Hotels & Lodging

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Playing and Staying: Making the Right Choices on Lodging

11 Mar, 2014

By: Randy G. Griffin

If you’re setting out to find the right hotel for your team, you’ll probably get a lot of advice from a lot of well-meaning sources. Problem is, they probably aren’t in the hotel business. Sometimes, what you really need is a conversation with someone who has inside knowledge of the industry, and of sports teams.

We’re lucky enough at Marriott to have ongoing relationships with several sport governing bodies: USA Football, USA Swimming, USA Hockey, US Lacrosse, US Soccer Federation and the NFL. From working with those groups and with other teams over the years, we’ve learned a lot. Here are a few of our insights.

What to Look for in a Venue

A hotel can offer a lot of amenities but top priority for teams should always be proximity to the competition venue. Especially in a case where the team is participating in a championship series, the ability to get there by the start time is essential. Following that priority is the need for appropriate pricing, and for amenities that the property can provide based on that rate.

A full-service hotel or resort property may be very close to the competition venue, but it may not necessarily be a good fit for the team. They may not have time to take advantage of the hotel’s amenities. They may want to go to dinner on property but the on-premises restaurant might be too expensive or too dressy for them. Finding the right property for your team can mean looking at a mix of factors.

Something we’re seeing in sports team travel is a trend toward choosing the more casual properties with a relaxed atmosphere. In addition to offering a lower room rate than a full-service hotel, those facilities have spacious rooms that can house several team members (and their gear). They also have enough facilities to keep people happy. For example, many offer complimentary breakfasts – and it’s a rare parent or coach who doesn’t appreciate that. In general, these kinds of properties also have lower (and sometimes free, depending upon the location) parking rates – again, something that is appreciated if families are driving kids back and forth to the tournament venue every day.

Trends in Sports Business

From a hotel standpoint, there are trends in sports business. They may not be indicative of across-the-board growth or decline in sports themselves; they are what we see from our side of the desk. For example, our hotels are not seeing a lot of demand for multi-year contracts with regard to sports events. This may be because cities bid on hosting sports events each year, and each year, different cities build new facilities and are able to enhance their chances of luring teams there. Teams often want the freedom to take advantage of new destinations and new facilities, so they will move around. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, and perhaps other hotel chains see it differently; however, this is what we have found.

We’re also seeing more and more sports really begin to streamline their room blocks by limiting who they send to national championships. Times were, teams would bring five, six, seven or more alternate players. Now, they only bring their best competitors and perhaps one alternate. It’s certainly understandable: they don’t want to reserve and pay for rooms they don’t need.

Here’s another interesting trend. It’s hard to tell whether this is a trend in the sports themselves, or just in the business we’re doing, but either way, it’s interesting. We’re seeing a shift in the types of sports we’re booking. We seem to be booking rooms for fewer football events and more lacrosse or swimming. We’ve also seen big growth in track and field.

Don’t Just Point and Click

Whenever possible, we encourage sports team managers to work directly with the desired hotel to book rooms. We don’t recommend people go through the Internet travel sites. It’s not all about the room rate, either. When you work directly with the hotel salesperson, you are able to describe your team and your needs. The hotel will work with you to put together a proposal based on what you’re looking for.

For example, say you are bringing a youth team and you want all the team members to be on one floor. If you’re working directly with the hotel salesperson, you can specify that in your contract. In addition, the sales representative at the hotel can help guarantee arrangements for a late checkout the day you leave because your players will be coming off the field and they’ll want to shower and change and pack up before they get on the bus to go home. An Internet travel site might get you a low room rate, but it won’t make either of those arrangements (or any others) for you – and the hotel will be under no obligation to provide them.

If you work with a travel site, the hotel only receives the information that a room has been booked at a given rate. The personnel there do not understand who you are or what you need. For example, if your team is arriving in a bus or a van and the hotel does not have the right height clearance in their underground lot for that vehicle, you won’t know that until you get there. Suddenly, you’ll have to scramble to find a place you can park – and a way to get from that lot to your hotel.

The last word, of course, is this: travel sites are no match for the honesty of a person who works at a hotel and knows the geography of the area. On a travel site, a hotel might be described as being conveniently located – but how convenient is it, really? Go back to the first point about proximity to the competition site. If your hotel is out by the airport and your tournament site turns out to be reachable only by a long drive in heavy traffic, that’s not a convenient location (at least not for you and your team) and it’s hardly worth the discounted room rate.

Best Practices: Hints and Tips

We always recommend that the person making travel arrangements for the sports event, or for the team, have an open dialogue with the hotel representative. If you have good communication, the hotel will have a good grasp of who you are and what your group’s needs are. Supply a thorough history on your group’s room pick-up. In addition, you will want to share information such as the format of the tournament. Is it round-robin play, or possibly single- or double-elimination? This will affect how many teams will be heading home and at what rate, and allows the hotel to understand that it can expect to release a certain percentage of rooms each day as the tournament progresses. The more information you can supply (and the more honest and open you are), the better off everyone is.

Keeping open the lines of communications with the hotel means that you can work together to solve last minute problems. For example, say two of your players get injured just prior to the tournament. If you give the hotel as much notice as possible, you may be able to cancel those two rooms without penalty.

Good communication should also be used with teams. Particularly with youth teams, we need to make sure the manager lets the kids know they’re accountable for their actions, and that they’re expected to respect the property, each other and other guests when they’re in the hotel. If a team conducts itself properly, the hotel will want them back.

There are always options when it comes to choosing which tournaments to attend and where to stay. It’s the goal of the hotel – and the team – to make sure both sides come out on the winning end.

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