Marriott starts campaign to fill new downtown hotel

Waterfront building attracts attention of convention planners

`We're rocking'

June 01, 2000|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

For the first time in nearly a decade, Baltimore has a major, new downtown hotel to sell.

Advertising kicks off today for the 750-room Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel, slated to open in February.

The campaign, which will cost Marriott International Inc. a half-million dollars between now and grand opening, will begin with print ads in major convention publications. Designed by the Campbell Group of Baltimore, it seeks to clearly tell people that this is a large conference hotel, in Baltimore and on the water.

"As long as we can communicate those three things, we've done our job," said Cristina Creager, partner/creative director of the Campbell Group. "It doesn't sound like a big message to us, but to meeting planners it's probably music to their ears."

Already, marketers have secured verbal commitments for 110,000 room nights through 2005. In one recent week, the sales force closed on 14,000 room nights - or about $6.5 million in business, said Mike Waterman, the hotel's director of marketing.

"We're rocking," Waterman said. "Every customer I've called on has said something like, `We love Baltimore. We'd be there more often if the rooms were available.'"

Waterman estimated that more than 70 percent of the business is from groups that couldn't come before.

"To have that kind of activity in such a short time is phenomenal," said Carroll R. Armstrong, president and chief executive of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association. "That property is going to change the face of that area. It's going to be the catalyst for dramatic development."

The Marriott Waterfront Hotel ad campaign will use local points of interest, including Camden Yards, the Inner Harbor and the Harborplace Amphitheater to point out features of the new hotel.

Increasing the challenge of marketing the $130 million hotel was the flag change that occurred last fall when Marriott replaced the troubled Wyndham International Inc. chain as operator of the 32-story hotel, leaving marketers with half the usual amount of time for their campaign. Instead of having about two years to drum up business, the advertisers and sales force will have had about 11 months when the hotel opens.

The Marriott, Baltimore's first new hotel in nine years and the largest in the city, also will benefit from the $50 million that the Bethesda-based company spends annually on national advertising.

With the opening of the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel's 750 rooms, nearly 40 percent of the Baltimore market will be Marriott product: the Marriott Inner Harbor with 525 rooms, the Renaissance with 622 and the Marriott Courtyard, which will open in November with 208 rooms.

A facility described as a sister hotel to Baltimore's opened in Tampa, Fla., earlier this year - the 717-room Tampa Marriott Waterside.

"This pushed us into a whole other level," said Norwood Smith, vice president of sales Tampa/Hillsborough Convention & Visitors Association. "It was the missing link that we really needed to maximize our convention center."

Since the arrival of the Tampa Marriott Waterside, average attendance per convention is expected to rise from 2,800 this year to 4,500 in 2001, 3,200 in 2002 and 3,600 in 2003, Smith said. Factored into the 2001 number are 70,000 room nights expected for Super Bowl XXXVI, he said.

Like Baltimore, Tampa struggled for years to get its hotel built - a fact that created pent up demand and helped boost preliminary bookings, even breaking Marriott's records for pre-opening bookings, Smith said.

Unlike Tampa, where the new hotel is located across the street from the convention center, Baltimore still lacks a facility that could serve as a headquarters hotel located near the convention center. The Marriott Waterfront is about a mile away.

Construction of a headquarters hotel near the convention center is a project that Armstrong and others have said is sorely needed.

"We still have to be extremely focused on bringing the convention headquarters hotel in close proximity to the convention center, preferably connected by an enclosed walkway," Armstrong said.

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