Catch a glimpse of insights about competition, new hotel room inventory, human resources, trends, experiences, sustainability and more from a spring conversation.
One thing that’s certain is that more inventory in terms of lodging and venues means more competition, but that has been balanced out by more available business, says Brady Johnson, director of sales and marketing at C Lazy U Ranch near Granby.
“We definitely see that competition and properties fighting for group blocks,” confirms Jason Lusk, CMP, associate vice president, convention sales for VISIT DENVER. “In 2018, there were 12 new hotels and 2,765 guest rooms added, including 1,501 at the Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center. In 2019, we added five properties and 1,712 rooms in the Denver metro, and it’s projected that we’ll add nine more properties with 1,159 rooms in the second half of the year (total of 14 hotels with 2,871 rooms for the year).”
Candace Duran, director of sales and marketing for Halcyon in Denver has experienced the impact. “For a nonbranded boutique hotel, it’s definitely a fight. We have to stay out there and lower rates more to be competitive and get heads in bed.” She adds, “Group is my biggest concern, because when you have group you have a successful business, but it’s a consistent challenge.”
Halcyon has found success partnering with neighbor properties. “We get together with other hotels monthly to talk about selling Cherry Creek, as we don’t have near the amount of hotels as downtown Denver and don’t have the train from Denver International Airport. We have to market harder to sell ourselves.”
Justin Clark, director of sales for Visit Aurora, agrees that it is “a lot to keep up with” and talked about how the business model is slightly different for Aurora, which is the third largest community in Colorado and also is part of the Denver metro area. “Our destination is different; our big business was sports tournaments in the summer. We are still hosting a lot, but the market has changed because the hotels are already 80 percent full. Plus, our peak months are changing.”
What does it look like from the planner side? “I’m trying to book a gala with 300 seated in rounds and a stage but with no guest rooms, so no one wants us. I don’t need guest rooms for any of my programs, so I am out of downtown. Denver Tech Center didn’t even want us for a Thursday,” says Tiffany Carson, CMP, CPE operations manager for the Colorado Society of CPAs.
Finding and keeping culinary staff is the No. 1 issue regarding human resources followed closely by housekeeping, notes Duran. “Wages are not as good as something like Uber. Jobs in the culinary arts pay better later. The new generation of employees has changed, they want a title and parking.”
There also is a general lack of acknowledgment regarding what it takes to move up the career ladder to land the coveted assignments. “Jobs aren’t that sexy when you get out of college, you won’t make a lot of money and might have to work registration. … There is a disconnect,” says Denver-based Amanda Nelson, meeting planner for the Western Governors’ Association.
She also understands the challenges facing new graduates and offers a few nuggets of wisdom. “It is hard to get out of college and not make a lot of money and pay loans. It’s important to build yourself up with fellowships and internships, learn about the industry, and speak the industry language.”
Another issue is enrollment in hospitality programs at universities across the nation is down, shares Cynthia Vanucci, P.hD., CMP, a professor of events management and internship coordinator for Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Department of Hospitality, Tourism, and Events Management. Plus, there is a “gap between employers not being happy with quality of students and looking for the Virgin Mother. They want the person to be spot on and have forgotten they have been around the planet a couple times themselves.”
Graduates also are dealing with the market offering $20,000 less than what they want to start out at, she says. “They love this business but are looking at where they can earn more to cover the cost of living, paying off school, etc. It’s a deterrent from us preparing students for the industry. Why get a college degree and not be offered a good wage?”
Terri Taylor, regional event manager for Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP, estimates she gets asked a couple times a week to meet with “a cousin’s neighbor’s niece.” She says, “The perception of what event planning is versus reality is so far off. After the conversation, they don’t want to do that. They want to be a wedding planner, travel, etc. … We have to align perception with reality. It’s also a lot of fun once you get some seniority.”
Hiring & Retention Solutions
One answer is to provide incentives that speak to the pool of potential employees. C Lazy U Ranch provides room and board, wellness benefits and training on the job. “We hire based on personality versus skills, seeing something within a person instead of skills to start off with,” Johnson shares.
The Summit County job market is very competitive, which has resulted in creative solutions like transforming a former Club Med into employee housing, offering $5 lunches, and providing employees services like hair stylists coming in on a certain day of the month and financial advisors being available for free, notes Sharon Schoeffield, national sales manager for Copper Mountain Resort.
Peak Beverages, a beverage catering company, has met with hiring and retention success by helping fund continuing education, certifications for wine or spirits, and life skills. “It is better to develop new staff versus promoting mediocrity. If you pay it forward, hopefully they will appreciate where it is coming from and it forms an allegiance,” emphasizes co-owner and Director of Strategic Growth Adam Douglas.
Offering options that enhance quality of life is important to today’s employees. “This year, if my team makes numbers in a particular quarter, they get to work at home twice a month,” Duran shares. “Every person made quarter two goals after I rolled this out.”
It is one of the most exciting options for younger staff, Andrew agrees but stresses that it has to be tied to performance. “It is terrifying to not physically see if people are performing, but there is so much technology out there that you can keep track of everything.”
Clients are demanding recycling and low- or zero-waste. “We can’t have water bottles anymore at events and instead use water stations at hotels,” Taylor says.
Raft (raftcolorado.org) accepts leftover items from meetings—anything from bags to foam core—and creates inexpensive kits for teachers to purchase, plus there are volunteer opportunities to help make kits, shares Lusk. “They take the most random stuff to make into teaching tools.”
In the catering sector, it’s all about “composting, local first, farm fresh, stations and the interactive piece explaining to guests what they are having,” says Robin Berhost, director of sales for Biscuits & Berries in Golden.
“I just went to a whole meeting about industry trends with alcohol. Spirits are the most popular category, along with interesting varietals of wine. Chardonnay is taking a hit, and rosé is still building interest. … The whole cocktail revolution is finally making it into events,” adds Douglas.
The Colorado Automobile Dealers reinvented its annual convention after a 10-year hiatus. The last two years (2017 and 2018), the event was in Hawaii. After listening to members, the 2019 CADA Annual Convention is back in Colorado at The Broadmoor. “Several of our members didn’t go, so it’s at The Broadmoor this year and there are lots of people going. They wanted it local,” shares Chief Operating Officer Marsha Temple.
One concern for many suppliers is the major shrinking of booking windows. “Every year our window of being contacted for transportation gets smaller and smaller,” says Kevin Hedican, brand ambassador for Denver-based Hermes Worldwide Transportation. “We recently were contacted for a 1,500-person group three weeks out. I was happy to get the business, but it was crazy. I refer to it as the Uberization of our industry: Planners book hotels first and think when they are ready to order transportation, it’s there.”
Hermes is rolling out more technology for groups like apps and text alerts.
One concerning trend is the membership decline for a wide variety of associations, notes Carson, but there is hope for future generations, especially Gen Z.
However, the bottom line is Denver and Colorado are blossoming as destinations for meetings and events. Duran says. “It’s an exciting time to be Denver, we have proven ourselves, are being respected as a city, and there is much more to come.”