For a trip to Cancun in February, Troy Whaley wanted a hotel with easy access to shopping, dining and night life that also had some appealing amenities, so that after a day of exploring he and his wife could come back and chill out by the pool with a drink in hand. The NH Krystal Cancun, with its oceanfront pool and convenient location within walking distance of popular shops and restaurants, seemed perfect.
But when Whaley paddled up to the swim-up bar to unwind one afternoon during his stay, he was abruptly turned away without his rum punch. "The bartender told me he was closed due to a private party, and I would need to go into the hotel bar to get a drink," said Whaley, a 40-year-old training coordinator at a medical company in Brooklyn Park, Minn., who was irked by the lack of planning at the hotel. "Even if there was a sign up, it would have helped - or a couple of extra wait staff walking around the pool offering to get drinks, just to offset it a little bit."
That kind of annoyance at being shut out has often been shared by guests denied the use of a hotel facility because of a private event - the honeymooners who find out too late that the spa is playing host to a team-building party, the parents on a weekend getaway kept up all night by a Sweet 16 celebration in the ballroom, the family that gets gussied up for a fancy dinner at the hotel restaurant only to find it closed for a corporate function.
Such clashes are not uncommon at hotels that sell rooms to vacationers but are primarily business hotels, catering to conferences and training events. But as business travel continues to pick up, resorts, spas and even bed-and-breakfasts - the traditional domains of leisure travelers - are increasingly booking corporate retreats and private parties that may tie up prime spaces.
Group business, including meetings and conventions, accounted for 33 percent of rooms occupied at resorts in the United States last year, up from 22 percent in 2003, according to PKF Consulting. Part of the reason is that groups, which fill blocks of rooms and consume cookie-cutter catered meals, are generally more profitable than regular vacationers. Revenue from hotel banquet services grew at a greater pace than other hotel revenue sources last year, rising 9.9 percent from 2005 to 2006 as total hotel revenue grew only 8 percent.
But groups are also seeking out less-traditional meeting spots where their members can socialize after presentations or practice team skills in cooking classes or resort programs. "One of the latest trends in the meetings business is experimental meetings," said Dan Dobrowolski, owner of Canoe Bay, a 21-room luxury resort in Chetek, Wis., that has experienced a surge in requests for intimate executive retreats. "We are hearing this over and over from meeting and group planners who now want their participants to do things other than sit in a meeting room all day."
In New York's trendy meatpacking district, the Hotel Gansevoort, where groups account for about 30 percent of business, found a strong demand for spa parties after opening its spa and lounge last year. The Sofitel Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., has had a 25 percent rise in in-house catering events since 2005, with many groups requesting to hold events in its bar or cafe rather than in the ballroom.
Resort managers say they try to diminish clashes between groups and other guests by steering events to the off-season, when there are few other guests, or to times outside the peak operating hours for spas, restaurants and pools. But often, guests must settle for substitutes.
If the spa is closed to guests, for example, Hotel Gansevoort offers treatments in rooms or in the rooftop cabana. The Viceroy Santa Monica in California sets up a hospitality suite for guests if a large event prevents them from using certain portions of the hotel.
But even when hotels are careful to schedule events on off days, guests can still feel left out. When Pia Hahn and her husband, Barry, arrived at Florida's Hotel of South Beach one Sunday night at the end of April and went upstairs to take in the view at the rooftop Spire Bar, they were turned away. That might have been less bothersome, since the popular bar is normally closed Sunday through Tuesday, if others had not been enjoying it anyway - a private party was in full swing.
"I appreciate that private events and business functions are a key opportunity for hotels to earn additional revenue," Pia Hahn said. "However, I don't think this should be at the expense of the paying guests."