Leon Goldberg never misses a workout, even on the road. His favorite way to explore a new city is by foot via an early morning jog. Traveling, he skips salty plane snacks in favor of healthy nuts and lots of water. It’s no wonder, then, that he brings so much energy and vitality to his role as complex director of sales and marketing for two powerhouse New York City hotels: New York Marriott Marquis and Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel.
Other than his family (his wife, two children, two cats, a fish and his beloved rescue pup, Pumpkin), there’s nothing Goldberg loves more than showing newcomers around his hotels and the surrounding Times Square. We caught up with him during the launch of a new program called Times Squared, enabled by the Marriott-Starwood merger. He shares its perks for planners, how international business is going and why he’s stepping up cultural training in anticipation of a huge group in October.
What can you share about the new program, Times Squared, that brings those two properties together for meeting planners?
This is a unique opportunity of two hotels that now can work together in attracting large conventions into New York City for groups of up to 2,200 rooms on peak and in need of 160,000 square feet of meeting space. There’s no single hotel in New York that can accommodate a group of that size. We have the ability to have one contact for the client, and we will have joint billing in the near future. The whole process will be seamless. On a greater scheme, both hotels are part of the Marriott Convention & Resort Network, so our associates can get data on big meetings across the portfolio. It makes it easier for clients so they don’t have to re-create the wheel.
How does the aptly named Times Squared play into the hotels’ locations?
They are six blocks apart. What’s appealing [for planners] is they can bring Times Square into their meeting by virtue of connecting the two hotels. Attendees can get outside, get sunlight and get a taste of New York City. Times Square is 2.5 acres, and there’s a huge amount of activities to do between our two venues. The other thing is—because we are such big businesses in Times Square—we can make introductions easily. Say [a planner needs] permits; we can help. The huge Jumbotrons surrounding the hotels are available to rent too. We don’t control them, but we have relationships with the entities that rent them out. That’s something important to a planner, in a big city, that we have leverage. We can get things done.
Are you seeing an increase in incentive program bookings?
New York has always been a strong incentive destination for many reasons. It is an aspirational city for many people, due to the fact there’s so much surrounding the hotels and it’s convenient to walk to venues. Planners don’t have to do bussing in putting together an incentive package. Airlift into New York is also easy, with three major airports. At the Marriott Marquis, we have a nice mix of international and domestic incentives—a lot of financial and insurance, and direct marketing companies. I think the numbers are pretty consistent.
How much international business do you do?
About 20 to 25 percent of our incentives are international. That mirrors the percentage of corporate groups. Both hotels are 70 percent transient business, which is a combination of business travel and leisure travel, and 30 percent group. Group bookings are anything over 10 rooms; however, we do a lot of small groups. About 70 percent of the groups are less than 100 rooms on peak.
Does a high value of the dollar affect international groups coming in for you?
We’ve seen a small decline of international, but it’s counteracted by an increase in domestic business in New York. Overall we have not been tremendously affected. There’s been some downward pressure on rate, but that’s somewhat due to supply in New York. Occupancy has remained pretty much the same. If one segment is down, the other one is up.