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Gaming Technology Gives the Ritz-Carlton Chicago New Break Options

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October 7, 2010 — For the Ritz-Carlton Chicago, a Four Seasons Hotel, creative thinking isn’t just a phrase they toss around at conferences. It’s something they try to live and breathe to ensure they are current and on top of the latest trends.

The most recent example of this is a program designed to increase interest in its meeting business. The program allows planners to have a Nintendo Wii coffee break, and while it just launched recently, the property is pleased with the results so far.

“We wanted to enhance the group

experience,” said Marc Kaufman, director of catering and conference services for the property. “People always have coffee breaks, and we were just trying to think of new things. We came up with the Wii Break.”

The hotel doesn’t charge for the equipment, thinking of it as more of a value-add to their meeting services than an opportunity to increase the bottom line. Kaufman noted that in a few cases it has added to the food and beverage component of a meeting, with customers choosing to add a Wii Break where they might not have done something as elaborate. However, in most cases, he noted, it’s just a way for groups to have a good time and get the blood flowing.

There is not, Kaufman said, a set menu built around the Wii Break, but the hotel will customize a coffee menu around the games the group chooses to offer. For example, if Wii Bowling is the game of choice, Kaufman noted, they could serve the types of food people would typically find in a bowling alley.

The concept is similar to the Blackberry Break the hotel has been offering for a while now, he said. With that option, there are printed materials of Blackberry devices, and all of the food served has a blackberry component.

However, Kaufman doesn’t expect the Wii Break to specifically bring in business. Rather, he noted, it will “create a buzz” his sales team can take advantage of. They mention it to clients and potential clients when the idea of a coffee break is mentioned, as well as putting out press releases to the media to drum up awareness. He also noted that it’s a nice value-added service to mention hand-in-hand with a series of renovations the hotel recently completed. The guestrooms were updated first, followed by a total public space revamp.

So what’s next for the Ritz-Carlton Chicago? “We’re always thinking, always brainstorming,” said Kaufman. He noted that his team meets on a regular basis to “get the creative juices going,” by sharing things to read, tearing pages out of magazines, and just kicking around ideas.

He noted that the hotel’s meeting business is starting to pick up, although it hasn’t been even increase across the board, with some segments returning faster than others. But the Ritz-Carlton Chicago is having a fantastic year in 2010, Kaufman noted. “A year ago, it was scary,” he said. “But now we’re feeling good. This year, we’re rocking and rolling.” For next year, he noted, business booked is solid, but he feels it has stalled a bit. He is hoping new corporate meeting packages will help draw in more meeting business, along with the more creative options the hotel offers. But, he said, creative thinking isn’t just a product of a bad economy. “Even if business was perfect, we would be doing this, thinking creatively and currently,” he said, noting that the Four Seasons brand is known for its innovation and creativity in this area.

As to what the next big thing will be for the property to generate buzz and draw in groups, Kaufman doesn’t know yet. Social media, he noted, could be one area of interest, but right now the hotel is focusing on the Wii Break along with the corporate meeting packages. In the end, he noted that meeting groups often tell people to “get up and stretch. So this is an extension of that, to get the blood flowing.” In all likelihood, the Ritz-Carlton Chicago will continue to find creative ways to make the coffee break more interesting.

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