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South Florida Hotels get Creative to Keep Travelers Coming:
Niche Features to Lure Specific Market Groups

By Doreen Hemlock, Sun Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Jun. 15, 2009--Looking for efficiencies in today's tough market, hotelier Barry Frommer found a way to keep lovely flower arrangements in his lobby at half the cost.

He switched from buying traditional cut flowers to a new vendor that sells orchids and other blooms with their roots on and wrapped in gel packs. The new bouquets cost more, but last a month instead of a week. The upshot: quality centerpieces that save his Fort Lauderdale hotel about $6,000 yearly.

"You have to dissect everything you can dissect" to improve operations and cash-flow amid today's downturn, said Frommer, general manager of the Pelican Grand Beach Resort.

Throughout South Florida, hoteliers are becoming creative to weather the recession. Some are developing niche features to lure specific market groups.

At the remodeled Wyndham Garden Hotel in Boca Raton, managers just launched an all-women's floor geared to female business travelers. Each room features a basket with magazines, movies and beauty products, including nail polish remover and other liquids that can only be carried on planes in tiny bottles, said Judith Coppola, director of marketing and business development.

The hotel also is adding a separate kosher kitchen at its events center at a cost of $1.5 million. The aim is to attract more banquets and catering for Jewish groups, including out-of-towners who could stay at the Glades Road property, Coppola said. Many strive to economize -- while maintaining quality.

At the Colony Hotel and Spa in Delray Beach, owner Jestena Boughton buys her eco-friendly paper goods, light bulbs and other basics as much as possible from a single supplier, who offers volume discounts. And she's installed a device in the kitchen to measure out soaps and sanitizers, so staff uses a standard amount, saving cleansers, water and money. She's also switched to paying workers every two weeks instead of weekly, saving effort on payroll.

And she's using slack time to cross-train employees, so more tasks can be handled in-house. Maintenance staffers recently helped to repair and paint wicker chairs, a job previously contracted out, Boughton said.

Frommer recently took his top managers for a team-building, ropes class at Florida International University, which involved climbing high walls and other obstacles together.

"We didn't quit until we go everyone over the wall," said Frommer, emphasizing that today's tough times require collaborative solutions.

Frommer said his staff also focuses more on the Internet sales, which now accounts for 60 percent of bookings. A revenue manager works with e-wholesalers such as Hotels.com, adjusting rates and offering packages with extras,

Frommer is also putting greater priority on customer service, at a time when guests scour visitor reviews on the Web. He beams recalling how one manager quietly met one client's unusual request.

Before dawn, the manager went to the beach and wrote out in big letters in the sand, "Will you marry me?," so the client could propose to his girlfriend from their beachfront balcony at sunrise. She gladly accepted.

"Competition has expanded because of the economic times," Frommer said. "That calls for tight management."

Doreen Hemlock can be reached at dhemlock@sun-sentinel.com or 305-810-5009.

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To see more of the Sun Sentinel or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.sun-sentinel.com/.

Copyright (c) 2009, Sun Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

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