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A Case Study in Interiors: When Renovating, Ambiance
Can Equal Competitive Set Dominance
By John Cullen & Anthony DiGuiseppe, March 2007

If every hotel developer had unlimited time and money, then all upscale hotels would be picture-perfect, providing unparalleled service, and no amenity or guest offering would be lacking.

But this is the real world. And in the real world of strategic choices and limited budgets, it is frequently assumed that once a hotel has reached a certain duration in its market, the changes that will have the greatest impact on bottom line, are changes associated with physical structure on the one hand, or brand affiliation, on the other.

Not necessarily so. 

In fact, the experience of the Providence Biltmore, in Providence, Rhode Island, suggests a different lesson: When it comes to overall guest impact – and yes, rate and local reputation -, “style” can produce substance. And success. 

Reinventing a Classic: “Old” Need Not Mean “Tired”

As in the case of people, age need not mean the inevitable deterioration of a hotel’s most important features or attributes. 

In June, 2004, a renovation process was begun at the Biltmore, whose footprint and physical infrastructure were basically unchanged from the hotel’s opening, close to eighty years earlier.

Because no significant physical work was necessary, we were left free to focus on the guest experience, updating a local classic to meet the evolving tastes of a new generation of travelers.

Spas are “hot ” -  so an Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa was added. 

Upscale, trendy culinary offerings are essential - so a Starbucks and a McCormick & Schmick’s Restaurant were opened.

And we began a comprehensive guest service review that made sure we understood the needs of our target markets, and the offerings that would meet and exceed them.

It’s Good to Have a King (or Two) . . .

One thing the research revealed, is that to be Number One in the market, we had to maintain the property’s standing as a cherished and traditional local meeting place, while delivering the latest and greatest amenities – and also, something of the “wow” factor.

For the former, all 289 guest rooms were carefully refurbished, as were guest corridors. 

A new color scheme and style of soft goods was implemented within guest rooms, which respected the integrity of classic elegance, but included colors of soft taupe, browns and blacks, complimented by dramatic lines, comfortable but stylish furniture, and a sense of welcoming warmth that nevertheless has an “edge.” In addition, in all junior suites and premium suites, 42-inch plasma televisions were added.

Each and every room now has a king bed. And, in a tip of the cap to the dramatic and “over-the-top, “ many rooms now have two king beds . . . an innovation that has become one of the property’s new signatures.

This signature innovation, as well as the overall project scheme and implementation, were accomplished together with our architect and interior designer, DiGuiseppe International Hotel & Resort Design (, based in Manhattan.

From Middle - of - the Pack, to the Top

The cost of the renovation project was about $14,000,000. 

It was an investment in style and experience as much as anything else. Neither the hotel’s physical structure, nor its classic brand image, were significantly altered.

What changed dramatically was the hotel’s standing in its competitive set, and its ability to drive rate while providing a unique guest experience. 

Bringing together the historic ambiance of a classic hotel and the modern touches of “Manhattan style,” the property registered a more than 20% increase in occupancy, after the renovation. In the same period, average rate jumped more than 12%.

And remember those double-king beds? 

Their main purpose was to compete with double/doubles offered in the meetings market. In this space alone, the Biltmore picked up 22 points of REVPAR index in a very short time.

Finally, the property found itself taking high-end leisure travel and discerning group business, away from its high-end brand competitors, of which there are many in the Providence. 

In doing so, it became a valued and representative addition to Grand Heritage Hotels International, its owner and along with DiGuiseppe, the brain trust behind the renovation project.

John Cullen is founder and chief executive officer of the Grand Heritage Hotel Group (

Anthony DiGuiseppe is the founder and principal architect and designer at DiGuiseppe International Hotel & Resort Design (


Michael Frenkel
(212) 808-6556


Also See: Hotel or Residence??: A Checklist for Developers of Condo-Hotels / Anthony DiGuiseppe / November 2006


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