Wanted: 10 to 25 acres of wooded land within a half-hour of downtown Washington suitable for an executive conference center and hotel.
Scanticon International, a Danish-owned firm which opened its first American Executive Conference Center and Hotel at Princeton University's 1,600-acre Forrestal Center in September 1981, is looking for such a site as part of an ambitious expansion plan for the next decade. The Washington conference center and luxury hotel will be one of a dozen facilities Scanticon plans to open over the next 10 years--eight in the United States and four in Europe.
Carved out of 25 acres of natural forest park, the 300-room Scanticon-Princeton has the appearance of other luxury hotels: several restaurants and bars; an indoor swimming pool, whirlpool and sauna; a health club; tennis courts and jogging paths.
But its key attraction as a conference center is 26 meeting rooms and auditoriums with the latest in sophisticated meeting equipment, including simultaneous interpretation in four languages. Standard audio-visual equipment in major auditoriums and conference rooms includes 16mm film, 35mm slide and overhead projectors; public address systems; cassette video and audiotape playback units; flipback charts, board sytems and screens. In-room control panels operate the lighting system, screens and audio-visual equipment.
"We're not here by accident," says Jorgen Roed, founder and president of Scanticon International. The move to the United States came after years of encouragement and prodding from American corporate executives who had visited the first Scanticon conference center and hotel in Aarhus, Denmark's second largest city. Opened in 1969, between 12 percent and 15 percent of the center's entire volume was American.
"It was very inspiring to hear top executives from the United States say, 'you have something in Denmark that we don't have in the United States,'" Roed says.
Many of those executives were contacted by Princeton when it was selecting a company to build the conference center and hotel from among the 70 companies interested. They were asked about their use of the Danish center and whether they would consider using a similar Princeton facility. They must have said they would--and made good on the promise, because Princeton-Scanticon was an instant success.
"Business was extremely encouraging the first year," Roed says happily. Scanticon-Princeton took in revenues of almost $13 million and had a $2.5 million profit in its first year of operation, "very unusual" for a first year, Roed says. The occupancy rate was 62 percent.
The appeal is their emphasis on quality meeting rooms, Roed contends. "One-third of all hotel rooms booked in the United States are from meetings--and usually they have to accept ballrooms, where the white cloth is changed to a green cloth after a banquet.
"Our emphasis is on a conference center with meeting facilities first, combined with first-class hotel accommodations, rather than the other way around," he said.
Although Scanticon International owns Scanticon-Princeton, development of future Scanticons, including the Washington facility, will be in conjunction with Intercontinental Hotels Corp. Last summer, the two announced that they had formed Scanticon Corp., a joint venture to develop and operate future Scanticon executive conference centers throughout the world. The new company, a subsidiary of Intercontinental, will be 80 percent owned by Intercontinental and 20 percent owned by Roed.
"With Intercontinental's strength and resources and Scanticon's know-how and management, it's a strong combination," Roed said. "This is the right handshake, and the right emphasis on how important 'the meeting market' is going to be in the hospitality industry. They want to be part of it."
Roed says that Washington, as the nation's capital and location of so many companies and associations, is at the top of their priority list, an "absolute natural" for a Scanticon. "If we find the right site tomorrow, I would plan to open 2 1/2 to three years from today," he said. "We want to be there first. . . and to be well-established in Washington would help our growth overseas."
Roed is looking for between 10 and 25 acres, depending on the location, for a hotel with between 200 and 400 rooms. If the site is adjacent to an attractive forest or park, less land is needed. A future Scanticon in Toronto, for instance, is literally in the middle of a golf course, he said. Among the places he's looking is Reston.
The Washington Scanticon will be similar in style to Princeton-Scanticon, Roed said. Danish in its architecture and design, the building has brick walls and flagstone floors. American redwood and glass is used extensively. Thirty percent of its fixtures and furniture are imported from Scandinavia.
Other cities slated for Scanticons are Minneapolis (opening the end of 1985), San Diego and San Francisco. European centers are planned for Biot, France, on the Cote d'Azur and Goteborg, Sweden's second largest city.
Roed isn't worried that technological advances like teleconferencing will affect one-to-five day meetings, such as those booked at Scanticon, where "contact and contacts" are important. "But there is more emphasis on effective meetings and productivity.
"The days are over where a meeting is just a get-together where everyone has a good time and it doesn't matter what has taken place. . . meetings are an expensive investment in time and money."