Why Marriott Isn’t Telling Guests About One of Its Most Innovative Ideas

Author: David McMillin       

Meeting professionals have always heard plenty of details from Marriott — the number of rooms the hotel company’s properties can offer groups, the square footage of ballrooms, the network upgrades that will keep attendees connected, and more. But on a recent trip to explore Phoenix when the city hosted the NCAA Final Four, I discovered that one of Marriott’s hotels is staying silent about its most curious and innovative space: a basement speakeasy.

On a tour of the Renaissance Phoenix Downtown, Director of Sales and Marketing Jon Erickson guided me past an art exhibit in the hotel’s basement to an unassuming door. Before 2016, it’s safe to say that Erickson wouldn’t have included this door on the itinerary; it used to open to a storage area for banquet furniture. Now, the space is home to Melinda’s Alley, a secretive drinking destination designed to transport guests back to the Prohibition era, and one of Erickson’s favorite parts of the property.

“We don’t tell our guests about it when they check in,” Erickson said. “It’s not on the website, and we don’t advertise. You have to know where to go to enjoy a cocktail in Melinda’s Alley.”

You also have to know when to go. The secret is out in Phoenix — Erickson said it’s common to find long lines waiting to get into the 49-person capacity space — but customers can only drink at Melinda’s Alley when the red light above the back-alley entrance is on. And that’s only on Friday and Saturday evenings.

Inspiring Innovation

The story behind Melinda’s Alley is as notable as the finished space. This wasn’t some corporate initiative, or an idea tested in Marriott’s famous Innovation Lab. Instead, Erickson said that Renaissance encourages its properties to embrace creativity with an annual collaborative competition. At the Phoenix Downtown, the staff receives puzzle pieces, and teams are built based on which members have connecting pieces. Then, three-person teams brainstorm ideas, and the entire staff votes to approve one of them. Melinda’s Alley was chosen as the winner.

Any organization can take a cue from the Renaissance approach to collaboration. Rather than keeping teams in silos, the find-your-partners-via-puzzle ensures that new minds will unite, and it creates space for new ideas to thrive.

Look for a complete account of my experience at the Final Four — spoiler alert: it was phenomenal — in the June issue of PCMA’s Convene magazine. Until then, if you’re looking for a good cocktail, keep your eyes peeled for the red light in the alley just off Central Avenue in downtown Phoenix.

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