Hilton and Starwood: On Board with Pharma Meetings


Pharmaceutical meetings comprise one of the most specialized segments of the group market, requiring hoteliers to understand the many factors driving site selection for these events. Public perception, industry regulations and intensive breakout needs are among those factors. And fortunately for planners, major hoteliers have become quite versed in what it takes to be the ideal partner. The nationwide business potential makes the effort worthwhile.

“Our pharmaceutical group business is always considerable. It’s a great market for us,” says Allison Taylor, Senior Vice President of Sales, Starwood Hotels & Resorts. “Orlando, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles are very popular for these groups. Also, recently we have seen it extend to Dallas.” Julie Hills, Managing Director of Corporate Group Sales, Hilton Worldwide, cites several of those cities as hotbeds for Hilton’s pharma meetings business as well. “At Hilton, our strongest markets for medical meetings business right now are Orlando, Dallas, Chicago and Miami,” she says.

In many cases, pharma groups will meet in these first-tier cities in tandem with a medical convention, but the great airlift also makes them attractive sites for internal or physician-facing meetings held independently. Given that doctors often have busy schedules, the numerous direct flights into a first-tier city are an advantage. But when physicians will be attending, the breadth of potential lodging choices in these cities will often be curtailed to hotels that do not present a “luxury” image. “When booking healthcare professional meetings, pharma groups may avoid luxury hotels or hotels with ‘resort’ in the name,” Hills confirms. “For many pharma companies, they are able to use luxury hotels and resorts for internal meetings, although there is still sensitivity to public perception.”

Educated Hotel Reps

National representatives who understand that sensitivity will clearly be prepared to make better site recommendations to pharma planners. Many hoteliers have reps that are devoted to the pharma segment, or at least those who are educated on these groups’ needs. For example, according to Taylor, among Starwood’s strategic account managers is an expert on the pharma segment. One resource for expertise is Meetings Professionals International (MPI), which offers the Healthcare Meetings Compliance Certification (HMCC) program, open to both planners and suppliers. “To ensure meeting professionals receive the proper resources and expertise at their disposal, the entire Hilton Worldwide Sales team dedicated to the pharmaceutical market have all earned their HMCC,” Hills notes, “including a large number of our on-property medical meetings sales teams.”

Indeed, Hilton’s focus on the pharma segment has “expanded beyond national sales to include property-level salespeople and event services,” says Hills. “Service levels for our pharma groups have significantly increased as a result of our specialty approach, as our teams have the ability to be more consultative and strategic partnerships with their clients. This allows meeting professionals to know that all the important details are taken care of so that they can focus on creating impactful gatherings that help attendees reach their goals. Further, since the pharmaceutical market is constantly evolving, we believe in an open dialogue with our customers to help overcome common challenges and educate each other together.”

Facilitating Sunshine Act

For physician-attended meetings, one challenge that many pharma groups are facing now is the Physician Payment Sunshine Act’s requirement to track and report all transfers of value to healthcare providers (of $10 or more) made at the event, including meals, amenities, etc. While this project is the responsibility of the host group and any third party it employs for that purpose, hoteliers can do their part to assist. Hilton, for example, has evolved its billing format so as to facilitate the breakdown of expenses to identify transfers of value to individual attendees, Hills notes. In addition, “in working closely with our hotel operations teams, we ensure they are aware not to upgrade or send amenities to healthcare professional guests without the explicit guidance of the pharma meeting professional.”

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