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By Diego Lowenstein

1. As a hotel owner/developer, why is it important to engage locals as well as travelers?

When you own and develop hotels, you’re always looking for the “next big thing” that will separate your property from your competitors’ properties and bring excitement to the community. This often manifests itself in new restaurant outlets, a singular lobby, and pieces of technology or design updates that ‘wow’ potential customers. However, updates like this typically only cater to those who stay at the hotel, segmenting off a huge potential market a property can tap in to: locals.

When a property engages locals at a high level, it adds a steady stream of revenue that can help the property’s bottom line during slower times of year. It also provides a groundswell of support for the hotel from a marketing standpoint. The more locals that have positive interactions with your brand, the more likely you are to receive positive feedback on review sites, which we all know lead to more interest in your property. Having locals patronize a hotel property also translates itself to opportunities for stayover guests to network which is one of the fundamental principles of why people travel in the first place. 

2. What are a hotelier’s best tools to engage locals?

Hotels that are seeking to engage locals need to think about what offerings are most likely to bring someone through the door. In Miami, like most cities, that means a happening lounge, luxury spa offerings and unique restaurants. Both of these offer hotel owners and developers an opportunity to capture the attention of a local who is looking for a relaxing day off, a night out on the town, or a place to grab a bite to eat and be seen.

How hotel spas draw in locals —and how successful they are—may vary. The Exhale Spa at the Ritz-Carlton Bal Harbour in South Florida, for example, offers multiple products for treatment and relaxation of hotel guests. Additionally, the hotel also features specific amenities and classes in aerobics, core training, yoga, fitness and meditation that appeal to residents of the local community as well. Many hotel spas don’t do that.

This strategy captures not only a traveler who wants a massage, but also a local user who has the potential for higher frequency of use. In Bal Harbour, many nearby residents come in regularly for those classes during the week and then transform into traditional spa clients as well.

The F&B offerings at a hotel can be a great tool to attract locals, looking for a completely unique dining experience. Whether hotels bring in celebrity chefs or simply create an unmatched atmosphere that leaves a great impression, locals will talk about it and want to go back.   Overall, by putting in the effort to develop places where locals can work, relax, eat, and enjoy their city any time of year, hotels can build in a steady revenue stream they can count on to help boost the bottom line.

3. Let’s discuss restaurants a bit more -- How big of an impact do celebrity chefs have on the ability to engage locals? On a hotel’s bottom line?

Today, it seems like more people are interested in the fast-paced restaurant world than ever before. Shows like Top Chef, Master Chef, and Hell’s Kitchen have introduced people across the globe to the world of culinary invention and, as a result, the chefs who create the food we eat. Hotels that take advantage of this excitement over food and partner with a celebrity chef or recognized restaurant brand to serve guests are likely to see strong returns on their investment. 

From a local standpoint, celebrity chefs or local “homegrown” chefs go a long way toward creating the buzz and excitement that restaurants need early on in their lifecycles to stay operational. More than that, though, they give locals the opportunity to get to know the chefs on a regular basis. In other words, they help foster trial and encourage repeat visits because locals want to be a part of the chef’s world; they want to learn more about the chef through his or her food. This can have a significant impact on the hotel’s bottom line.

Case in point, Tatel Miami at the Lionstone Development-owned Ritz-Carlton South Beach, which features former Nobu Executive Chef Nicolas Mazier—and is owned in part by Enrique Iglesias, Pau Gasol, and Rafael Nadal—drew crowds of locals during its first few weeks, including a number of local, regional, and national press, which helped raise the profile of both the restaurant itself and the hotel. Since then, the exquisite, traditional Spanish food and breathtaking design have helped turn the restaurant and bar into a mainstay for local dining and nightlife.

4. From a design point of view, what can a hotelier do to make a restaurant space more local-friendly?

The goal of any hotel owner or developer looking to engage locals should be to offer a space that encourages gatherings in the manner that best fits the locale. One way to do this is to open up the kitchen and offer seating that overlooks what’s happening. This makes the dining experience more exciting and, if you have a celebrity chef, allows locals to feel like they’re getting to know the chef a little more every time they visit. We have developed this at our Virgin Chicago property.

Another strategy is to add group gather or lounge areas. This could mean a library room where guests sit with friends and play board games or a private social room with dedicated service to make locals and their guests feel like VIPs. Remember, the idea is to provide a space where locals will want to bring friends on a regular basis. Hoteliers need to consider restaurants that move away from cookie-cutter dining options and differentiate themselves with a truly unique offering and experience.

5. What other strategies can hoteliers employ to ensure they’re offering an F&B experience that will turn locals into regular customers?  Anything else to add?

Being locally minded in design and approach to food and beverage options is a key strategy to help keep stayover guests who are looking for fresh experiences on-property and attract locals who will champion homegrown talent. Providing catering options that employ this locally-driven mentality to local groups is also a clever way of maintaining engagement and growing revenues. Locals have many options to dine out in restaurants that are standalone, and hotels that create barriers through elevated parking charges and pricing premiums will always be at a disadvantage.

The key here is to minimize the pain points and embrace the changes and nuances that need to be provided to locals to get them to periodically visit a hotel restaurant. Not easily done but many in markets across the country have proven that this is totally achievable.

Finally, promotional activity is also paramount to maintain locals’ engagement with any given hotel restaurant. That means a proper public relations and community outreach strategy needs to be developed and sustained at a property and restaurant level. This will help foster trial and keep the restaurant and property top of mind for locals and traveling visitors, alike.

About Diego Lowenstein

Diego Lowenstein has been part of the family’s varied business interests across several countries since 1990. Before relocating to the United States in 1999, he held executive positions with several of the family’s companies in Argentina including its real estate holdings and development firm, food service and restaurant, operating and franchising ventures. Diego’s active involvement and know-how in acquiring, developing, revitalizing and repositioning hotels and casinos throughout Florida and the Caribbean has helped lead the entrepreneurial firm to new heights. In partnership with service industry leaders including The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, Kimpton Hotels, AM Resorts, the InterContinental Hotels Group, Virgin Hotels, and Hilton Hotels, Diego has fulfilled developments in markets that include South Beach, Downtown Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and a half dozen markets in the Caribbean. His knowledge in multinational operations and marketing has supported Lionstone’s further expansion into luxury residential real estate and mixed-use hotel developments.

Since 1999, Diego Lowenstein has served as the Chief Operating Officer of Lionstone and assumed the position of Chief Executive Officer in 2003. Among his many roles, he oversees the asset management structure for third party managed properties, supervises the self-managed gaming division and acts as Managing Partner with joint venture partners in existing operations held in partnership and in newly formed developments. He is responsible for directing activities including deal structuring, financial feasibility analysis, financing, hospitality chain and management firm negotiations, sales and marketing, bidding and construction.

Contact: Michael Radlick

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