylord sold the association, which is based in Rome, N.Y., on the new hotel, despite some geographic confusion. The association will have its 2004 convention in Grapevine, bringing 1,000 people to the city. But the association's Web site identifies the hotel as the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine (Dallas).
Phillip Jones, president and chief executive of the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, understands Gaylord's desire to create a unique identity in the Metroplex. But outsiders to the area don't distinguish one city from another.
"It'll be up to them to determine if that was an appropriate use of their dollars," Jones said of Gaylord's marketing team. "I think it's going to be very difficult to break through the minds of visitors, but that's a decision they made, and I wish them luck."
Although Gaylord considers Dallas a second fiddle to Grapevine, that still puts Dallas one fiddle higher than Fort Worth.
Dallas is better-known nationally than Fort Worth, McPherrin said, an assessment that some industry sources agree with. Fort Worth is "solidly a second-tier city" behind at least 20 other U.S. cities for trade show convention bookings, said Michael Hughes, associate publisher of Tradeshow Week.
Gaylord also hedges its marketing bet somewhat, identifying the hotel with Grapevine but producing brochures that feature a Metroplex map highlighting the 160-year-old community's proximity to other cities, airports and stadiums that might be better-known.
While much of the general public may still be in the dark about Grapevine and its whereabouts, Gaylord officials said they are confident that they've done a good job of getting the word out to the people who matter -- the meeting planners who book conventions.
And they offer these figures as proof: Seventy-six percent of the 118 large groups that have booked meetings at the Grapevine hotel have not met in the Metroplex for at least the past three years, the company announced recently. In other words, the hotel is succeeding at bringing in new national business.
In the past four years, the hotel has flown in about 150 meeting planners -- at an average cost of $1,500 per person -- to wine and dine these decision makers.
The effort to impress the meeting planners starts at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.
They are picked up at the airport in a Hummer limousine. They tour the Circle R Ranch in nearby Flower Mound on horseback, Lake Grapevine in a sailboat and Grapevine on the back of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
"You see things a little differently riding on the back of a Harley than you do riding around town in a car," said Joe Spaccarelli, director of corporate meetings and events for Symbol Technologies of Holtsville, N.Y. "Every step of the way was methodically planned out. ... You got to see, feel and experience what gives Grapevine its personality."
To really drive home the resort theme, McPherrin and a team of executives from Gaylord's national headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., got together about six months ago and rebranded their hotel -- for the third time.
Originally called Grapevine Opryland when the project was first announced, the hotel later changed its name to Gaylord Opryland Texas Resort & Convention Center.
But company officials found that people confused that name with the company's other hotel, the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center Nashville.
"They were telling us, 'Listen, if I want the Opryland brand, I'm going to go to Opryland in Nashville,' " said McPherrin, who estimates his Grapevine hotel lost about $23 million in group business because of the previous name.
So Gaylord dropped the reference to Opryland and tacked on Lake Grapevine at the end of the hotel's name.
One constant remained throughout the latest name change -- the Gaylord brand, which can be more important to meeting planners than the name of the city.
"If they're happy with the brand [of the hotel], they're always looking for that brand wherever they're having their meeting," said Jim Grillo, a Chicago-based meeting planner.
Despite the strong acceptance of the Gaylord name, however, Rodney Gutierrez, the meeting planner for Orlando, Fla.-based Tupperware Corp., said it still could be a bit risky for Gaylord to initially play up Grapevine over Dallas as a destination brand.
"The only reason why I know about Grapevine is because I've seen it mentioned in advertising material for the Gaylord Palms here in Florida," Gutierrez said. "From a meeting planner's perspective, I say, 'Well, you can only stay in a hotel for so long. What else is there to do in the area?' " Like a good Metroplex teammate, McPherrin said his staff is willing to help his guests find their way to other local tourist attractions such as The Ballpark in Arlington, American Airlines Center in Dallas and Fort Worth's Cultural District.
Similarly, the Grapevine Convention & Visitors Bureau likes to use Fort Worth and Dallas for secondary sources of visitor entertainment, said Paul McCallum, the bureau's executive director.
McPherrin said he's committed to working with Dallas, Fort Worth and the rest of the Metroplex to snag more meetings. He just wants Grapevine to lead the charge.
"The hard part is really over," he said. "We'll just keep plugging along as we have been for the past four years."
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(c) 2004, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.