My Best Meeting Moment By Ross Barker, Chicago Marriott O'Hare

How I Turned an Event into an Airport, Passports Required

Goal: Promote a Major Renovation

We had just finished a $40 million renovation. We added the Great Room concept, so everything is encompassed in one—the front desk, bar and restaurant. We also added some meeting space and renovated the pool and guest rooms. We wanted to show it off, but the hardest thing was to get 300 guests to see everything in two hours. We didn’t want them to just come in and look at the newly renovated areas. Because of our proximity to O’Hare, we created an airport theme, which made it memorable.

Because of our proximity to O’Hare, we created an airport theme, which made it memorable.

A Concept Takes Flight

Outside, we had staff directing traffic, but they looked like they were guiding in planes. Guests walked into a vestibule area, where I added a security checkpoint. We had mimes dressed up in TSA uniforms, holding wands—they were terrific. We figured because they were mimes, it would add a little light humor. No one could be too annoyed about having to walk in through “security.”

Passport to a Great Event

Inside, it was as if you were in the airport. We had a passport control area where every guest received a little passport booklet with pages for each of the four main destinations. We created four gates, and the screen would show a “flight” to the new O’Hare Ballroom, or the new bar area. Guests walked to each gate to get their passports stamped. At the end of the night, they turned in their passports for raffle prizes.

Beyond Airport Food

All the staff was in uniform. At each gate, they were wearing lanyards, as though they were flight attendants about to board the plane. Servers wore pilot caps. They served a showcase of food from our new restaurant. Fortunately, with the menu, we didn’t go the airline route.