Innovation in Design of Conference Hotels, Resorts & Centers

By Andy Dolce Founder, Chairman & Managing Partner, Dolce International | October 28, 2008

The conference center advantage is now a well-known fact. Thanks to our industry's successful outreach efforts, business clients understand that a conference center offers an unbeatable fusion of luxury amenities and sophisticated technologies. But a subtle, often overlooked element of that formula is now taking a front seat when marketing a facility to conference planners. Design innovation is fast becoming a pertinent, enticing amenity actively sought out for conferences thanks to the dialogue, functionality and the fun it inspires among conference attendees. Some call it "Feng Shui"; we call it thoughtful design. Our clients call it a welcome enhancement of the conference center approach.

A top-notch conference resort creates an environment ideal for interaction between the audience and its leaders, in addition to interpersonal connections among all the attendees. With its fabulous cuisine, exciting array of leisure activities, and creative design, a well-planned conference center will also foster a bond between visitors and the site itself. (That certainly helps keep guests coming back again and again!) But a truly innovative site integrates its environs so that the property itself, its decor, design and its setting, becomes as meaningful to the success of the event as the conference room itself.

Consider, for example, the design at our newest property Dolce La Hulpe Brussels, situated on more than 1,700 acres in the Soignes Forest. The hotel, resort & conference destination is an oasis of contemporary European design. Smart technologies are fused with an open-floor design lending the space an almost loft-like feel. Contemporary furnishings and floor-to-ceiling windows combined with use of materials indigenous to the region stimulate interaction with the stunning natural backdrop. Through this combination, the local environs become active 'players' in the conference itself, flooding the space - even the bedrooms and bathrooms with natural light. Such features transform the entire hotel space into informal meeting areas, where guests can commune with each other as well as with nature. Dolce La Hulpe Brussels exemplifies how new design principles can artfully unify a group throughout the duration of a meeting.

Another elegant example of this principle can be found at Dolce's Aspen Meadows' Meeting Center set to debut in March 2007. Because this chic resort & conference destination complex houses The Aspen Institute, an international nonprofit founded in 1950 dedicated to fostering enlightened leadership and open-minded dialogue by politicians, artists, and social critics worldwide, the facility needed to reflect a seriousness of purpose and spirit. Nestled in the majestic Rocky Mountains, it is a landmark of modernist Bauhaus style. Renowned architect Jeffrey Berkus, in conjunction with famous British artist Andy Goldsworthy, created an environmentally friendly design that incorporates natural materials and cutting-edge building techniques. This unique facility incorporates water, stone floors, even an outdoor fireplace, which invites the Rocky Mountain vistas into virtually every view on the site.

Dolce's colleagues in the industry have also taken up the mantle of thoughtful design. Last year, the trade periodical Hotels cited the White Pond Resort and Training Center in Baiyangdian, China which deploys rich, vivacious colors in its interior decor to "excite the users and get their juices flowing", according to the facility's vice president.

And it should come as no surprise, given the global awareness for the environment, that "green" design has become an increasingly popular trend in conference resort design. It can already be observed in eco-friendly changes in different aspects of a hotel's operations, such as the use of energy efficient lighting, the reduction of water consumption, the use of non-toxic cleaning products, the protection of water quality, and the recycling and participation in other community outreach programs. Conference center companies are consulting with local conservationists on opportunities for saving resources during construction and land preservation. Consider the Salem Conference Center, in Salem, Oregon, which boasts exemplary sustainable design-from the recycled flooring to the efficient cooling system-that exemplifies the ethos and design spirit of the Pacific Northwest.

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Human Resources: An Era of Transition

Traditionally, the human resource department administers five key areas within a hotel operation - compliance, compensation and benefits, organizational dynamics, selection and retention, and training and development. However, HR professionals are also presently involved in culture-building activities, as well as implementing new employee on-boarding practices and engagement initiatives. As a result, HR professionals have been elevated to senior leadership status, creating value and profit within their organization. Still, they continue to face some intractable issues, including a shrinking talent pool and the need to recruit top-notch employees who are empowered to provide outstanding customer service. In order to attract top-tier talent, one option is to take advantage of recruitment opportunities offered through colleges and universities, especially if they have a hospitality major. This pool of prospective employees is likely to be better educated and more enthusiastic than walk-in hires. Also, once hired, there could be additional training and development opportunities that stem from an association with a college or university. Continuing education courses, business conferences, seminars and online instruction - all can be a valuable source of employee development opportunities. In addition to meeting recruitment demands in the present, HR professionals must also be forward-thinking, anticipating the skills that will be needed in the future to meet guest expectations. One such skill that is becoming increasingly valued is “resilience”, the ability to “go with the flow” and not become overwhelmed by the disruptive influences  of change and reinvention. In an era of transition—new technologies, expanding markets, consolidation of brands and businesses, and modifications in people's values and lifestyles - the capacity to remain flexible, nimble and resilient is a valuable skill to possess. The March Hotel Business Review will examine some of the strategies that HR professionals are employing to ensure that their hotel operations continue to thrive.