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Chateau now open year-round

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by Jan K. Allen

SBJ Contributing Writer

Business has been good since the May 1997 opening of Chateau on the Lake Resort Hotel and Convention Center, and it is expected to get better, according to Stephen Marshall, general manager of the hotel.

Built to cater to corporate and association groups, the hotel has about a 65 percent/35 percent mix of group and individual travelers, Marshall said.

The facility houses a 32,000-square-foot great hall, which divides into four major sections, one of which further divides into three more sections, allowing as many as seven meetings or social gatherings to run concurrently.

There are also group outdoor activities, such as poolside functions, weather permitting, Marshall said.

The Chateau's marketing strategy focuses primarily on corporations within a 500-mile radius of Branson, which includes the metropolitan areas of Kansas City and St. Louis, but also reaches out to surrounding states, Marshall said.

The emphasis is on the "easy driving distance," because of the restrictions of air travel to this region from some areas. However, with the Springfield-Branson Regional Airport's new flights to and from Chicago, Marshall said, he expects that segment of business to improve.

Even though a company or organization may be based in one region, many members of particular groups often come from other regions. Several guests who were part of groups staying at the Chateau have come from outside the continental United States, Marshall said.

The hotel advertises in various corporate publications and has a marketing team that works with meeting planners and incentive groups to bring in guests.

Incentive groups represent a large market for the luxury hotel business, according to Marshall. Many corporations reward employees with incentive programs, which often include vacation packages to exotic places. Chateau on the Lake has thrown its hat into the ring to be on the list of destinations for these types of programs.

Although brochures advertise rooms beginning at $169 and ranging up to $499 per night for the Presidential Suite, groups are offered special rates, according to Marshall. Room rates are negotiated from $129 to $169 per night, depending on the size of the group and extra services required.

A variety of entertainment packages are available to guests. The Chateau works closely with the Branson chamber and the Convention & Visitors Bureau to promote the Branson area.

The Chateau is "a destination where they can take advantage of the overall location," Marshall said.

The hotel has a marina, for guests only, where visitors can rent pontoons and ski boats, or corporate planners can schedule private dinner cruises on excursion boats. The hotel sales staff works with theaters, restaurants, golf courses and other area attractions to provide entertainment packages.

Marshall said that part of the marketing effort involves questionnaires to customers, using the feedback to gauge success of the programs offered. The age-old word-of-mouth advertising seems to have already had an impact on business.

"It is five times less expensive to retain a customer than it is to find a new one," he said.

The Chateau has catered to corporations like GMAC, national pharmaceutical companies and Missouri Petroleum. It has also hosted large organizations such as the Missouri State Bar Association.

Several Springfield companies have used the Chateau to hold meetings and sometimes provide short getaways. It gives them something different from their usual routine, Marshall said.

The hotel has already received recognition for its golf packages, winning two awards given by corporate planners who work with resort locations.

Marshall said the Chateau has a ways to go to fully reach the goals set by management, but with strong performance in the first full season, he expects business to continue to grow.

He sees the incentive-program business as a growing part of Branson business for hotels in general. The Chateau sales team cooperatively works with competitors to bring more groups to the area.

"Our objective is to fill Chateau on the Lake, but in any case, we want them to choose Branson," Marshall said.

Beginning this year, the Chateau will be open year-round with reduced rates available in the off-season.

Pre-sales for group events are steadily growing, and reservations have been booked as far ahead as 2002 to 2004.

PHOTO CAPTION:

Opened in May 1997, John Q. Hammons' Chateau on the Lake has reservations booked as far ahead as 2002 and 2004.

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