Is there a genuine benefit for a global hotel company to set up shop in Second Life?

InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) thinks there most definitely is as they have just entered the virtual world with the launch of “The Place To Meet” under their Crowne Plaza Hotels and Resorts brand.

“The Place To Meet” is billed as ‘your destination for meetings in Second Life’ and offers three meeting facilities including a lounge, an executive room and a large theater that can accommodate up to 30 people.

I participated in the invitation-only launch event last Friday evening – a panel discussion entitled “Leading Brands Summit on the Impact of Emerging Media.” More about the panel in a minute.

What interested me most, though, was the launch itself and the way in which IHG’s fledgling presence in Second Life has very clearly been thought about from the broad communication and brand perspectives.

“The Place To Meet” is Crowne Plaza’s real-world tagline, a key element of their brand reinforcement messaging. Giving their virtual world presence the same name is smart.

Take Crowne Plaza’s brand description:

Crowne Plaza® Hotels & Resorts is THE PLACE TO MEET. The ideal upscale hotel choice for small- to midsized business meetings, Crowne Plaza provides personalized service and one point of contact for hasslefree, successful meetings.

That fits nicely with how I think “The Place To Meet” in Second Life is being positioned.

I was impressed with the professionalism both Crowne Plaza and Weber Shandwick, their PR agency, have shown through the breadth and depth of information that was available at launch time via a media page on the Crowne Plaza website.

Press release (PDF), backgrounders about IHG and Crowne Plaza, a primer on Second Life, screenshots of the venues, bios of each panelist. Bread-and-butter communication, to be sure, but it’s such details too often overlooked in corporate Second Life launches.

Equally impressive is the fact that Crowne Plaza has already seamlessly integrated their Second Life offering into their real-world website. There, you can book a meeting room in exactly the same way as you book a meeting room at a ‘real’ Crowne Plaza hotel.

From the press release:

[…] To meet the need for private, independent meeting spaces in the virtual world, Crowne Plaza created The Place to Meet Island in Second Life. Beginning at 3 p.m. EDT on Fri., June 29, 2007, The Place to Meet Island will open for consumers to reserve one of three meeting spaces that reflect the Crowne Plaza brand and feature all of the distinctive amenities one would expect to find in a real-life location. Each meeting facility is equipped with streaming audio, video, presentation and image viewing capabilities to make in-world meetings productive and successful.

Not only that, Crowne Plaza say use of the meeting facilities will be free of charge and may be rented for up to eight hours.

Once word travels, I expect they’ll get a flood of booking requests.

So what is IHG looking to gain from their Second Life presence?