News for the Hospitality Executive
|By Allison Pries, The Record, Hackensack, N.J.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jun. 11, 2003 - Andy Dolce feels like he's flying in the clouds.
"I don't know what's ahead, but once in a while I hit a bright spot," said the founder and chairman of Dolce International.
His Montvale-based company develops and operates corporate meeting and conference centers throughout the world.
Being part of the beleaguered travel industry has meant more than a year of business-straining surprises. He has endured travel fears, corporate belt tightening, the Iraq war, and now SARS.
But don't feel too bad for him. Dolce International is expected to bring in about $260 million in revenue this year, he said. That's a nearly 10 percent increase from last year's sales.
"As a company we're running 5 to 8 percent ahead of the hotel industry." Dolce International, founded in October 1981, was primarily a consulting firm when it was established.
As former president of a publicly traded company and a member of the American Management Association, Dolce frequently arranged travel plans for seminars and conferences.
"Through that I identified a need for niche properties that focused on education, meetings, and learning," the 67-year-old Rockland County resident said.
After working for Harrison Conference Centers, now a competitor known as ARAMARK Harrison Lodging, Dolce struck out on his own.
He established Dolce International in Houston. Two years later, he was selected to develop Hamilton Park in Florham Park.
"That became the flagship and prototype of all of our future conference centers," Dolce says of the property, now known as Dolce Hamilton Park.
To better manage the project he moved Dolce International to New Jersey and first settled in Morristown in 1985. Since 1995, though, the business and 45 of its 4,000 employees have been headquartered in Montvale.
Today, Dolce's 22-year-old business and his partners, Soros Real Estate Investors and AEW Capital Management, own or operate 22 properties in seven countries.
QUESTION: How did you design Hamilton Park?
ANSWER: We used potential customers as an advisory group. [They were from various industries, including pharmaceuticals, consulting, banking and accounting.] We asked them to create, on paper, the perfect environment for holding meetings.
Q: What amenities were important to them?
A: A great meeting space [Hamilton Park's is 40,000 square feet] with up-to-date technology and the elements you'd find in a fine hotel: good guest rooms, fine dining, a pub, game room, and a leisure center.
Q: Which amenity is most important to you?
A: Studies have shown that you can have nice rooms and great golf, but when people leave, the food is the most important measure of the success of a meeting.
We understand that. We provide the equivalent of a first-class food program.
Q: What are the fees for your centers?
A: They vary depending on the area and time of year. Generally, we charge $200 to $350 per attendee for what we call a Complete Meeting Package. That includes the meeting room, guest rooms, breakfast, lunch, dinner, morning and afternoon refreshment breaks and the use of learning tools, like overhead projectors.
Q: How has the economy affected your business?
A: We started to slide into recession at the end of the first quarter in 2001. Then we saw some recovery for the fourth quarter of 2001 because advance bookings were strong, but Sept. 11 stopped that recovery. In September and October of 2002, we anticipated recovery in 2003, but it's been rough with the war and SARS. Now we're looking at the third and fourth quarter and forecasting a turnaround.
In the last two to three cycles, the industry hasn't struggled as much.
Q: How has this affected competition within the industry?
A: Meetings have continued, but every hotel is going after the meeting business so there's been significant pressure on rates. Even though business is down, we're still way ahead of the hotel industry because there are still enough companies that recognize the difference between having a meeting at one of our facilities and having a meeting at a hotel.
Q: Which industries are you seeing less business from and which have remained consistent?
A: Pharmaceutical and consulting businesses have stayed strong. Communications and technology businesses are way off and banking and finance are also off.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
A: We have a facility under construction in Barcelona, Spain. It should be finished in September 2004.
And I see continued growth in gateway cities like London or states like California and Arizona.
I'll continue to build the Dolce brand by establishing it as a leader in the conference center industry, not because of the size of the company or the number of properties, but because of the quality of the product, the people, and the service.
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(c) 2003, The Record, Hackensack, N.J. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. RMK,