ATLANTA—Finding the right location for an event isn’t always easy. It requires an investment of both time and money to visit the potential site.
The Atlanta Marriott Marquis now has a way to help its potential clients explore the hotel without even having to leave their offices. The Marriott Marquis VTX uses ultra-high-definition, 4K 360-video, built on a gaming engine, to allow potential clients to travel throughout the hotel from their desktop or handheld device.
Instead of going to the hotel for a site visit, the sales team will walk the client through the facility on their device, providing a video game-type atmosphere. The team even sends the client a package featuring treats created by the hotel’s culinary staff. “What we like about this is that the meeting planner can actually sit back like they are actually at the site eating their popcorn,” said Meinrad Lang III, the hotel’s director of sales & marketing. “We can tailor this tour to exactly the space we are selling to the customer. Also, we not only walk into a guestroom, but we can go up and down the escalator, up and down the elevators.”
Within the tour, there are little nodes throughout offering more information on the various areas of the property. “We can click on it and there is special information that we share,” he said. “There are also pictures that we can go through so we can see how other people have set the room before.”
Lang first came up with the idea for the virtual reality experience after he had done something similar when he was a senior sales manager at another Marriott hotel 14 years ago. “I had a customer who wanted to sign a contract with us,” he said. “It was one of those situations where it was at the end of the quarter and we needed to move quickly. She was going to lose her availability to another customer. I wanted to get the contract signed, she wanted to get the contract signed, but she couldn’t come down for the site visit. She was stuck. She lived in the Seattle area. I said to her, ‘If I tape a video of a site visit for you and mail you the contract, and if it looks good, would you sign the contract?’ She said, ‘Absolutely.’”
Lang worked with a friend in the film industry to shoot a video of a personalized site visit. “We then edited the thing until 2 a.m., put together a contract and mailed it out with a DVD,” he said. “She signed the contract. We got it by the end of the quarter. She got her rooms and space.”
While the personalized video worked, Lang recognized that it would be difficult to do for every client. Instead, they created a YouTube video to allow the sales team to walk clients through the hotel. “But it didn’t do what we needed it to do because it didn’t show every breakout room, it didn’t show every room type, etc.,” he said.
Fast forward to his arrival at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis and a recent meeting with his sales team. “We sat around the table and my team said they wanted virtual reality,” he said. “We talked together as a team and we decided that we didn’t want any 360-video virtual reality, because it really didn’t give the customer what we needed. Instead, what we were looking for was true video where the customer was actually in the space.”
For this, Lang approached Duane Tornquist, co-founder/chief creative officer with Artists of the Industry (AOFTHEI). The company had already been developing the framework for such a platform.
The company’s production team architected a 360 camera rig atop a remote-control rover to seamlessly capture the Marquis’ spaces. With the help of the hotel staff, the team captured all of the 164,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, architecture, outlets and guestrooms with more than 150 unique points of interest and every single area in between.
“Capturing one of the industry’s busiest hotels in full 360 was a challenge,” said Tornquist. “Communication and feedback between both parties is crucial during the design and build phase. Our Chicago- and Los Angeles-based teams were tasked with turning a massive amount of content into an easy-to-navigate, intuitive and fun interactive experience that showed off the hotel in just the right light.”
Since its launch in February, the platform has already helped the hotel book events. One of those events is a learning session for the Children’s Hospitals’ Solutions for Patient Safety in January 2019.
Rhonda Wagenlander, event manager/project specialist with the organization, said that the platform influenced her decision. “I thought the technology was wonderful. It gave you a feeling of actually being on site from the arrival at the hotel, walking through the lobby and up the escalator to the meeting space,” she said. “The sales manager explained the space as we toured each level and it helped spark some ideas for our group to include some creative opportunities in our agenda.”
She continued, “Having the opportunity to see the hotel via the virtual tour was very helpful for us to ensure we were selecting the right property for our group. The virtual tour gave you a good sense of the size of the meeting rooms and the walking distance between each. That is especially helpful when you have an agenda with tight timelines and transitions between sessions.”
The benefit of not needing to do a site visit was helpful. “My experience with other hotels is usually by viewing pictures they include in their proposals or perhaps links on their website,” said Wagenlander. “Since the projects I work on do not have extra funds for site visits, it is very challenging to make decisions based on floor plans and pictures alone. We have had some issues in the past after contracting and arriving on site for the event only to find that the representation of and our understanding of the floor plan was not conducive to our meeting because the rooms were not as close to one another as described. This creates added stress and scrambling to adjust in the 11th hour prior to an event to ensure success.”
In addition to helping potential clients view the facility, the platform is useful for those who have already booked an event. “Once they purchase, to come back to the hotel over and over again, it is quite an expense for them,” said Lang. “So now our event management team can use this to speak to the customer about how they can load in, or how they want to set a space or the branding. Those are all important pieces to this.”
Wagenlander plans on using the platform for her event. “We are in the process now of designing the agenda for our upcoming meeting at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, and I will be better equipped to assign the right room for each session with the knowledge of where the space is located in relation to each breakout room and the general session room,” she said. “We will also be able to include some creative agenda options, utilizing the space in the most effective way for our group.” HB