After previously serving as director of sales and marketing for InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile, David Almond took on a new role as regional vice president – Midwest U.S. and Canada for Associated Luxury Hotels International this spring. After about six months on the job, he took time to talk with Illinois Meetings + Events about his transition and his thoughts on the meetings industry for 2019.
Why did you decided to make the move to ALHI?
I got exposure to ALHI during my two years at InterContinental is where. Previous to that, I’d been with Hilton and Starwood on their internal global sales organizations. With InterContinental being a smaller luxury brand, we partnered with [ALHI on sales efforts], and I was impressed with the relationships that ALHI brought. When this opportunity came up, I was very excited, and it’s been awesome for far. I’m proud to be part of this team.
For those who aren’t familiar, can you describe ALHI’s relationship with the hotel/events industry?
At a high level, we are the global sales organization for primarily independent hotels, and also for some smaller luxury brands, like InterContinental. We have a membership portfolio of more than 250 members, including cruise lines and DMCs, that are located in 60-plus destinations around the world. What ALHI does is two fold: On the member side, we want to be a best-in-class sales organization, bringing in strong client relationships and marketing opportunities that in turn bring meetings and incentives to their properties. So we’re an extension of their sales team—where they might have five people on property, we have 70 people across the globe to represent them. The second side is client relationships [with meeting planners]. We look to understand them and the “why” behind the meeting, and to better understand the business and match them up with the right members.
From your experience with clients, how are meeting budgets looking for next year?
Over the past year, we’ve seen an increase in number of meetings confirmed. I think we’ll continue to see that trend while the economy remains strong. While many planners feel that it’s a seller’s market right now, I think there are good opportunities out there for the right time. When I’m looking at Chicago for 2019, the citywide calendar looks a little softer in 2019 than it did for this year. That means there’s a good opportunity for short-term business, specifically in summer, July and August.
What are some of the trends you think will affect meetings and events in 2019?
We always talk about technology and wellness. But the biggest trend I’ve noticed is about experience; that is everything. No matter how you roll tech or wellness into your event, [you have to think about] that unique experience that’s going to be new, fun and memorable.
Do you have any examples to share on an experience that fits that bill? Fairmont Chicago, Millennium Park partnered with Lakeshore Sport & Fitness club to create an offering called Rock Your Meeting. You can go [to the Club] and host an event—they have one of the largest rock climbing walls in North America. They also build breaks around it, [serving things like] Pop Rocks, rock candy and cocktails “on the rocks.” Another program called Flavor by Loews, at Loews Chicago, is about local partnerships with artisan vendors. They bring in the experience of Chicago to the hotel. For example, Revolution Brewing created an exclusive beer for the hotel. Loews also partners with local bee farms and uses the honey in cocktails. It goes back to being creative and giving people something to remember.
Do you think meeting planners are putting their money where their mouth is, spending more of their budget to deliver on meeting experiences?
The type of meeting changes the decision process and what’s most important. I think that ties back to our focus for ALHI of getting behind the “why” of the business to ensure we’re putting the right connections together. For an incentive or a board of directors meeting, I think [planners would] be willing to spend more. But for a training meeting, maybe [that kind of experience] is not what you’re looking for. It’s about knowing what your most important factors are.