Hotels Hotels ramp up apps for meetings planners By Danny King / March 24, 2014 Share 1 -- Starwood Hotels & Resorts and Marriott International are among the large U.S. hotel companies that have stepped up efforts to broaden mobile apps and website features for meetings planners who want to remotely set up and tweak details for their events.Starwood, which debuted its eVent Portfolio Web-based app last October, has more than doubled the number of hotels for which the app can be used to 35. It is looking to make it available for 575 properties by year’s end. The app, which among other things enables meetings planners to choose menus and set up audiovisual presentation tools in real time, is available on both the Android and iPhone mobile-device platforms.Meanwhile, Marriott International has recently expanded its mobile app for meetings planning to seven of its JW Marriott and Renaissance hotels in Mexico via its JW Event Concierge and R.E.N. Meetings Expert features, respectively. That expansion furthers an effort Marriott started last May when it debuted its Red Coat Direct app at 350 Marriott-branded properties. The company is looking to add the app to all global Marriott properties by the end of the year.Such apps are designed to minimize the back-and-forth email and phone calls that take place when either an in-house or third-party meetings planner is changing menu items, adjusting seating layouts, setting up audiovisual presentations or specifying room-temperature settings at a hotel’s public meetings space.The apps are also part of a broader effort by hoteliers to secure more group business, which has been hampered by factors such as government spending cuts for conferences and bad press related to profligate conference spending by companies such as AIG. As a result, its recovery has lagged leisure demand. Last year, group bookings accounted for about 29% of U.S. hotel room revenue, down from 31% in 2010, while transient spending share rose to 68% from about 66%, according to STR. (The remainder is contract spending.)The hotel companies are quick to point out that such apps are not designed to eliminate or replace the role of the meetings planner but merely to complement their existing service propositions.Mark Theis, Starwood’s divisional director of group sales in North America, said, “eVent Portfolio is helping us communicate with our customers the way they want to communicate — digitally.” With that goal in mind, other hoteliers such as Hilton Worldwide and Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants have jumped into the fray, albeit with Web-based applications geared (for now, at least) to computers and tablets. Last month, Kimpton debuted its Instant Meetings Web feature designed for meetings planners setting up both group reservations and meetings for between six and 50 attendees. And Hilton last July launched its Connect+ online platform at 115 Hilton hotels that have either at least 450 rooms or 40,000 square feet of meetings space. Hilton at the time highlighted the Conrad New York and Dallas’ Hilton Anatole as prominent hotels offering the feature.Either way, the new features are geared to both business-to-business and business-to-consumer use, according to the hoteliers.“The app does not replace the face-to-face interaction with the hotel associate and the planner,” said Michelle Bozoki, director of marketing and e-commerce for Marriott’s Caribbean and Latin America resorts. “It simply enhances the overall experience by allowing the requests to go directly to the department that can enact the change.”Follow Danny King on Twitter @dktravelweekly. Photo of meeting room courtesy of Shuterstock.