Creating A Work Of Art

September 8, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — Although he isn’t using brushes and a canvas, Michael Lyman is painting a portrait.

As the director of marketing and sales for the new JW Marriott Hotel that Alticor Inc. is building downtown, Lyman is busy coloring the experience that future guests can expect to find at the plush hotel when it opens in a little more than a year.

Lyman told the Business Journal that his task is multi-faceted. He has to put together the pre-marketing materials for the hotel that will be used to introduce the new business. He also has to create a Web site that will generate interest and provide potential guests with an effective familiarity of what they will find when they get there.

“Those can be reference points that you can direct potential clients to,” said Lyman, whose office is on the fifth floor of the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, also owned by Alticor.

“Then we have to go out and sell, and when we’re selling, now we’re painting the picture, because we don’t have anything physical to sell,” he added.

But even though Lyman doesn’t have anything tangible to sell right now, he said his mission isn’t all that difficult because he isn’t selling the building. Instead, Lyman said he is selling the experience of staying in the building.

“When you sell a hotel, you know there is going to be a bedroom and a bathroom, but there is more to it than that. Why we go to Hotel A or Hotel B is because of the experience. So even though I don’t have a physical thing to show anybody, I paint the picture of the experience,” he said.

“Even when I do have something physical, I will get them excited by painting that picture once again. So it’s not as much of a detriment as it might be in other kinds of selling.”

Lyman said he can paint a very pretty portrait of this hotel because when the construction dust settles next year, Alticor will have spent up to $100 million to build it. He has two room models to show potential guests how they will be surrounded by quality once they arrive. He can also offer clients a virtual tour of the completed hotel, which shows a guest entering the lobby, riding up in an elevator and entering a room.

“I have those tools with me right now that I can use in trying to communicate the excitement of the new place.”

Part of his sales pitch, of course, will be the extensive amenities that Marriott four-diamond hotels offer their guests: Plenty of nearby parking and an enclosed walkway that will take guests through downtown are just two.

Guests can also expect that the food at the Marriott will be better than good. One person who will help the hotel attain that ranking is John State. The Orlando Sentinel reported that State is set to join the Marriott team soon, after having served as the executive chef for Disney’s California Grill until Aug. 24.

Lyman said he has been getting the word out about the new hotel by meeting with some of the larger companies such as Wolverine World Wide, Steelcase Inc. and Smiths Aerospace, in order to develop the group side of the business. He also has made presentations to state associations, and recently booked reservations with the Michigan Township Association for its convention here in 2009.

Lyman said the JW Marriott will have a “soft” opening before the hard one — sort of a dress rehearsal before the curtain goes up. He is confident that the hotel will do well here, and he sees the city as one that is ready to blossom. All the new development downtown has put the city on radar screens across the country, and he said Grand Rapids will eventually become a household name throughout the U.S.

Lyman said his immediate goal for the hotel is to open it with a full house. He also said he is in the process of putting together the hotel’s long-term strategic plan, adding, “Opening a hotel is always very challenging.”

Lyman has been in the hospitality industry for the better part of two decades. He began his career in the nation’s capital, certainly one of the industry’s busiest markets, and worked there for six years before he moved on to New York, the country’s busiest market.

Lyman left New York and came to Grand Rapids about 18 months ago and saw that the 24-story hotel was going up along Campau Avenue at Pearl Street. But Alticor wasn’t ready then to fill the positions on its management crew, which is headed by George Aquino.

So Lyman went to work at the Crowne Plaza Hotel on 28th Street and then at the Grand Hotel in Lansing, until Alticor added him to the Marriott executive team in April.

His arrival here not only has brought him new responsibilities, it has also reunited him with family members.

“I’d been away for quite some time, and it’s time for me to be physically closer to my family and create memories with my nieces and nephews, instead of just sharing them over the phone,” he said.

“It’s wonderful to be here. The city has grown up since I’ve been away.”    

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