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News for the Hospitality Executive

Fort Lauderdale Hoteliers, Restaurateurs
 Look Back, Look Forward

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

December 30, 2009 --Hotelier Scott Brooks faced the tough task of launching the trendy W Fort Lauderdale hotel this spring in the depths of the 2009 recession. The general manager filled nearly 40 percent of its rooms for the year, at prices averaging almost $200 a night.

In 2010, Brooks foresees better results: about half of the rooms filled, at about $220 a night.

Others in South Florida aren't predicting gains that big for the coming year.

In 2009, the hotel business in Broward and Palm Beach counties took a steep drop -- with sales per room down about 20 percent. In 2010, it's forecast to remain relatively flat, according to consultants Smith Travel Research and PKF Hospitality. Recovery won't kick in until 2011, they say, and even then, it will likely take years to recoup pre-recession levels.

"The double digit unemployment rate is really a drag on the market," said hotel consultant Scott Brush of Brush & Co. in Miami. "Until people feel more secure in their jobs, you won't see a turnaround."

Hotelier Walter Banks, who owns the luxury Lago Mar Resort and Club in Fort Lauderdale, concurs. He saw revenue per room shrink nearly 20 percent in 2009 and expects business to stabilize in 2010. His European business remains weak, with Europe's economy still shaky.

"What helps South Florida are three airports: Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach. So, people can fly in pretty quickly," Banks said. That's key, as more travelers wait until the last minute to book trips, anxious about their job prospects and looking to seize deals that can stretch tight budgets.

There is some good news for tourism in 2010. South Florida will host the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl football games early in the year, attracting sports fans. Publicity about Fort Lauderdale sailings by the world's largest cruise ship, the Oasis of the Seas, should bring more tourists to the area, said Nicki Grossman, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Furthermore, both Broward and Palm Beach counties have maintained or increased their marketing budgets for the 12 months that run through September. That should help lure travelers when some other U.S. destinations have been forced to cut advertising, tourism officials say.

The outlook for business travel, group meetings and conventions also is improving. In Palm Beach County, new incentives added more than 25,000 room nights of group bookings, nearly one-third of group nights arranged through the Palm Beach County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Jorge Pesquera, the bureau's president. The incentives include group rebates up to $4,909.

But group business will still lag far behind heady levels of years ago, analysts warn.

Restaurants also are cautious about the new year after a dismal 2009.

Tim Petrillo, chief executive at The Restaurant People which owns the upscale Yolo in Fort Lauderdale and mid-range Tarpon Bend seafood houses in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, expects sales to stay flat in 2010 after weakening this year. Even steady clients have tended to hold back on spending this year, sometimes foregoing dessert or drinks. Tourists make up 20 percent to 25 percent of his business.

"It's been a bloodbath in the restaurant industry. Some corporate chains were offering appetizer, entree and dessert for $15. That's had a domino effect," Petrillo said. He sees no rebound until 2011 or later.

For consumers, the tough times in tourism mean plenty of deals in 2010, including hotel stays with an extra night free or meals with a courtesy cocktail or dessert on the house. Hospitality companies are offering creative packages, as clients also negotiate on rates, upgrades and other amenities.

That leaves hotelier Brooks facing challenges at the 517-room W Fort Lauderdale. He's hoping the new year will at least end price cutting among beach resorts, as the economy and jobs pick up. "And there's not a lot of new supply coming into the hotel market," added Brooks, "so that should help."

Doreen Hemlock can be reached at or 305-810-5009.


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

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