new life into the property that now features Balinese-inspired architecture, art, and furnishings, which have helped lead to increased occupancy rates and revenues. Now operating as the Doubletree Resort Orlando – International Drive, it’s not only the nation’s largest black-controlled hotel but also the largest of any type in the Doubletree chain worldwide. And it’s operating at a profit.
HOUSING MARKET MELTDOWN
When the housing bubble burst, no one knew its magnitude or what lingering ripple effects it would have. But now it was obvious that the Florida condo market was no longer an option. “Before we even got plans drawn, we had Plan A and Plan B,â€ recalls Thomas P. Kennedy, UrbanAmerica’s chief financial officer and chief operating officer. “The financing market for those buyers [who wanted to develop the condo] dropped out and so Plan B was to renovate the hotel, fix it up, and run it as a hotel.â€
There was work to be done. “We were selling rooms at wholesale rates,â€ says Greg Gooding, who was brought in to serve as general manager. “So I said ‘Stop selling them.’ I don’t care if you paid $50 or $100 for it, you’re going to have a bad experience–and with today’s social media, they’re going to badmouth you on TripAdvisor and Facebook saying it’s a dump.â€
The renovation was extensive. First, crews planted more than 50 new palm trees of various sizes and species. Bamboo is planted around the entire property, creating the look and feel of a tropical oasis. The lagoon ponds were enhanced with jasmine, rocks, and palm trees. Next came new brick pavers on the walkways. All the guest rooms were fully refurbished with hardwood desks, flat-screen TVs, clock radios with iPod docks, luxury linen, and new vanity areas that boast granite countertops and vessel sinks. All flooring, wall treatments, and heating/cooling systems were upgraded. The restaurant, lounge, and delicatessen were all redesigned as was the fitness center, which was outfitted with new equipment. The lobby, which was saved for last, now features an Internet cafÃ© and a ticket center where guests can conveniently purchase tickets to area amusements. The business center was reconstructed with granite work areas, artwork, a fax, scanner, copier, and four computers. And new granite countertops grace the front desk.
To offset the critical online reviews, the team fought fire with fire. “Any comment that comes through social media is copied to Greg [Gooding] and me, and we respond to any comment, specifically on TripAdvisor, Facebook, or our Twitter account,â€ says Larry Goldman, director of sales and marketing for the property. The website was also redesigned (doubletreeorlandoidrive.com) to showcase the hotel’s new look. “We started this process in August 2008, when we were ranked 230 or 240 out of 300-plus. Our current ranking is around 53, so we’ve made a tremendous jump in rankings based on customer reviews through TripAdvisor.â€
A NEW MILESTONE
Construction was completed in the fall of 2009 and resulted in 28 acres of tropical landscape, dark woods, three swimming pools, relaxing earth tones, a full-service restaurant, children’s game lounge, miniature golf, and 60,000 square feet of
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