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Atlanta Hotel Competitors Join Forces to Attract Business

By Leon Stafford, The Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

July 22, 2010--Several Atlanta hotels that normally compete for business are now joining forces to attract customers.

In a trend that some call "co-opertition," the hotels are combining rooms, meeting space and restaurants into packages they pitch to meeting planners looking to bring group business to the city.

By offering big blocks of meeting space and rooms, the partners can go after business that books one or two years in advance and compete with convention centers in smaller cities.

"What we realized is we need to fill in the blanks," said Mike Sullivan, marketing director at the Omni at CNN Center, which is part of the Convention Collection at Centennial Olympic Park, or CCCOP.

"It helps us compete against places like Opryland in Nashville or smaller convention cities like Cincinnati," said Pat Trammel, senior director of sales and marketing for the downtown Hyatt Regency.

The strategy is important to Atlanta's $11 billion hospitality industry. Hotel occupancy has rebounded for the first six months of the year after suffering some of the steepest declines on record in 2008 and 2009.

But convention attendance at the Georgia World Congress Center, the metro area's largest meeting space facility, is still struggling and business travelers remain elusive. Citywide business does not look as robust next year, Sullivan said.

The partnerings are both formal and informal. Some hotels pull together under one marketing banner, while others partner under special circumstances, such as when Buckhead hotels market to out-of-town diners and shoppers, said Mit Amin, head of the Buckhead Hotel Council and general manager of the Beverly Hills Inn.

They use destination management companies to send out proposals, Sullivan said. Each hotel sets its own prices and by law cannot share the information with the other or be accused of price fixing.

The Hyatt has paired with the Marriott Marquis -- the city's biggest lodger -- the Hilton Atlanta and the Sheraton Atlanta to form the Atlanta Alliance, a partnership of more than 4,000 rooms and 460,000 square feet of meeting space. The Hyatt today will open a bridge connecting it to the Marriott Marquis. Another bridge connecting the Marquis to the Hilton opened earlier in the year.

"Our inclusion in the partnership extends an additional competitive advantage for us to book meeting planners and groups large enough to use multi-hotels, but not interested in a convention center," said Hilton director of marketing and sales Edd Karlan.

The CCCOP began in 2005 with four hotels, but has since expanded to eight as interest has grown, Sullivan said. The hotels are the downtown Ritz Carlton, the Glenn, Westin Peachtree Plaza, Omni, Embassy Suites, Hilton Garden Inn, W at Allen Plaza and Marriott Atlanta Downtown.

One of their first groups was the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, he said. Over the five years, CCCOP has earned $17 million.

"We've got about $30 million in prospects for future business that we're going after," said Sullivan.

Midtown's Hotel Indigo and the Georgian Terrace began sharing space late last year, Hotel Indigo corporate sales manager Tony Pietro said. The Indigo uses the Georgian Terrace's meeting space while the Georgian Terrace uses the Hotel Indigo for extra rooms if it is over capacity.

"This is business that we wouldn't otherwise have been able to get (without the agreement)," he said.

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