By Allison Handy

How do you go about finding innovative ways to create the unique environments and memorable experiences that today’s meeting attendees are seeking? How do you reposition, reconfigure, and reinvent a meeting or event space to create something new and different?

If your property already benefits from a distinctive meeting space, how do you leverage that space to make the most of a great opportunity and elevate your facilities to the point where they become a popular and profitable resource and a sought-after destination for businesses and organizations?

Understanding both the general best practices and the specific strategies that hotel owners and operators are already using to answer those questions-and to make their meeting spaces exciting, appealing and engaging in the process-should be a priority for hoteliers everywhere.

Use the Space You Have

Seems simple, right? But it is surprising how often potentially captivating or unique spaces are ignored or underutilized. For example, the Hyatt House in Downtown Seattle had a rooftop patio that was not being used for formal meetings before Prism started managing the hotel. Identifying operational processes for using the space for networking and receptions was a relatively straightforward process that has since yielded remarkable dividends. The response from clients has been overwhelming, and the rooftop patio quickly became a popular and profitable resource for the property.

Our own culture of sales is predicated on the mandate that we don’t do normal and strive to never be boring, and those same principles should apply to your meeting space priorities. Be creative and broaden your perspective to consider using spaces that have never been used for meetings and receptions before, or by setting your meeting space in a new and innovative way. Perhaps you could utilize your kitchen or banquet facilities as part of a culinary activation such as a demonstration or competition.

Think about the boring U-shape meeting set up that seems to permeate every board meeting. Why not set sofas or other soft seating in a u-shape instead, allowing attendees to feel relaxed, removing the table that separates the group from each other, breaking down physical and non-physical communication barriers. While the logistics are, for obvious reasons, trickier in more public and operationally critical spaces in the hotel, the payoff can be well worth the logistical effort.

Think Outside the Box-Literally

The great outdoors can offer up some truly great options for meetings and conferences. Outdoor spaces are particularly well-suited for receptions, social engagements and other conference events where attendees can relax, network, socialize with peers and enjoy spending time in an environment that is light years away from the stuffy sterility of a stereotypical conference space. From back lawns, and nature areas to pool decks and patios, great outdoor spaces can go a long way toward elevating your meeting facilities and helping your conference and event spaces stand out from the competition.

The Hyatt Regency LAX in Los Angeles has two giant event lawns, providing the hotel with the rare and distinguishing commodity of expansive outdoor space that is almost nonexistent in airport markets. Our soon to open Embassy Suites in Tucson has an actual orange grove that has become a huge hit for receptions with meeting and event planners and a particularly popular selling point for weddings.

The NYLO Providence Warwick Hotel, Tapestry Collection by Hilton in Warwick, Rhode Island takes advantage of its riverfront setting with a grand outdoor deck that extends all the way to the water and is animated by strings of sparkling patio lights. Prism’s other NYLO, Tapestry Collection by Hilton properties in Plano and Las Colinas, Texas use creatively configured outdoor bars, firepits and modular poolside decking to create appealing outdoor spaces. It is important to recognize that making an outdoor space feel elevated and more appealing for professional gatherings doesn’t always require a wholesale makeover or significant investment.

Sometimes something as simple as a new pergola or some well-chosen landscaping or lighting can help spruce up a patio or lawn space. And creative and compelling outdoor spaces are by no means limited to suburban or rural properties. Many urban hotels have rooftops, patios, balconies, or access to park space or enclosed gardens. Making the most of those opportunities can take your conference and event facilities to the next level and help you stand out in a crowded and competitive market space.

Make It Memorable

When it comes to hosting conferences and events, the best and most consistently successful hotel properties are not only those that offer creative nontraditional spaces, they are also good at delivering memorable and engaging experiences. In fact, even if you do not have access to a non-traditional space, you can find creative ways to introduce non-traditional events and experiences. El Conquistador Tucson, a Hilton Resort in Tucson, Arizona, for example, offers a team package where conference-goers can participate in a “Make Your Own Sangria” contest. This fun and unique activation can take place in a 20-minute break between sessions and is available as a separate package that can be a part of any event on the property.

It is not just activities that can upgrade the experience: unique food and beverage options, or even some great artwork can go a long way toward making an event feel memorable. The Hyatt Regency LAX has a gigantic movable mural, emblazoned with artists’ interpretations of LA’s unique graffiti culture. This visual representation of the contemporary L.A. art scene changes the dynamic of any indoor or outdoor meeting space, transforming the traditional to non-traditional.

Give Your Space a Sense Of Place

Whether it’s with “wow environments” or “wow moments”, your goal should be to get people talking. Find creative ways to make your property and your events stand out, and to leave an indelible impression. Which is why growing numbers of hoteliers are recognizing the value of abandoning the anonymous facilities of past decades in favor of distinctive properties that embody the unique culture, environment, and civic and social energy of their surroundings. From design and decor, to menus, activities and activations, the best properties today capture and convey a memorable and distinctive sense of place.

That same concept applies to meeting and events spaces, where a little creativity and regional or local distinction can help your space to stand out in sea of what are all-too-often relatively generic or anonymous cookie-cutter facilities. Making an effort to pay homage to your surroundings with the right piece of art, thoughtfully chosen menu items, strategic design themes, landscaping or decor, can transform your meeting spaces from a run-of-the-mill option to something special.

Sell It

Even the best and most creative meeting spaces and conference facilities are unlikely to reach their full potential as a steady source of revenue if you do not invest the time and dollars to let the public know about it. Standout spaces can be an extraordinary selling point for a hotel, and should be represented in all digital and print marketing. There are hotels out there right now with unique and experiential event spaces that still aren’t doing a good job of conveying the potential of those spaces on their website.

Make sure your visual content reflects all the different ways your spaces can be used, and that it allows businesses and decision-makers to envision what an event would really look like. Making that happen means infusing the same energy and creativity into site tours, as well. Go the extra mile to stage a space so that it makes a real impression. The goal should be to not only help visitors appreciate just how great this space could be, but to convey the message that if you care this much about getting their business in a site tour, just imagine the kind of immersive environment and high-quality service they could expect for the actual event.

Back To Basics

It might seem counterintuitive when discussing ways to create nontraditional meeting spaces, but, in the rush to create something unique, hoteliers should be diligent about making sure that they are not neglecting to address the basics. After all, your guests still have business that needs to get done-and a traditional meeting room or conference space is often still the best venue in which to conduct that business. Many of the most successful conference and special event hotels offer fully-equipped modern meeting or conference facilities and a more unique and experiential space where attendees can relax, mingle, network, and/or listen to speeches or award presentations.

Striking that balance and offering businesses the best of both worlds helps your hotel present a standout value proposition when it comes to hosting large events. Regardless of whether a more traditional meeting space is part of your event facilities, every meeting space needs to be comfortable and fully equipped with high-speed internet, cutting edge AV equipment/infrastructure and high-quality lighting.

The accelerating trend to identify and reconfigure creative and non-traditional meeting and event spaces is being driven by the understanding that the right space can truly be a game-changer. The best nontraditional and unique environments elevate otherwise unremarkable events and transform uninspired gatherings into memorable affairs, resulting in enthusiastic and engaged attendees, and making event hosts – and future bookers – look like rock stars.

As demand for these popular and profitable meeting spaces and conference facilities continues to grow, hoteliers looking to capture conference and event revenue will need to be conscientious and creative in creating the kind of standout spaces that capture the imagination and bolster the bottom line.