With the opening of Element Huntsville atop the highest floors of the AAA Four-Diamond Westin Huntsville in June, the property became the first dual complex of Westin and Element (both Marriott brands) in the country. Now that’s what we call teamwork!
The complex came to be through a combination of bad luck and good timing. When the Westin first opened in spring 2009, the top floors of the building were planned to be condos. That plan fell through due to the economy and other issues, so the top floors sat vacant for years. In fall 2015, new owners began evaluating how to optimize those unused levels. The Element by Westin brand was looking to rapidly expand, and both sides determined it was a perfect fit for an Element hotel to move into the space.
Fast-forward to this summer, and the dual Westin/Element hotel is open for business—and expecting to gradually increase its meetings business within the next year, thanks to an expansion underway at the Westin. Element has 150 guest rooms, with 68 suites (ideal for extended stays); Westin currently has 210 guest rooms and will grow to 232 by Labor Day this year. All of the current 16,000 square feet of meeting space is located on the Westin floors. After the planned expansion, meeting planners will have a new 5,000-sq.-ft. ballroom, two boardrooms and four new breakout rooms to work with by April 2018.
From a hotel perspective, housing two properties together makes sense financially. But what boon does it hold for planners?
“You have two products under the same roof that are very different. Element typically appeals more to millennials, while Westin appeals to an older demographic,” says Mark Nelson, the complex’s general manager. “There’s a chance now for a planner to bridge generations and have a much broader appeal to people attending a meeting.”
In addition to Element and the expansion to Westin (plus a just-opened coffee shop in the lobby serving Starbucks beverages), Nelson says the true selling point is the hotel’s location. It’s part of Huntsville’s popular Bridge Street Town Centre, packed with dining options, shopping, a movie theater and more.
“When people are coming here for meetings, it’s not just about the facility,” says Nelson. “What excites a meeting planner—and attendees—is when they have the walkable infrastructure from a hotel that can fill the rest of their day and make it a great experience.”