News for the Hospitality Executive
|By Donna Hogan, The Tribune, Mesa, Ariz.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Apr. 5, 2003 - In April 1953, Ray Silverman, an accountant from Iowa looking to move to a warmer climate, bought the just-completed 12-suite Paradise Valley Guest Ranch at Scottsdale and Chaparral roads.
He built a swimming pool, did some landscaping, bought furniture, hired a maid, opened the doors and waited for tourists to arrive.
They did. In February.
"The season was February and March," Silverman said. "In summer, everybody shut down. There was no business."
The following summer, Silverman advertised for Phoenix residents to, "Come spend your summer in cool Scottsdale." For $100 a month, the big-city dwellers could book a swamp-cooled apartment to sweat out the heat. They came, Silverman said.
For half a century, the Silverman family has hosted tourists at that same street corner in the many incarnations of the property. Today, Ray Silverman's son Tom is general manager of the 311-room Chaparral Suites Hotel and daughter Carole is director of food and beverage. Ray Silverman is the still-active president of the family business, greeting guests and seeing to their needs on a daily basis.
The Silvermans have sweated out lots of summers and winters in Scottsdale, but this could be the worst of 50 years, Tom Silverman said.
"The Gulf War (in 1991) was a little slow, but it was over so quickly," he said. "Between 9/11 (2001) and the economy, it has been a challenge. This is the first really bad period."
The younger Silverman said all the negative factors converged at the same time -- from the war to the economy to the fear of terror attacks that keep vacationers home, the corporate cutbacks that keep the business crowd grounded, and 2,200 recently opened Valley hotel rooms that mean more ways to divvy up the shrinking tourist pie.
Experts nationwide say the U.S. tourism industry is in serious straits and recovery is not on the near horizon.
Thanks to Cactus League spring training, an almost recession-proof March attraction, East Valley hotels fared better this winter than in 2002 when the travel industry was still reeling from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But 2003 bookings are still not near those of the 2000 high lseason, the last before the economy started to sag.
Now the war has started and the rest of the year is an unknown.
The Arizona Tourism Barometer, a new measurement of the health of the industry statewide, shows tourism has been on a down trend since peaking in late 2000, with the speed of the plunge accelerating in late 2001. Dawn McLaren, of the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, developed the barometer because tourists typically spend $13 billion a year in Arizona, the hotel industry is a major employer, and tourism is in trouble nationwide.
McLaren constructed an index based on factors including airline flights, international arrivals, national park visits and hotel sales. She re-created monthly figures from 1992 to present.
The last two years don't present a pretty picture.
"It looks to me like we keep waiting for the bounce-back, and it's not coming," McLaren said. "And it's not in the near future unless something drastic changes."
The Silvermans agree. "This is the worst in 50 years, and the longer the war, the harder it will be," Tom Silverman said.
Even when the war eventually winds down, the changing face of the East Valley and competition from other destinations has wounded the local visitor industry, he said. It's not like decades ago when people clamored for a room in March and paid high rates for the privilege of booking one in Scottsdale.
"For years, we just sat back and guests walked in the door," Tom Silverman said. "Now all of us have to work even harder to market our properties."
Downtown Scottsdale's revival as a desirable destination will be key to winning back tourists when the recovery finally takes hold, he said. Prettying up the barren Arizona Canal banks, the restoration of the Valley Ho -- another 50s-era hotel, and the addition of a couple of downtown parking garages -- all projects in progress -- will help, he said.
He believes the city is on the right track towards keeping or re-establishing Scottsdale's world-class reputation. But Ray Silverman remembers when his hotel wasn't even in Scottsdale, much less at its heart. In 1953, Scottsdale only stretched north to Camelback Road, so the Silverman property, which is geographically in the southern third of the city today, was north of the border in the 1950s.
McCormick Ranch and Gainey Ranch, now large communities full of homes, shops, offices and hotels in central Scottsdale, were real cattle and horse ranches in the far north desert, Ray Silverman said. Carole Silverman remembers riding horses through the orange groves and the sparsely populated desert with legendary radio commentator Walter Winchell's son.
A few years after he bought the place and learned Scottsdale tourism patterns, Ray Silverman doubled the size of his guest ranch to 24 suites. By the late 1950s, he had expanded to 37 units, doubled his land to 20 acres, and put 10-year-old son Tom to work at the switchboard.
In 1978, Silverman was ready to expand again, but the sprawling collection of buildings was taking up most of the land. He closed up shop for a year, tore the guest ranch down and built a 211-suite hotel, the first built-from-scratch Granada Royale Hometel, which was the first all-suites franchise chain.
In 1984, Embassy Suites bought the Granada Royale brand and Silverman's hotel was renamed the Scottsdale Embassy Suites. In 1985 Silverman added another 100 suites. In 1999 when the franchise contract was up, the Silvermans opted to go it alone, renaming the place Chaparral Suites Hotel, giving the whole property a face-lift and adding a convention center.
Until the one-two punch of the sagging economy and the terrorist attacks, the property thrived under all its guises and sizes and the up- and down-turns in the U.S. economy, said Tom Silverman.
"Each decade got better," he said. Ray Silverman credits the employees, some of whom have been working there for decades, treating guests like family, providing rides to shops and attractions, cooking up hearty breakfasts for the free daily buffet and adding numerous other personal touches.
Lee and Jerry Tipping of Toronto, who spend several weeks at the hotel every March, said they think of it as their second home.
"We've been coming here for 15 years," Lee Tipping said. "I wouldn't stay anywhere else. It's like coming home."
The long-time hotel staff and the long-time guests are on a first name basis.
"Everybody from the grass cutters to the top brass -- we fit in here," Jerry Tipping said.
The Silvermans are just as significant to the hometown crowd, said Rachel Sacco, president of the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau.
"A hotel that has history is really important," Sacco said. "It gives the community roots. They bring a home-town feel to the organizations that meet here, and people are dependent on Ray and Tom's insight and foresight. There is something about that establishment -- it's part of the heart of Scottsdale."
The Silvermans have a heart for Scottsdale's special needs, too. For half a century they have been donating their time, money, meeting space, and support to everything from Scottsdale Boys and Girls Clubs to nursing programs at Scottsdale Community College to Vista del Camino, the city's social services agency, to Culture Quest, the new cultural tourism program developed by the visitors bureau.
Being a family-owned and -managed hotel -- a rarity in today's consolidating business environment -- allows the Silvermans to spend money on social causes without answering to bottom-line focused shareholders.
The disadvantage of being on their own is that the Silvermans compete for guests with companies that have deep pockets and big budgets.
But the Silvermans said they wouldn't have it any other way. Tom's son Michael is working in the Chaparral Suites Hotel now, and his father and grandfather hope he will become the third generation of Scottsdale hoteliers.
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(c) 2003, The Tribune, Mesa, Ariz. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. HLT,