Meeting Management

When Playing Guinea Pig Pays Off

With the Omni Nashville opening three months ahead of schedule, the property agreed to host its first piece of meetings business at a discounted rate — in exchange for using the group as a guinea pig.


After Courtney McGee took enough clients for hard-hat tours of the Omni Nashville Hotel while it was under construction, somethingbecame “very obvious” to her — “that they were way ahead of schedule,” said McGee, president and CEO of Nashville-based Event Logistics. Indeed, the $270-million, 800-room property, which broke ground in June 2011, was originally slated to open on Jan. 1 of this year, but things moved more quickly than that. “About a year in, we were ahead of schedule,” said Tod Roadarmel, Omni Nashville’s director of sales and marketing. “We backed [the opening] up to Dec. 1, and then at the 14-month mark we were further ahead, so we moved it to Nov. 1.”

Progress continued in that direction, and eventually Omni set the official opening date for Sept. 30, 2013, three months ahead of schedule. McGee learned the news in December 2012, over lunch with Roadarmel, whom she’s known and worked with for 20 years. She immediately saw an opportunity for one of her clients — AMBEST, a national network of independent truck stops and service centers headquartered outside Nashville, whose 25th anniversary was in 2013. AMBEST usually meets in more modest venues, but McGee had a proposal for Roadarmel: Let the group book the Omni at a discounted rate, and serve as a guinea pig to help test out the property’s meeting operations.

Roadarmel thought it “a perfect opportunity” to work with a good third-party customer. AMBEST took advantage of a 25-percent discount on Omni’s group room rate, and 20 to 25 percent off for meal functions.

Ribbon-cutting on the sleek, 21-story Omni — directly across the street from Nashville’s equally new Music City Center, and integrated into a three-story expansion of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum (CMHOF) – was at 11 a.m. on Sept. 30. AMBEST’s meeting was on Sept. 30- Oct 4, and participants were invited to all of the opening festivities. “As we got closer to the date, we were able to have the hotel pre-key everyone,” McGee said, “and we set up a separate entrance and a satellite registration desk for our group, so they were able to check in after 11 o’clock rather than wait until 7…. It was just a really good partnership with Omni and Event Logistics.”

On ribbon-cutting day — which was when AMBEST moved in -“we got all the staff together at 9 o’clock that morning. We had a rally and a pep talk. We gave away a bunch of $100 bills to raffle winners to get them fired up. They were raring to go. It was like letting one of the thoroughbreds out of the gates at the Kentucky Derby.”

The experience, McGee said, was “seamless.” At around 200, attendance was double AMBEST’s typical turnout — with 621 room nights, 150 percent more than the 415 the group had contracted for. AMBEST’s exhibit hall, taking up most of the Omni’s 23,760-square-foot Broadway Ballroom, had 77 booths, and a networking event held at the CMHOF made AMBEST the first group to use the new construction that connects it directly to the Omni.

AMBEST was “just a group of many firsts,” McGee said. “It helped the hotel, the museum, and us as a meetings company to see what a great thing has been created and built here in Nashville.”

Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso formerly was executive editor of Convene.