Hotels play up golf angle for meetings

The golf course may trail only the boardroom and the corner office as a place where business gets done.

Recognizing that, hotel marketing executives are pushing as perhaps never before the convenience of nearby golf courses to impress the planners who book meetings and conventions.

Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts next month, for example, will film pro golfer Phil Mickelson in television commercials promoting meetings at its 293 hotels.

Gina LaBarre, a Crowne Plaza vice president, says upscale business travelers' affinity for golf makes it a natural hook for promoting meeting facilities.

"As marketers, we are thinking of golf more than ever before when targeting meeting planners," LaBarre says.

LaBarre says 40% of Crowne Plaza's revenue is from business meetings, and Mickelson "generates a level of awareness of the brand." Last year, Crowne Plaza promoted its meetings facilities with a marketing campaign featuring TV golf reporter David Feherty, former golf great Lee Trevino and pro golfer Natalie Gulbis.

'A lucrative profit generator'

Last October, construction began on a new JW Marriott in San Antonio, which plans to attract meetings and conventions with two PGA Tour golf courses. Meetings and group business are expected to generate more than half of the revenue when the 1,002-room resort opens in 2010, says Mike Kass, director of sales and marketing.

Golf course designer Pete Dye and former British Open champion Greg Norman are designing the two adjacent golf courses. They're the newest ones being built by the PGA Tour, which will also manage them.

Group golf business is "a lucrative profit generator" for the Hyatt Lost Pines Resort in Bastrop, Texas, says Jim Moss, director of sales and marketing. Golf attracts about 65% of business meetings at the resort, located near Austin.

"We're making golf more prominent in our marketing," Moss says. "For the first time, we're traveling to golf trade shows, and we've developed specific golf ads that will run in meetings publications and sports and leisure magazines."

Marketing golf

Tom Pasha, owner of Contact Planning, which books hotels and golf outings for corporations and associations, has seen the effects of the hotels' increased emphasis on golf. "Hotels, for the longest time, only had an in-house golf pro promoting their golf program," Pasha says. "But they now have a lot more sales people selling and marketing golf."

A growing number of meeting planners are adding golf events to their itineraries, says Pasha, whose company books 100,000 hotel rooms and 30,000 rounds of golf a year for companies and groups. Last year, for example, his company was contracted for a series of golf events throughout the USA for clients of financial services giant HSBC.

"Golf can be a very important component of a meeting and a meeting planner's decision process," says COO Bren Clevenger-Ori of Meeting Professionals International, an organization of meeting planners and suppliers.

According to a 2006 survey of corporate meeting planners by trade publication Successful Meetings, golf follows only the business portion of the meeting and free time in importance. The survey says golf is more important than providing attendees a beach, a spa, shopping, cultural attractions or other outdoor sports.

Golf was a major component of a 2007 meeting that Clevenger-Ori, in a previous job, organized at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa near Traverse City, Mich. Golf, she says, gave the 70 or so top executives of companies supplying or distributing promotional products a chance to get to know one another. "Golf can be used as a tool to get to know someone better and determine if this is someone you want to do business with," she says.

Many of the world's best golf courses are located at U.S. resorts with spacious meetings facilities.

Golf Digest magazine ranks Georgia's Sea Island as the best U.S. resort for business meetings and golf. Sea Island has three golf courses and 17,000 square feet of meeting space.

"Sea Island was built in the 1920s and is incredibly beautiful, sitting next to the ocean in coastal Georgia," says Peter Finch, the magazine's senior editor.

Golf Digest ranks California's Pebble Beach Resorts No. 2 for meetings and golf. It has four courses and 19 meeting rooms.

"It's a classic destination where every golfer dreams of playing," Finch says.