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Meeting Expectations

Sheraton Springfield Excels at Helping Groups Get Down to Business

Ernie Taddei, left, and Paul Marcelina

Ernie Taddei, left, and Paul Marcelina say business travelers appreciate the 18,000-square-foot 4 Fitness Health Club at the Sheraton Springfield.

The Sheraton Springfield Monarch Place Hotel is the largest hotel in the area, with 325 rooms. It has recently undergone more than $7 million in renovations and features unusual architecture and amenities, which include a 12-story atrium, two restaurants, and 24 areas where meetings or conventions can be held.

But general manager Paul Marcelina says that what sets its apart from its competitors is the fact that every hotel associate is steeped in the “five human truths,” which allow them to meet the basic emotional needs that all human beings share.

“Our goal is to create an emotional connection with our guests. We all want to belong, feel special, be understood, reach our fullest potential, and be in control,” said Marcelina, citing the results of a study conducted by Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide in 2009 that changed the hotel’s culture.

“We consider ourselves to be friends of our guests, which is reflected back to us every day in our guest-comment cards. Every guest and every trip is different, and we are aware of the needs and time constraints of weekday business travelers as well as the needs of social travelers here on weekends,” he added.

Although the hotel has its share of tourists, about 60% of its annual revenue comes from business groups, whose members travel from throughout New England and beyond. “We’re the largest hotel west of Boston, north of New Haven, and south of Montreal,” said Peter Picknelly, president of Monarch Enterprises and owner of the Sheraton Springfield.

The hotel is part of the Monarch Place complex, which includes a 25-story tower that contains 400,000 square feet of office space as well as a parking garage for 200 vehicles. “It adds to our appeal,” said Ernie Taddei, regional director of sales and marketing for the hotel, explaining that many business travelers who stay at the Sheraton have meetings scheduled in Monarch Place.

But there are other features that make the hotel a sought-after location for business gatherings. “We have 30,000 square feet of meeting space, and everything a business needs is under one roof, which is difficult to find outside of Boston or New York City,” Marcelina said. “We know we are competing with hotels in Hartford, Boston, and Philadelphia, so we spend time figuring out how to attract businesses to Springfield and this hotel.”

He told BusinessWest that meetings can be held concurrently in spaces that can accommodate from two to 1,000 people, or 100 8×10 pipe-and-drape booths. In addition, the Grand Ballroom can serve dinner to 1,000 people at one time, while cocktail hours for up to 2,100 people can be held on the first three floors of the atrium.

Other perks include state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment, as well as LCD projectors and specialty AV items available from hotel vendors. “Our vendors stay on the property during the entire convention, to make sure everything is done correctly,” Taddei said, adding that the hotel’s recently upgraded sound system “allows people to hear perfectly from one end of a convention space to the other.”

The Sheraton has also developed close relationships with many local attractions, which allows guests to purchase discounted tickets to basketball games or other events, and Taddei said these tickets are often made available to people staying there for several nights.

“It’s not just about the rate and meeting room, it’s about what we can do to make a stay more enjoyable,” he said. “We don’t want our guests to be bored.”

In addition, the hotel’s full banquet kitchen allows event planners to customize menus and match the décor of the dining room to a chosen theme. Food offerings are also frequently expanded, and hotel salespeople sample dishes on the menu and provide input. For example, after a recent sampling of hors d’oeuvres created for a wedding party, officials decided to offer them to business groups.

The Sheraton, which averages about 200,000 guests per year, has also made major upgrades to its Internet technology, which allows guests to operate several devices at the same time in their rooms. There is also ‘the Link,’ an area found in all Sheraton hotels that offers guests computer use and a copier and printer at no cost in a comfortable setting.

Staying Power

Bartender Carmine Capuano

Bartender Carmine Capuano says cocktail hours for up to 2,100 guests can be held on the first three floors of the Sheraton Springfield’s atrium.

Marcelina said there have been a number of renovations completed at the Sheraton over the past few years. Upgrades include new furniture, wall coverings, artwork, carpeting, drapery, bathrooms, lighting, and sound systems.

But due to its architectural design, changing the environment was no easy feat.

“Our atrium is visible from all floors, and it was very challenging to complete the renovations without bothering our guests,” Marcelina said, explaining that scaffolding had to be built from the second to 12th floors.

But today, people delight in looking up to the top of the glass ceiling or down to the lower floors, depending on where their room is located. The view is enhanced by special lighting along the outer wall of every floor, which is programmed to change colors every few seconds.

“It’s a special visual effect, and large conventions or parties can select colors that match the theme of their convention,” Taddei said. “Lighting is important, and we can also splash colors on the ballroom floor to match a business’ taste, which is nice for a company meeting and also nice for social functions such as a wedding.”

Another bonus is the hotel’s 18,000-square-foot 4 Fitness health center. “It’s the largest hotel health center in Massachusetts and has state-of-the-art equipment, a sauna, racquetball courts, and spinning classes,” Taddei said.

A large swimming pool beneath a domed glass ceiling and adjacent outdoor sunbathing area add to the appeal, and as a result, the hotel also caters to annual meetings and events held by religious groups, sports groups, youth groups, and other groups that often take part in competitions at the nearby MassMutual Center.

But despite outstanding physical amenities and a good location, hotel officials say what separates them from their competition, and results in repeat business, goes back to their focus on “human truths” and the behavior of hotel associates.

“We can say that we have nicer artwork or a warmer pool, but that is not going to make the difference between a good or exceptional experience,” Picknelly said. “What we do starts from the time a person arrives at the front desk and continues until they leave. But getting to that point is not an easy task. It takes a collaborative effort by all of our associates.”

To that end, great attention is paid to detail. Each employee’s name tag includes a hobby or interest, which often sparks conversations with guests. And associates are schooled to notice things such as a guest wearing a Red Sox cap and ask questions related to such items.

“We don’t consider the check-in process part of a transaction; it’s a welcome service that is all about engagement and interaction and is part of the warmth connected to our core values,” said Marcelina, adding that, when guests leave, they are asked about their stay and invited to return. “The connection we make is what separates us from our competition.”

Employees are also trained to take notice of details in guest rooms. For example, Marcelina said, if someone from the cleaning staff notices a guest has an empty Diet Coke in their trash can or an empty Hershey’s candy wrapper, he or she can replace the items with a note that tells the guest to enjoy them and their stay.

Taddei has been with the hotel since 2009 and said many guests come to Springfield to enjoy local attractions, which range from the Basketball Hall of Fame to Six Flags New England and the Big E.

“We are lucky to have them in our backyard,” Picknelly agreed.

But the atmosphere in the hotel changes in response to the day of the week and who is staying there. In fact, Picknelly likens it to a transformer.

“Monday through Friday, we cater to a business clientele,” he explained. “But on Friday afternoon, we transform into a leisure hotel, which means we adopt a different culture.”

That includes offering breakfast later in the morning for guests who want to sleep in, longer pool hours with more attendants on duty, and other measures designed to make hotel stays memorable and relaxing for guests of all ages.

Picknelly said small things are important and uses the example of newspapers to make his point. “My son gets all of his news from the Internet, while I prefer a real newspaper,” he said. So, newspapers are delivered to each guest’s room early each morning.

The hotel’s theme is the fall season in New England. “The artwork was commissioned, and every guest room has a piece twice the size that you would normally find in a hotel room,” Picknelly said. There is also a large mural over the main entrance to the grand ballroom depicting three scenes that reflect Springfield’s history and attractions.

But hotel executives stress that the reason people choose the Sheraton and return there is because of the service, and all new associates participate in the Sheraton Service Culture Training.

“It allows our associates to understand the diverse needs of our guests and also allows them to exceed their expectations,” said Marcelina. “We listen to the people who stay here because we want them to feel they belong, which goes back to the human truths.”

For example, when the hotel stopped serving dinner in the sports lounge, it was quickly reinstated due to demand, as was popcorn in the bar when another snack was substituted.

Meaningful Interactions

Marcelina said people have many choices when it comes to choosing a hotel. “But when you know the person behind the desk cares about you and looks forward to seeing you again, it makes a difference. And we feel this way about everyone who stays here.”

Indeed, the culture, combined with recent upgrades, have proven to be a recipe for success. “A lot of our conventions are repeat business, and we are already holding space as far out as 2017,” Taddei said. “We are selected over other places even when our location isn’t as convenient. People choose us because of our consistency and because our staff is trained to make sure they have a memorable experience.”

Marcelina said the formula is simple. “It goes back to the human truths,” meaning every guest leaves feeling special and cared about.

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