JW Marriott responds to female-only floor concerns

GRAND RAPIDS, MI: When the new JW Marriott in Grand Rapids, MI, first announced its grand opening this spring, PR efforts focused on its upscale amenities - including a floor dedicated solely to female travelers.

GRAND RAPIDS, MI: When the new JW Marriott in Grand Rapids, MI, first announced its grand opening this spring, PR efforts focused on its upscale amenities - including a floor dedicated solely to female travelers.

While that was just one of the hotel's offerings, the media pundits' and civil-rights activists' questions of whether that floor was actually addressing the needs of certain consumers or discriminating against others began dominating the conversation.

The 24-story, 340-room hotel, scheduled to open in late September, is targeting expense-account business and convention travelers, many involved in Western Michigan's budding life-sciences industry. The female-only floor was designed to "make it something different and special" for female business travelers, said Andrea Groom, a consultant with Grand Rapids-based Wondergem, the PR firm representing Alticor, which owns and operates the hotel.

When national media started picking up the women's-only story, however, Alticor tapped New York-based Quinn & Co. to assist with national and trade media PR. Hotel GM George Aquino soon began serving as the property's official spokesman in outlets from MSNBC to Today, as public debates have raged over the legalities of female-only accommodations.

"We never anticipated any kind of legal issues," Groom said, but "a lot of people are passionate about this idea, both positive and negative."

"Marriott's listening," she added. If a man should happen to request a room on the 19th floor, "it's not going to be an issue... he won't be excluded."

Initial PR on behalf of the 19th-floor concept - which includes premium amenities, such as chenille throws, fresh flowers, shower stools, in-room webcams, a private lounge, and extra safety and security features - featured traditional local and regional outreach and focus groups.

While the soon-to-open JW Marriott hasn't altered its messaging and will host focus groups to further explore the subject, the enhanced media attention has prompted the hotel to "address everyone's concerns," Groom said.

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