23 November 2021 - Millennium Chelsea Harbour Hotel,
9 December 2021, Virtual
February 2022, Virtual
The ultimate US meetings destination is in constant demand. Jonathan Hart reports on how to grab a bite of the Big Apple
JUST DO THE MATH, as they say in these parts. Indeed, buyers may need literally to “go figure” in order to mine the most economical meetings nuggets currently being proffered by New York.
Do the sums on venue value and availability is a key message from NYC & Company, the city’s official marketing, tourism and partnership organisation incorporating convention and visitor bureau responsibility. Exchange rates notwithstanding, it urges UK purchasers to base their calculations for venue negotiations and placements on an exploratory and slot-critical equation balancing citywide developments, segment specifics, seasonal troughs and periodic promotions.
“Planners have great opportunities to secure competitive rates and find added value in leaner months, particularly in the first quarter of every year,” says NYC & Co vice-president Jerry Cito. “These lower rates can be teamed with events such as Restaurant Week, which offers fixed-priced menus, and Broadway Week or Off-Broadway Week, which offer two-for-one tickets to popular shows.”
Cito also cites the association segment as worthy of closer investigation. “An event here guarantees record attendance,” he says. “Importantly, we are home to some key associations across various sectors, so there’s a lot of synergy in placing congresses or meetings in the city.”
Fine, you might think, for buyers who are working with New York as an option, with plenty of flexibility or long lead-ins. But what about those for whom the city is mandated alongside cut-back corporate budgets and the general industry trend to radically-clipped or sometimes virtually non-existent lead-in times?
This global home to more than 40 Fortune 500 companies is, after all, host to a multiplicity of top-dollar corporate events, either locally or internationally sourced, and ranging from financials and pharmaceuticals to fashion and media.
These events are typically held in long-established or elite Manhattan venues, notably in Midtown or the Financial District, which have traditionally captured the lion’s share of the regular meetings’ millions, in terms of both the numbers of annual delegates hosted and the accompanying dollars pumped into local coffers.
City with attitude At the same time, they have earned New York a reputation for giving swift short shrift to “nickel-and-dime” proposals. The dynamic marketing of transitory, ad hoc or weekend business aside, established suppliers, to date, have had little need to break sweat over year-round average occupancies, despite the city’s brutally cold winters and furnace-hot summers.
The fact that the United Nations is based here alongside corporate kings merely underscores New York’s universally acknowledged predominance, together with its East Coast hub location and world-beating entertainment, as the most essential and desirable international meetings centre in the US.
In addition, a support network of year-on-year repeat large-scale events – such as the 25,000 international eye-doctors attending the recent 26th Vision Expo & Conference East – suggests, if not a closed shop, then a continuing tough nut for outsiders to crack.
The bigger picture In contrast, the ramped up infrastructural developments experienced across the city during the past few years are beginning to suggest otherwise, as does an apparent overall softening in New York’s traditionally and arguably brusque, take-it-or-leave-it approach to meetings procurement.
“It is possible to snatch a [corporate] bargain, although you need to think outside of the box,” says Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT) director Pauline Houston. “You need to explore beyond Park Avenue and 42nd Street, pinpoint your location and its suitability for clients, know what’s what and juggle with what’s happening and where within your time frame.”
She says New York as a primary international meetings hub offers all the components for successful events, incorporating a remarkable variety of memorable venues and representing overall good value in conjunction with its efforts to attract inbound travellers across the board – including its recent temporary culling of sales tax on shopping. “What’s helping [meetings buyers]now is the rapidly growing spread of top quality accommodation across all parts of the city beyond the usual Midtown venues. It’s also useful for buyers to note that New York is providing a great platform for up-and-coming hotel groups.”
The recent explosion in new or refurbished venues incorporates major hotel groups, extended convention centres, increased serviced office lets and other external venue players such as restaurants or historic sites entering the host market. NYC & Co says the city experienced its most rapid and successful hotel building boom on record between 2006 and the end of last year, a trend that continued into the first quarter of this year. It says this investment boom has pushed the citywide room count to the 90,000 mark, helping to absorb its 50 million annual visitor target, achieved a year early in 2011, with 27 million rooms sold and year-end occupancy rates hovering above 85 per cent at an average daily room rate of US$276.
Manhattan and beyond Importantly, says Jerry Cito, 40 per cent of openings have been in boroughs other than Manhattan – in Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Staten Island. “This is giving planners even more choice on accommodation and meeting spaces to suit all budget types,” he says.
According NYC & Co’s extensive list of projections, recent or imminent openings include La Quinta Inn Downtown, Hotel 718, Hotel BPM, the Clarion and the Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn, plus the Wyndham Garden Long Island City, reflagged and expanded Hilton JFK Airport, Spring Hill Suites by Marriott and Hotel Vetiver in Queens. A 48-room Comfort Inn is opening in The Bronx and a 111-room Best Western is adding capacity in Staten Island.
In Manhattan, the all-suite Conrad New York, with 17,000sq ft of meeting space, is new this year together with Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn, Hyatt and Courtyard by Marriott brand properties. The 114-room Jade Hotel Greenwich Village is also projected for a 2012 opening.
Renovation or redesign projects are scheduled for completion this year at a raft of properties including Sheraton New York, The Roosevelt, Moderne, Grand Hyatt, Algonquin, Cooper Square, Loews Regency, St Giles Tuscany, New York Palace and Milford. Starwood’s 774-room NY Helmsley is undergoing renovation and will re-open as a Westin this autumn, with new meeting space.
Forward projections over the next two years call for an additional 36 hotel openings representing emerging or established brands in new builds, and renovated or re-purposed landmark sites across the five boroughs. Among these will be a Marriott Edition and an Intercontinental group Even.
Future growth In addition, says NYC & Co, lodging investment analysts have identified projects that could witness overall inventory topping 600 hotels with more than 12,000 new rooms in 40 projects over the next five to seven years. Together with citywide renaissance efforts, plus ongoing convention centre or external venue expansion or renovations, it all amounts to a mountain of information for UK buyers to keep tabs on. It’s also a moot point on how many in the no-specific-city bracket will retune their attention towards New York.
“For me, it’s first and foremost an incentive destination,” says recent visitor Dawn Mitchell, operations director of W&O Events. “With the re-invention of so much of the city and if your people haven’t visited since, say 9/11, it’s a winner. However, for conferences or congresses I have my doubts. Expense is a big factor. I have a thick file on the times we’ve sought quotations but couldn’t negotiate on minimum requirements, even though the boot is effectively on the buyer’s foot these days.
“You have to consider New York’s relevance in what you’re trying to achieve,” she adds. “If it’s not an imperative, there is strong competition elsewhere.”
Point of contact NYC & Co has a UK outlet that aims to offer event planners an impartial, complimentary and flexible service to assist in fulfilling the guidelines and objectives of any brief. “It is vital for us to continuously engage and communicate with all of our clients to assess their needs and help them make the most informed decisions when pitching and/or booking business in New York City,” says Jerry Cito. “We regularly participate in sales exhibitions, organise road shows, workshops and individual meetings in the UK, as well as run fam trips throughout the year.”
The second dedicated road show, last October, proved to be a vital exercise in keeping the UK industry informed, staying in touch, growing awareness and challenging any misconceptions businesses might have, he adds. Cito says New York is the primary gateway to the US for UK travellers, with nearly 300 flights weekly and competitive fares for group bookings.
He says NYC & Co, in conjunction Hilton and Sheraton, has developed NY 5000, a convention complex of 5,000-guest room and 100 meeting rooms in the span of one square block. In addition, NYC & Co’s Signature Collection of luxurious and distinctive hotels has special group offerings, including preferential rates with savings on room rates and food and beverage discounts.
“We have also recently extended our Meet Me On Sunday packages, which offer significant concessions for meetings booked over a Sunday at more than 40 participating hotels,” says Cito.
Like everything else on New York, the figures are impressive – and for meetings, they certainly add up.