Conference Centers Lure Planners W/ High-Tech Spaces
Technology and booking flexibility are critical to strategies New York City-area conference centers are using to lure Manhattan corporate traffic. Indeed, innovative complete meeting packaging and an acceptance of radically shortened booking windows now are advantages meeting planners can exploit when shopping for the best deal in rural function space.
For example, at four Dolce International sites, president Stephen Goblin emphasized, "We were the first, and are now maybe the only facilities to include LCD projectors as part of the CMP. But that's just part of our all-inclusive package, in which we never let the planner feel he or she is being 'nickel-and-dimed.' "
This, he stressed, means avoiding such highly annoying practices as "never-ending add-ons, in which microphones, white boards, flip charts and dozens of other tools end up as separately billed items. We never do bait and switch," Goblin said, "We include whatever is needed in one price."
Other Dolce advantages he cited include providing wireless cards for laptop connections and a stable of full-time onsite tech experts who, Goblin promised, specialize in data retrievals and generally mitigating or solving potential communication disasters. Goblin said pharmaceutical sales training sessions and new employee tutoring for Wall Street firms are leading business sources.
Dolce's four metro area sites include:
Dolce Hamilton Park, located in Florham Park, N.J., is a 20-minute ride from Newark Liberty Airport or an hour from Manhattan. It features 19 guest rooms and 40 meeting rooms with 27,000 square feet of total function space.
Dolce Tarrytown House in Westchester County is set on 27 acres with 212 guest rooms and suites, 30 meeting rooms, 30,000 square feet of meeting space, a complete fitness center, indoor and outdoor pools, tennis, volleyball, billiards and a "working bowling alley from the Gilded Age."
IBM Palisades in New York is "minutes from the George Washington Bridge" and set among 100 wooded acres near the Palisades Cliffs that parallel the Hudson River. Each of the 206 guest rooms features an IBM Pentium 4 processor along with high-speed Internet connections. The property also offers 48,800 square feet of meeting space, including 43 meeting rooms.
Dolce Heritage, in Southbury, Conn., is somewhat farther away at the intersection of Interstates 684 and 84. It features 163 guest rooms and 25 meeting rooms that are part of 21,376 square feet of function area.
Meanwhile, at the Edith Macy Conference Center in Chappaqua, N.Y.—billed as being just a 45-minute drive from Midtown (and also accessible from the nearby Metro North rail station)—director of sales Sherri Hoy sees clients primarily seeking flexibility, particularly in terms of dealing with sharply reduced planning budgets. "We know that for many clients their budgets are seriously strained," she said. "We are determined to do whatever is necessary to make their function as productive as possible."
Prime property assets include Internet linkups and LCD projectors as well as such items as a high and low ropes course, features that are popular for team-building missions. The rural 405-acre setting features 46 guest rooms in the main conference center plus 40 beds lodge-style in 14 rooms in a separate structure. There is 14,000 square feet of onsite function space.
Richard Cimilluca, director of sales and marketing at the North Maple Inn in Basking Ridge, N. J., said his site features 171 high-tech rooms, including 16 suites, that each feature extensive power connectivity for modem jacks, complimentary Internet access via T1 lines, a printer and fax machine and three phones, including an ISDN speaker phone with a portable unit. The site offers 25,000 square feet of dedicated conference space, incorporating 25 different rooms. Furthermore, "many rooms have rear-screen projection capabilities and all are pre-wired for necessary data and Internet connectivity."
As for tech trends, Cimilluca cited a definite decline in the use of Webcasting and videoconferencing, tools that were much more popular following Sept. 11. He said North Maple Inn's heavily wooded, 35-acre site is less than one hour from Manhattan and also accessible via direct rail to Basking Ridge.
Another popular metro meeting choice is the Harrison Conference Center in maritime-history-rich Glen Cove, Long Island. General manager Christopher Costabile said, "Our distraction-free, 55-acre estate—featuring a nearly century-old, Georgian-style mansion—offers an ideal alternative setting."
Attendees bunk into 196 guest rooms and attend sessions in some of the 27 meeting rooms that are part of approximately 30,000 square feet of function area. The location particularly is popular with educational, publishing, pharmaceutical and financial clients.
Harrison's Costabile understands the current booking and budget challenges and makes efforts to be flexible with clients. "We are much more flexible when it comes to questions involving commitment fees. If a group has guaranteed 30 guests but there is some attrition within 30 days of the event, we often will forego penalty stipulations or factor those commitments into repeat business. It is much more important to retain a good image with my customers and work for repeat business, hopefully in better economic times."
At the 114-acre Doral Arrowwood Conference Resort, director of sales and marketing Jack Meehan said an understanding that booking windows are constantly shrinking and a genuine resort atmosphere are prime site selling points.
"We've got the only golf course among major area conference facilities. Also, we offer four restaurants and 35,000 square feet of meeting space, much of which has just been renovated," he said. "Furthermore, since Doral was designed specifically as a conference center, meetings are well spaced. That means groups enjoy the privacy and separation from other functions that they seek."
Located in Ryebrook, N.Y., the Doral Arrowwood frequently hosts financial, brokerage and bank-related events. However, he said, "pharmaceuticals, which appear to be recession-proof, are number one. Their need to continually educate sales staff about new products makes that industry continually require quality meeting facilities."