Steamboat Springs On any given Monday, executives at Steamboat's two largest resort hotels are competing hard, trying to land the same convention. By the end of the week, they're apt to be hosting the same party make that dinner for 375 teachers or a seminar for 400 veterinarians.
Executives at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort and Conference Center and at the Steamboat Grand Hotel say they've been able to maintain a friendly competition this summer. At the same time, they've collaborated on hosting some conventions neither hotel could have hosted without getting some help from the other property.
"It's definitely incremental business business Steamboat wouldn't get otherwise," Steamboat Grand Manager Terry Murphy said.
Vince Rosa, director of group sales for the Sheraton, said the "special districts" convention coming to Steamboat for three nights in September is a good example of the synergy the two hotels are achieving. The special districts group includes employees of small governmental entities such as water districts. They're expected to generate as many as 600 room nights this fall. The Sheraton formerly hosted the group in past years but the convention became too big for the Sheraton to host by itself.
"We lost them because they outgrew us," Rosa said. "Now they're coming back to us. It's just amazing. What we've gained as a team effort has more than any small losses (to the competing hotel). And there's more to come."
Steamboat Grand sales manager Mary Verity said ideally, Steamboat would be able to offer a single, larger ballroom. However, the two hotels working in concert are able to book conventions and groups that it would otherwise lose out on. Verity comes to the Steamboat Grand from the Inverness Hotel in Englewood.
The "special districts" meeting is an example of a convention that will fill both hotels. A more typical scenario involves a piece of convention business being pursued by the sales staff of one of the two hotels. If a meeting planner tells the sales executive they'd like to consider the Sheraton, but they need an additional 35 rooms, the sales person can raise the possibility of putting the overflow conventioneers across the street in the Grand.
The two hotels will also share business from the Rocky Mountain Trauma convention this fall. In January 2002, the Law Education Institute will bring a large convention of attorneys representing 16 areas of specialities to Steamboat. Again, the two hotels will share the business and Rosa said Steamboat was able to lure the business away from Vail, where it had been going for 19 years. The convention would not have been lured away from Vail without the availability of the rooms and convention facilities available across the street at the Steamboat Grand, Rosa said. He expects the Law Education Institute to turn into repeat business for Steamboat.
Another level of cooperation between the two hotels involves using the two ballrooms to host conventions in concert.
In the case of the special districts convention, the two hotels can smoothly host 350 people for a large meeting in one ballroom and serve them dinner in the ballroom across the street an hour later. It's not impossible to do that in a single hotel ballroom, Murphy said, but over the long haul it would wear down the hotel staff.
The Grand and the Sheraton are located directly across the street from one another on Mount Werner Circle at the base of the Steamboat Ski Area. Although the Steamboat Grand is brand new, the two hotels mirror each other to a great degree; both offer condominium units with kitchens as well as traditional hotel rooms, both have fine dining restaurants and shops as well as banquet facilities. And both have ballrooms that max out between 400 and 500 guests, depending upon the group's needs. Both resort hotels also offer smaller meeting rooms.
Verity said her sales staff has to work to overcome the impression among meeting planners that Steamboat is a grueling five-hour drive from Denver.
"Our target market in summers is the Front Range, not Chicago," Verity said. "Once we get a meeting planner up here, our conversion rate is very high. You've got to get them past the idea that it's a horrible drive."
Steamboat can compete with convention centers and hotels in places such as Vail, Keystone, Breckenridge and Copper Mountain by expressing a stronger awareness of the meeting planner's challenges, Verity said.
"We've got to find their hot buttons and pitch our strengths to what they want. You've got to try and find a match," Verity said. "We tell them, 'We want you to be successful. Let us help you host a successful convention.'"
That message doesn't always come across so clearly from competitors in other mountain resorts who don't have to work quite so hard to book group business, Verity said.
Verity is not a full-time resident of Steamboat. She maintains her residence in Denver, spending three days a week in Steamboat. The other two days, she works from her home in Denver, supervising a sales staff of two, also based in Denver, on behalf of the Steamboat Grand.
Having group-sales people based in Denver has been a big plus, Verity said.
"If we've got a lead in Denver, they can be in their face in a matter of hours," Verity said.
The Grand opened in October 2000, and hotel officials didn't know for certain what to expect from their inaugural summer in Steamboat. Murphy acknowledged last week he was a little unprepared for the amount of business his property would do this year.
"We got surprised to some degree," Murphy said. "We had some group business that booked less than a month ahead." At times, the hotel struggled too keep its food and beverage department fully staffed, and Murphy is considering recruiting foreign workers to bolster that aspect of the hotel's operation next summer. He said the hotel had ample housekeepers this summer.
The hotel manager isn't complaining about the challenges of a busy summer the hotel's occupancy rate during many nights in July exceeded 90 percent, Murphy said.