Planners come together for three days of networking, learning and all-out joy

While a warm wind brushed the fronds of palm trees and the warm water of the White Bank crashed on the shore of Paradise Island, a group of 29 meeting professionals and 17 representatives from Marriott CRN member hotels gathered to share insights, ideas and inspiration at Marriott’s first Meet with Momentum event of 2024 at Atlantis Bahamas this past January.

Meet with Momentum

Meet with Momentum Atlantis Bahamas Panel Stage
Panel Stage at Meet with Momentum

Bob Pfeffer, senior director at Marriott CRN, says, “We know that gaining knowledge is important. At Meet with Momentum, planners learn about Marriott, about the industry and what is changing in the industry. They learn how to become better planners and how they can become better partners with Marriott.”

Meet with Momentum debuted in May 2021 to promote the distinction among Marriott CRN’s leading hotels and resorts, and each event is different. From experiential events, like the New Orleans Jazz Fest, to city spotlights, planners who attend a Meet with Momentum walk away with a refreshed understanding of what it is like to be a customer on property. “What can they see, and taste and feel?” asks Pfeffer, as he explains what Meet with Momentum helps attendees discover. “We want to spotlight cities and destinations that are doing amazing and wonderful things. We can talk about what these cities and destinations are doing, but it makes a big difference when these planners can see it in action.”

Read More: Marriott International’s ‘Meet with Momentum’ Keeps Growing—Here’s Why

Takeaways from Industry Leaders

Day two of Atlantis Meet with Momentum opened with a panel of the best and brightest in Marriott CRN: Bob Pfeffer; Shonda Johnson-Issac, general manager at Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center; Lorraine Mahoney, global account manager at Marriott International; Michelle Liu, senior vice president of marine and water park operations at Atlantis; Russel Miller, executive vice president of operations at Atlantis; and moderated by Amy Painter, director of sales and leisure programming at Marriott CRN.

Trade show at Meet with Momentum
Trade Show at Meet with Momentum

The panel discussed at length how to curate experiences that are not cookie-cutter—it gives planners a reason to stay on property and is an opportunity to involve the local community. Room availability is a challenge; hotels are struggling to manage huge demand. In the face of these challenges, hotels are reimagining how they do business. Room resales and sliding cancellations are things of the past.

Multiple representatives on the panel advised planners to evaluate contracts more carefully than ever—don’t pre-assume anything as a given if it isn’t explicitly stated in the contract. And prioritize. Pick your battles. What does your group actually need? Pin a dollar amount to that need, then talk to the hotel about your budget and see what they can offer.

Read More: Tips for Negotiating Your Next Big Event Contract

During the open Q&A, planners aired frustrations—contracts are time-consuming already. Communication is difficult because staff is limited. The hospitality industry lost key players throughout the pandemic and is still working to match pre-pandemic levels of expertise as they recruit and train new professionals.

The panel came to the conclusion that the key solution to this issue is strong relationships between planners and hotels. These relationships enable conversation, which is essential for understanding the why: planners can get input on the hotel’s side and then share it with their clients.

Insights from the Team at Atlantis

Michelle Liu led a comprehensive presentation on Atlantis’s sustainability programs. It’s one thing to visit Dolphin Cay and get in the water with their rescue dolphins, or to look down from your hotel balcony to the sea turtles swimming in the man-made lagoon directly below your hotel room balcony, as I did.

It’s another when you find that a portion of the proceeds from every marine interaction activity and water park ticket, plus select F&B and retail purchases go to Atlantis Blue Project Foundation (ABPF), a private nonprofit that works to preserve and conserve Bahamian coral reefs and marine life through research, education and community outreach.

Sea Turtles at Atlantis Bahamas
Sea Turtles in the Royal Ray Lagoon at Atlantis Bahamas

Currently, Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) is ripping through Bahamian coral reefs, killing corals—which have been growing for centuries—within days. ABPF is working on a massive coral reef preservation project, taking samples of corals and reproducing them in labs so coral reefs that have been lost to SCTLD can be replanted when the time comes.

When I spoke to Liu after her presentation, she shared that Atlantis has been engaging in sustainability initiatives since “before it was cool.” The resort has been fully invested in sustainability since its very inception. She said, “It is simply part of our DNA.”

Read More: Sustainability as a Practice

The Value of the Panel

Presentations like these are just one of the things that made this Meet with Momentum event so impactful. Pfeffer remarks that these panel discussions consistently receive the highest ratings of any Meet with Momentum activity.

Not only did planners make valuable connections and gain powerful insight into the present state of the industry, but they were offered a deep dive (pun intended) into just how their business positions Atlantis to contribute to the world in positive ways, and the understanding that looking for hotels with initiatives like these is a key way planners can be more sustainable.

Pfeffer explains that the panel discussion is a pivotal moment at every Meet with Momentum event. “What makes the biggest difference is to walk away with something that goes deeper than pure business…the panel discussions have genuine empathy and care. We feel we have a responsibility to be stewards in the industry, to take meetings to the next level, address concerns and give planners and panel representatives [the chance to] to ask questions unscripted.”

Discovering Atlantis

A trade show followed the panel, and afterwards, planners took time to explore the property; some indulged in a personalized massage at the Mandara Spa, and others, like myself, visited the rescue dolphins in Dolphin Cay.

Jon Dorenbos Keynote Speaker at Meet with Momentum Atlantis Bahamas
Jon Dorenbos onstage at Meet with Momentum

That evening, the group gathered for a keynote speech from Jon Dorenbos. He was once an NFL long snapper, until a medical condition put an end to his career, but before that and still today, he is a professional magician. He spoke to the crowd, incorporating inexplicable card tricks into his speech—so much so that it teased the thought, “Maybe magic really is real!”

The group split off for a dine-around, some enjoying upscale Mediterranean-Bahamian fusion fare at Silan, others indulging in sushi and seafood from celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s restaurant, Nobu. Following dinner, the group came back together in one of the property’s expansive suites and nearly everyone gathered around the dining table, where Dorenbos once again showed off his card tricks, this time up close—still mind-blowing.

Attendees spent the next day exploring the many more incredible opportunities the resort has to offer. That evening, they gathered for an extraordinary farewell event at Ocean’s Edge, an outdoor event venue right on the coast. From the live band to the freshly made conch fritters to the open tent where they dined, lined with string lights, attendees saw just how extravagant and whimsical an event experience at Atlantis could be.

Connections that Last

Farewell Dinner at Ocean’s Edge, Cay Focus Photography; Decor by IslandDMC

All good things must come to an end, yet still, even as I ran into attendees in the airport, waiting for flights, the energy and enthusiasm of the prior few days remained. Among smiling goodbyes, we all boarded our flights home filled with fresh ideas and gratitude for a brilliant event spent on Paradise Island.

Pfeffer explains that the element that stands out the most throughout every Meet with Momentum event is its human aspect. Every Meet with Momentum welcomes a small group to the hosting hotel, which facilitates closer networking and enables the development of truly lasting relationships; attendees walk away with not only new business partners, but real connections.

Read More: Harnessing Momentum: How Marriott is Helping Meeting Profs Lead Events Forward