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PUBLISHED ARTICLE: Hotel Group's Route to MICE Success
7-Feb-07 [ by Larry Chao ] 8057 Read and 4220 Comment

Larry Chao explores how one hotelier connects with clients to gain the competitive edge.

Two years ago‚ Starwood Hotels and Resorts Asia-Pacific set up an Advisory Board comprised of key big event organizers and top Starwood marketing and sales executives to explore avenues of profitable growth.  Today‚ this Board is paying off big with practical suggestions and creative ideas that help Starwood serve clients in the meetings‚ incentives‚ conferences and exhibitions (?MICE?) market segment more effectively.  


?Starwood is now more than ever focused on developing our strategic alliances with key MICE professionals to keep abreast of their changing needs‚? said Alison Taylor‚ vice president of sales for Starwood Asia-Pacific (Singapore)‚ owner of such luxury brands as Sheraton and Westin here in Bangkok.  ?We have always looked to our clients before initiating any changes.?


With the formation of this MICE Advisory Board‚ Starwood established a novel two-way communication conduit‚ where it could receive insightful feedback from board members on a variety of hotel products and services‚ and share global trends‚ development plans and brand strategies.  It has been invaluable in setting expectations and bridging the gap between Starwood and its clients.


?The MICE Advisory Board has been very good at creating an informal way for us to bond with our clients.  It has allowed us to be honest and open with each other and to share both positive as well as the negative experiences‚? said Taylor.


How was this Board originally conceived?  In the hotly competitive five-star hotel industry‚ Starwood believed it was imperative to create a forum where clients could talk intimately about their experiences with Starwood?s hotel brands.   Information received from market surveys and testimonials was not compelling enough to help guide how Starwood needed to change.  The MICE Advisory Board became this catalyst for change‚ by identifying issues‚ brainstorming solutions and monitoring implementation.


Early on for example‚ the MICE Advisory Board was invited to critique the way Starwood handled its MICE customers from pre-selling events through event execution.  The whole customer interface process‚ including first contact‚ property inspection‚ negotiations‚ and event hosting‚ was scrutinized.


?It was a very useful exercise for us to look in the mirror from our clients? perspectives to learn how to prioritize what we needed to change to improve service levels‚? said Oliver Bonke‚ head of marketing for Starwood Asia-Pacific.


What emerged from these initial meetings were tangible suggestions for how Starwood could make it easier to do business with its clients.  Through open discussions where concerns were thoughtfully aired‚ the Board was able to iterate solutions and produce practical‚ meaningful change.


Today‚ the MICE Advisory Board meets bi-annually.  Part of the agenda is devoted to following up on earlier suggestions for improvement.  The Board has a chance to refine solutions and steer implementation.  This helps ensures the best ideas are not deserted at the drawing board.


?Ultimately‚ one of the Board?s objectives is to translate great ideas into products and services that make a difference to our clients and differentiate us‚? said Bonke.


Another part of the meeting agenda is devoted to brainstorming innovative meeting products‚ and ideas for building market share in competitive or underdeveloped markets.  Much of the discussion revolves around how to create unique service concepts that will burnish Starwood?s existing brand images.  For example‚ how to create a dinner buffet experience that reflects the unique Sheraton brand flavor.


Finally‚ these meetings serve as an opportunity for Starwood to share internal developments that affect the MICE market‚ such as the positioning of its brands ? particularly its newly acquired Le Meridien brand‚ expansions and trends from other parts of the Starwood world that may affect Asia.


Through this intimate dialogue‚ Starwood has enhanced its relationship with key MICE professionals‚ whose collective voice has helped shape the products and services Starwood delivers to the MICE market.


?We are proud to have experienced meeting professionals on this Advisory Board to help Starwood drive a stronger presence and hence preference among meeting planners‚? said Taylor.


Larry Chao is managing director of Chao Group Limited‚ a strategic organization change specialist‚ based in New York and Bangkok since 1994 (

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