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131 – Suite Spot: Spotlight – Caribe Royale Orlando

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Manage episode 410456483 series 2338664
İçerik Travel Media Group & Ryan Embree, Travel Media Group, and Ryan Embree tarafından sağlanmıştır. Bölümler, grafikler ve podcast açıklamaları dahil tüm podcast içeriği doğrudan Travel Media Group & Ryan Embree, Travel Media Group, and Ryan Embree veya podcast platform ortağı tarafından yüklenir ve sağlanır. Birinin telif hakkıyla korunan çalışmanızı izniniz olmadan kullandığını düşünüyorsanız burada https://tr.player.fm/legal özetlenen süreci takip edebilirsiniz.

Managing Director at the Caribe Royale Orlando, Amaury Piedra, checks in to the Suite Spot in our latest Spotlight series episodes to give viewers the 4-1-1 on the $140+ million dollar re-imagination of the resort and what guests can expect from the remarkable expansion and transformation.

This episode covers some key digital marketing topics like social media for hoteliers and gives insight into the traveler’s journey through the Caribe Royale Orlando property experience.

Episode Transcript

Our podcast is produced as an audio resource. Transcripts are generated using speech recognition software and human editing and may contain errors. Before republishing quotes, we ask that you reference the audio.

Ryan Embree:
Welcome to Suite Spot, where hoteliers check in, and we check out what’s trending in hotel marketing. I’m your host, Ryan Embree. Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode of The Suite Spot. This is your host, as always, Ryan Embree. Thank you for joining us wherever you’re listening or watching us on your YouTube. Hopefully you are watching this episode because we are live on site for our Suite Spot: Spotlight series at another amazing, incredible hotel. But before that, I’m gonna bring in our guest Amuary Piedra, Managing Director of the Caribe Royale Orlando. Amaury, thank you so much for being on the Suite Spot.

Amaury Piedra:
No, thanks for taking the time to be here. Happy to have you here.

Ryan Embree:
You know, I had the pleasure of walking the grounds and having a tour of this amazing resort. I feel like hopefully in that app that you provide, you got a map in there because there is so much to do. But before we get talking about this hotel, which, which we’re certainly gonna do today, tell us a little bit about your hospitality background. One of my favorite questions to ask because in this hospitality world we’re in, you can start any which way as a bellman you can be born into the industry. Tell us a little bit about your background.

Amaury Piedra:
Sure. I grew up in south Florida and I actually got my first hotel job at the age of 15. So I’m not gonna give my age away, but let’s just say it was over 40 years ago. And, uh, it was valet parking, and that’s where I started in the industry parking cars and I’ve done a multitude of positions and up to, and I wanted to get to my goal of being a general manager, managing director. And that happened around the time I was 30, but it was fantastic. It’s, it’s what I’ve done my whole life.

Ryan Embree:
You know it’s funny, I started as a bellman valet over here on the other, the side of me. I feel like if we wanna get a good gauge of maybe the hoteliers of the future, go to our front desk or go to maybe those frontline and there’s gonna be a story there. But I think it’s so important and critical that you have that background too, because when you do get in this, this managing, you know, GM, you know, we have front desk managers, now you’ve got an idea of what the job is and the day ins and day outs and, and that really is gonna serve you in your hospitality career.

Amaury Piedra:
Well, you know, I always tell our associates when we’re doing new hire orientation that you can go as far as you want to go. And I use myself as an example. So it doesn’t matter what position you’re in now, if you apply yourself, you can go to whatever you wanna get to. You can achieve whatever you want. And, I enjoy speaking with our hourly associates because they’re really the ones on the ground, you know, taking care of our guests and whatnot. So yeah, it’s a great industry that’s provided, you know, great opportunities for myself, my family, and many others.

Ryan Embree:
Those frontline employees definitely have their ears to the floor. We’ll talk about the guest experience here and how you prioritize that at the Caribe Royale, let’s get into this property, right? So the reason we’re here, this is the Suite Spot: Spotlight series. So for those that are listening or watching this, that really don’t know what this series is about – we’re traveling all over the country to highlight some of the most unique and historical properties that we’ve run into. Here at the Caribe Royale, you just went through this incredible $140 million, re-imagining. Talk to us a little bit about the history of the property. It’s not like this was built to overnight, obviously, it’s got a long historic history. And then what led to this, to this re-imagining of the property.

Amaury Piedra:
So, our owners, Sierra Land Group group based in California started building the hotel. Well, the first tower opened in 1994, and then the rest was built in phases. So it had a, it had a solid history here in Orlando, but they really central Florida, but they really wanted to elevate what Caribe was. So about four years ago, we started having discussions. I wasn’t here yet, but we started having discussions about what we needed to do to elevate the property to a four diamond, top of the market convention and leisure resort. So we embarked on that mission about three and a half years ago, and it’s actually more than 140 million at this point. But we’ve, uh, I think achieved what we wanted to achieve and we’ve gotten great reviews from the public.

Ryan Embree:
Yeah, well, congratulations, to you and your team. Like I said, I had the, the pleasure of walking the grounds so much to do at, at a resort like this. And, you know, one of the questions I had on the tour was how do you get all of this packed and, and set the expectations for your guests that come on property? Because I can’t imagine when they first step on that you have things from like pickleball, for example. You have catch and release fishing at the property. Those to just name a couple. But how do you pack that whole guest experience prior to a guest arrival at the property?

Amaury Piedra:
You know, we have a lot of information on our website, and when we send out our, our pre-stay message, we pack as much information in there as possible. Then our front office has the duty of explaining it to them and providing the property map. The reality is, you know, we’ve had to stay in tune with the times. Pickleball recent phenomenon, Paddle Tennis, another recent phenomenon. So we built those courts to address what the voice of the customer was asking that we needed. You know, and then so you’ve got that, then you’ve got the catch and release fishing, which is always popular with families. You’ve got the bicycle rentals, you’ve got the trails, so you’ve got the water slide. You know, you’ve got a variety of things. So I guess what happens is there really is something for everybody. So, if you’re here on business, you know, you’ve got, you wanna go exercise state-of-the-Art Health Club, as well as the pickle ball and the paddle tennis. You’re here with your family. You got the pools, you got the slide, you got the, the catch and release fishing, you got the bicycles. You know, if you want to take a spa treatment, you’ve got a spa. So you’ve really got something for everybody. And that was kind of, we wanted to make sure that as we reimagine the resort, we could take care of all the different types of business and travelers that come to Orlando.

Ryan Embree:
Yeah, absolutely. And, and you made a great point about listening to your guests, also keeping up with the trends, right? And kind of getting that we’ve already talked about it, putting your ear to the floor and saying, okay, this is, this is what the guests anticipate here, but there are those things that maybe they come on to property and they didn’t know that they were gonna have. And that there’s that, that surprise and delight aspect of, of the property that certainly, you know, creates experiences which in the hospitality, That’s what it’s all about. So, well, let’s talk about, as a sports lover, my favorite place. And I have heard in the news, and if you’re in Orlando, maybe outside of Orlando, you know, you’ve heard about The Stadium Club here at the Caribe Royale Orlando. I will tell you the pictures, do not do it justice. So travel here, and come see this concept. It is so cool. What type of feedback are you getting from guests that are, that are seeing this? Because it’s such a unique dining outlet.

Amaury Piedra:
You know, not to use a sporting analogy, but it’s been a home run so far. And we worked on creating this unique, this is not something that, that’s anywhere else. So we wanted to create something unique. And we worked with a design firm that I’ve worked with before Street Sense, so kudos to them. And, we worked on this together for two years, putting Stadium Club together, and we wanted to make it feel as if you were in a stadium. So the sound system is state of the art, the audio visual systems, state of the art. So we wanted, and we designed kind of like that, that circular tv video, kind of like SoFi Stadium where the Chargers play. So it’s, it’s created a great sensory experience and it’s, it’s been very well received. There’s nothing like it in Orlando. Simulators, elevated sports bar food, great drink menu, the overall sensory experience, the lights, the sound, the smoke, the this, the that. So it’s really been a lot of fun and it’s been very, very well received by all the customers. So we’re happy. You never quite know until you open. You know, we thought we had done it right, but it was very well received. We’ve gotten a lot of press out of it.

Ryan Embree:
Well, A+ marks over here. I mean, to speak to what you’re talking about, it is completely immersive. Yep. You know, which is is what you want in a, in a sporting event, if you can’t be physically there for you to be watching and enjoying that sporting event like that it’s very unique. One of a kind. So mission accomplished there to you and your team.

Amaury Piedra:
The Super Bowl’s a perfect example of that. We had over 500 people in the venue. And when the halftime show came on, first of all, during the game, but when the halftime show came on, brought down the lights a little bit, turned up the, the sound system, it was like you were at the halftime experience, the halftime concert. So it was really, really encouraging to see. And people really vote with their feed. And the volume has been good so far.

Ryan Embree:
I’m sure. Yeah. On the tour I was saying, you know, there’s multiple areas, and I think this is part of the re-imagining process, right? Of like, adapting to what you want to see in those spaces. I think before it was a ballroom and then you converted it to this stadium club, where it could be rented out by meeting planners and groups that come on property. Talk to me about that. because I’m sure these planners for these events, which I’ve talked about on this podcast, rather they’re coming back by storm now. I think that we had the revenge travel of the leisure. But there’s a revenge travel of groups and events. Now. Tell us a little bit about how that process is for me. I’m sure they’re ecstatic when they come on a property like this. They say, I can have my take care of my business, but I can also take care of my employees or associates or attendees. Talk to us about that process of, you know, from start to finish what you and your team do.

Amaury Piedra:
Sure. First of all, when we went into planning what we were gonna do with the re-imagination, what we did was, okay, great. What do we believe the leisure guest is gonna want so we can fulfill that? And what do we believe the meeting planner’s gonna want and the groups are gonna want, and what are they gonna need? And how do we fulfill that? So we, we reimagined it with all that in mind. And, and that, that took a lot of planning. But, you know, the Stadium Club’s a perfect example. So we knew that we were missing this vibrant restaurant bar that people could go to at night. We had some good venues, but it wasn’t as much as what we have there now. And a really fun venue. So that’s how that came about, because we have enough meetings. We sell the original meeting room for the hotel, now we’ve got our 220,000 plus square feet at the convention center. So we took that, we reimagined it. And what’s happened now, it’s the reviews from the meeting planners have been great. Not only on Stadium Club, but we wanted to create restaurant quality food in a banquet setting. We’re able to accomplish that. We wanted to make sure we had the best service in banquets. So we’re able to pick the best team possible. That’s working out great. Our meeting planner satisfaction scores are 9.6 out of 10, which is fantastic. So, you know, we really wanted to create a seamless, just great experience for the meeting planners. At the same time, they didn’t know Caribe as a four diamond destination. So we spent 2020, 2021, and 2022 and continue today doing a lot of education and awareness. The good thing is, we are having over 55% return customers. So over 55% of the groups that booked here are coming back. And it would be higher. Some of them just go to different cities and different rotations. But that’s a fantastic number. And then they’re referring us to others. So we knew we needed to hit a home run when we first got them in. I believe we did that. In most cases, meeting planners are happy, end users are happy, and they’re referring us to their friends and others within their organizations. And, that’s playing a big, big role in it.

Ryan Embree:
It’s a really great cycle when you get that healthy kind of referral. Especially in the meeting planning and conference and event space. So this is a digital marketing podcast primarily. So we talk about a lot about social media using tools like social media, online reputation, because one of the most powerful stories, you know, we can do a great job at the property. I tell my audience this of trying to sell everything there is. But one of the most powerful stories is actually when it comes from the mouth of a guest or of a meeting planner, right? With those referrals that we just spoke to. So talk to us about this re-imagining and how you’ve used things like social media and relied on your online reputation. Because this is really just a re-introduction, right? As you mentioned of this, this resort. And to tell people this is a brand new experience you’re gonna have here.

Amaury Piedra:
Yeah. We have a great marketing department that we expanded and we wanted to make sure as an independent we could cover all bases. So we have people dedicated to social media to make sure we’re always getting the message out about what’s happening at the hotel, engaging with the customers that are on social media, putting responses down. We engage with them. We thank them. Same thing with reputation management. You know, we wanna make sure that if somebody comments on something, we act upon it so they know that we’re reading it and they know that we’re taking whatever they’re saying seriously. Either a compliment or, Hey, you could have done this better. That’s fantastic. Thank you for your feedback. Feedback is a gift. You know, we interact with them. And I think that goes a long way. And we’ve been exponentially growing in all our various social media platforms because of that. And the more that happens at the hotel, the more that we can engage with our customers. We do some live boxing events here that are televised internationally. That’s helped. We’re gonna do some music concerts starting in the new year. Not ready to announce that yet, but we’re gonna do a music series. So all that kind of stuff to keep not only the international customers, but even our locals involved with what’s happening at Caribe.

Ryan Embree:
Yeah. It’s a snowball effect, like you said. And I wish more hoteliers out there would look at feedback, guest feedback as a gift sometimes because sometimes we think it’s a gift and a curse, but it really is, they’re taking time outta their day to hopefully give you a blueprint on how to perfect that guest experience. You can’t please everyone. We know that, but we can, we can darn near try.

Amaury Piedra:
I think that’s part of being an independent too. I mean, for many years I worked for one of the largest hotel companies in the world managing some of their largest hotels. We create our own brand standards and we need to live up to our own expectations. And I think by being an independent, we have more freedom to engage in different ways with customers and with some of the brands where, hey, the response should be this. Well, we can engage with them in different ways, and we try to take advantage of that as much as possible.

Ryan Embree:
Super smart. Yeah. I love that. I’m sure you leverage that independent status as well for staffing, you know? And some of the things that you’re able to do. I want to shift our conversation to that. Obviously we know staffing has just been this kind of thorn on our side in the industry. We haven’t been able to shake since the pandemic. It’s just been the staffing shortage. We just had Chip Rogers from the AHLA come on and kind of talk about this. What has been your experience with staffing here? Any creative new ways that you’re doing to retain or recruit talent at the Caribe Royale Orlando?

Amaury Piedra:
Well, you know, it’s funny, right? Because a lot of people still talk about being short and yeah. There’s never enough in some key areas. When we reopened in 2020, we actually had to bring in J-1 Visa workers and H-2B visa workers from Jamaica to help us. Because we didn’t have enough. But we really made it a point that we wanted to recruit and recruit the right people, bring them into the right atmosphere, treat them right, and they’ll stay. And over the last two years especially, we’ve been able to do that. We no longer bring in H-2B visa workers don’t need them. We have our own. And we really tried to foster a family atmosphere. And that was one of the biggest things that we wanted to accomplish. Treat the associates like family, make them part of the experience, make sure they’re valued, make sure their opinion is valued. And I think we’ve been able to accomplish that, because I don’t mind sharing that. Our turnover rate was only 18% last year. In the hospitality industry, that’s tremendous. And, you know, they’re happy, they’re engaged, you know, the hotel’s been doing well so that they’re happy from that perspective. And, you know, it’s one of my biggest initiatives. It’s one of my biggest things going forward as we continue to grow. We’re over a thousand associates right now. So as we continue to grow to make sure that we’re able to maintain that atmosphere and that culture that we’ve created, and have it flow all the way down. So we do a lot of things for the associates, and we make sure they’re valued and, and, uh, you know, we take the time to speak with ’em and listen to ’em, and their input’s valuable, and we act upon that input. So it doesn’t just fall on deaf ears. And I think that by doing that, you know, we’ve been able to have that low turnover and we’ve been able to create the right atmosphere.

Ryan Embree:
Well, yeah. It’s what we talked about at the top of the episode about creating, you know, stories like yourself, right? Of coming up in the hospitality ranks. I mean, if you have a thousand plus associates here at, at this property, how many are gonna get the, we want to keep them in hospitality as much as we can. And hopefully, you know, I can be on the other side of this table interviewing somebody else that had their start here.

Amaury Piedra:
One of our biggest responsibilities I always tell our managers is we gotta develop people. And who knows, they might end up going somewhere else, you know, two or three years from now. But the reality is we owe it to them to develop their max potential. And as much as possible. Probably 95% of the time we promote from within. And we gotta make sure we have people ready for that and, and have them ready for the opportunities if they so choose.

Ryan Embree:
That’s fantastic. Well, let’s shift our attention to where we are today. Beginning of March, we got this episode launch still in the spring, spring break. You know, the dreary winter. We don’t really have a dreary winter here in Florida, but for parts of the country. Right. But, but the spring’s starting to heat up a little bit. What do you got coming for spring break or even maybe looking into the summer months? Here at the Caribe Royale Orlando.

Amaury Piedra:
Yeah, we’ve got some great spring break offers that are available on our website. We’ve got some great summer offers that are available on our website. You know, we’ve got a lot of fun things happening around the pool deck. You know, it’s definitely gonna be an entertaining time period. Like I say, we’re gonna roll out a music series and some entertainment components soon. So there’s gonna be a lot going on at Caribe. I mean, the reality is, you know, Disney’s famous for its parks and you got Disney and Universal and all the others, but you gotta have entertainment on property too. Because people might take a break in between and what have you. So between some new food and beverage rollouts that we’re gonna do, some new initiatives we are gonna have going on in the pool deck. We just built a DJ booth over the waterfall. So the DJ will be playing up there all spring and summer over the waterfall. We’ve got some fun things going on out there. So I think it’s gonna be a great, great spring and summer and, you know, we encourage everybody to come down. I mean, it’s a great place to be.

Ryan Embree:
I want to post up on one of those cabanas, those things are nice right!

Amaury Piedra:
Yeah. The cabanas are cool. You know we started with two, there was demand, we added a third, and there’s demand for more. So it’s just a great place to hang out, either as a couple or with the family and just either catch up on a game on TV while the kids are in the pool or the water slide or just whatever. So it’s, it’s fantastic. It’s gone really well.

Ryan Embree:
My favorite time of year is certainly hoteliers just because of the busy season coming along. So, let’s do some rapid fire. So test your knowledge on your resort a little bit. Favorite view on property?

Amaury Piedra:
My favorite view on property is the one that happens on top of the waterfall. Seriously. That’s my favorite view. Where the DJ goes, okay, you’ve got the waterfall, you’re overlooking the entire pool. It’s, it’s a cool view. You’ve got the slide on one side. It’s a cool view. That’s why we wanted to activate that area.

Ryan Embree:
Fun fact about the property?

Amaury Piedra:
Fun fact about the property. I think that not many people would know that we stock our lakes with fish. So hence the catch and release. This is the first property that I’ve ever worked at or resort I’ve ever worked at, that we stock our own lake. So it’s fun and it’s, it’s cool when you see the families and the kids out there having that experience, you know, a father and either a daughter or their son or whatever, catching the fish and doing all that. And it’s, it’s very good to see.

Ryan Embree:
Yeah. High probability of catching a fish.

Amaury Piedra:
High probability. We wanna make sure there’s a high probability of catching a fish.

Ryan Embree:
Yes. Yes. We want that experience for everyone there. Put it on social media.

Amaury Piedra:
By the way we have all the rods and reels and everything for them. So they, they don’t need anything.

Ryan Embree:
That’s a unique amenity. I love to hear. Favorite signature dish at the property?

Amaury Piedra:
There’s gotta be two. I’m sorry. So, we have probably Orlando’s Best Fried Chicken and Waffles at Stadium Club. It’s been award-winning from our chef, Jeff McGinness. He’s won many awards for it and even cooked it for the James Beard Foundation. Great Chicken and waffles, his grandmother’s recipe actually. And then the other one is the ribeye at Venetian. It is absolutely fantastic. So put it on a par or to challenge anybody at Morton’s or Capital, any of those Venetian chop house, the ribeye. Fantastic.

Ryan Embree:
Alright, last one here. Favorite piece of art at the property?

Amaury Piedra:
I like our, I like our living green wall that’s down at the ground floor of the reception building, you know, so those, those two living green walls are really cool and they really add something very unique. I mean, you can go places and you’ll have a piece of art or whatever, but that, that living green wall is, is exactly that. It’s something that’s alive and it’s a huge selfie spot because people love to take pictures in front of them. So, yeah, it’s cool with the Flamingo and what have you and the Aviary look and yeah, it’s become a really big selfie spot.

Ryan Embree:
Yeah. Super picturesque. We’ve talked about it on this podcast. Having a unique space piece of art where people can engage with that on social media. And every single time you see it, you know, it’s your property. And, hopefully getting in there and engaging and doing that for social media.

Amaury Piedra:
By the way, you talked about a dish, I gotta say. Because it’s just popped in my mind, we make a killer mojito at Calypso, our pool-side bar & grill.

Ryan Embree:
All right. Mojito, Cabana, you sold me. Well, as we wrap up, you know, I always love asking this question, especially on our spotlight series, you know, walking into the property today as a guest, you get so excited you got this vacation planned. What do you want people to say as they leave? They check out, they turn in their keys as they’re leaving the property about their experience here at the Caribe Royale Orlando.

Amaury Piedra:
Our goal is to provide, I guess you can call it relaxed luxury. Casual luxury. We don’t want to be stuffy, but we’re four Diamond, but we want to provide that in what we call our royale service way. So our associates are really genuine, you know, we don’t script them too much because we want their personality to come through. So at the end when a guest is leaving, you know, the ultimate, oh, we had a great time. We look forward to coming back. And I think that’s the key. Hey, we had a great time. And whether it’s, whether you were here for a convention and say, wow, man, we had a great time here. Or you’re a family and you made a memory with your kids, that’s the key. And you know, that memory will serve you for years to come and we had a great time. We want to come back. That’s the biggest thing.

Ryan Embree:
Yeah. And well, you can see that with the return numbers that you were talking about. And, you know, when you have everything that you offer here, it’s easy for a transient leisure guest to come in and come with their family and say, you know what? I’m gonna suggest that we do this for a company retreat next year. Or vice versa. Right. I come in for a conference, didn’t know much about the property, and all of a sudden, Hey, next summer, let’s, let’s bring the wife and kids here.

Amaury Piedra:
Our staff’s empowered. Take care of the customer. You know, just, just make ’em happy. Take care of ’em. Don’t worry about things. Just make sure they’re happy. And that’s our goal. And you know, so far it’s been going well and we wanna make sure we are able to do that and execute that on a daily basis. But really it’s, you know, Hey, we had a great time. We want to come back. Nothing’s better to hear than that.

Ryan Embree:
Yeah, absolutely. Vote of confidence for sure. We covered a lot of ground on this, this episode. Any final thoughts today?

Amaury Piedra:
No, I appreciate your time. You know, appreciate it. Very proud of Caribe Royale. Proud of what we’ve accomplished, proud of the transformation of the hotel. And the good thing is that more and more people are coming every year. And you know, like you said, revenge travel started with the leisure side in 2020 and 2021 groups started exploding in 2021, 2022, continuing into 2023. And I thought we were, you know, we were in a perfect position having come out of Covid fully reimagined to take advantage of that. And you know, so far everything’s gone well. And for those that haven’t visited, look for our specials online, come visit, we encourage it and I think it’s just gonna continue to grow and we’re gonna continue to do fun things and continue to get the name out there.

Ryan Embree:
Awesome. Well, congratulations again, thank you on everything. And we’re next door neighbors. Our corporate office at Travel Media Groups right up the road, so we’ll certainly keep an eye on all the exciting things you have coming over here.

Amaury Piedra:
Oh, we’ll let you know too. We’re gonna make some announcements soon about a music series and all that, so, it’s gonna be great. But thank you for your time today. It’s truly appreciated.

Ryan Embree:
Absolutely. Thank you for joining us on The Suite Spot. Thank you for listening or watching. Make sure to follow and subscribe to us wherever you get your podcasts and have a fantastic rest of your day. To join our loyalty program, be sure to subscribe and give us a five star-rating on iTunes. Suite Spot is produced by Travel Media Group. Our editor is Brandon Bell with Cover Art by Bary Gordon. I’m your host Ryan Embree, and we hope you enjoyed your stay.

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Manage episode 410456483 series 2338664
İçerik Travel Media Group & Ryan Embree, Travel Media Group, and Ryan Embree tarafından sağlanmıştır. Bölümler, grafikler ve podcast açıklamaları dahil tüm podcast içeriği doğrudan Travel Media Group & Ryan Embree, Travel Media Group, and Ryan Embree veya podcast platform ortağı tarafından yüklenir ve sağlanır. Birinin telif hakkıyla korunan çalışmanızı izniniz olmadan kullandığını düşünüyorsanız burada https://tr.player.fm/legal özetlenen süreci takip edebilirsiniz.

Managing Director at the Caribe Royale Orlando, Amaury Piedra, checks in to the Suite Spot in our latest Spotlight series episodes to give viewers the 4-1-1 on the $140+ million dollar re-imagination of the resort and what guests can expect from the remarkable expansion and transformation.

This episode covers some key digital marketing topics like social media for hoteliers and gives insight into the traveler’s journey through the Caribe Royale Orlando property experience.

Episode Transcript

Our podcast is produced as an audio resource. Transcripts are generated using speech recognition software and human editing and may contain errors. Before republishing quotes, we ask that you reference the audio.

Ryan Embree:
Welcome to Suite Spot, where hoteliers check in, and we check out what’s trending in hotel marketing. I’m your host, Ryan Embree. Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode of The Suite Spot. This is your host, as always, Ryan Embree. Thank you for joining us wherever you’re listening or watching us on your YouTube. Hopefully you are watching this episode because we are live on site for our Suite Spot: Spotlight series at another amazing, incredible hotel. But before that, I’m gonna bring in our guest Amuary Piedra, Managing Director of the Caribe Royale Orlando. Amaury, thank you so much for being on the Suite Spot.

Amaury Piedra:
No, thanks for taking the time to be here. Happy to have you here.

Ryan Embree:
You know, I had the pleasure of walking the grounds and having a tour of this amazing resort. I feel like hopefully in that app that you provide, you got a map in there because there is so much to do. But before we get talking about this hotel, which, which we’re certainly gonna do today, tell us a little bit about your hospitality background. One of my favorite questions to ask because in this hospitality world we’re in, you can start any which way as a bellman you can be born into the industry. Tell us a little bit about your background.

Amaury Piedra:
Sure. I grew up in south Florida and I actually got my first hotel job at the age of 15. So I’m not gonna give my age away, but let’s just say it was over 40 years ago. And, uh, it was valet parking, and that’s where I started in the industry parking cars and I’ve done a multitude of positions and up to, and I wanted to get to my goal of being a general manager, managing director. And that happened around the time I was 30, but it was fantastic. It’s, it’s what I’ve done my whole life.

Ryan Embree:
You know it’s funny, I started as a bellman valet over here on the other, the side of me. I feel like if we wanna get a good gauge of maybe the hoteliers of the future, go to our front desk or go to maybe those frontline and there’s gonna be a story there. But I think it’s so important and critical that you have that background too, because when you do get in this, this managing, you know, GM, you know, we have front desk managers, now you’ve got an idea of what the job is and the day ins and day outs and, and that really is gonna serve you in your hospitality career.

Amaury Piedra:
Well, you know, I always tell our associates when we’re doing new hire orientation that you can go as far as you want to go. And I use myself as an example. So it doesn’t matter what position you’re in now, if you apply yourself, you can go to whatever you wanna get to. You can achieve whatever you want. And, I enjoy speaking with our hourly associates because they’re really the ones on the ground, you know, taking care of our guests and whatnot. So yeah, it’s a great industry that’s provided, you know, great opportunities for myself, my family, and many others.

Ryan Embree:
Those frontline employees definitely have their ears to the floor. We’ll talk about the guest experience here and how you prioritize that at the Caribe Royale, let’s get into this property, right? So the reason we’re here, this is the Suite Spot: Spotlight series. So for those that are listening or watching this, that really don’t know what this series is about – we’re traveling all over the country to highlight some of the most unique and historical properties that we’ve run into. Here at the Caribe Royale, you just went through this incredible $140 million, re-imagining. Talk to us a little bit about the history of the property. It’s not like this was built to overnight, obviously, it’s got a long historic history. And then what led to this, to this re-imagining of the property.

Amaury Piedra:
So, our owners, Sierra Land Group group based in California started building the hotel. Well, the first tower opened in 1994, and then the rest was built in phases. So it had a, it had a solid history here in Orlando, but they really central Florida, but they really wanted to elevate what Caribe was. So about four years ago, we started having discussions. I wasn’t here yet, but we started having discussions about what we needed to do to elevate the property to a four diamond, top of the market convention and leisure resort. So we embarked on that mission about three and a half years ago, and it’s actually more than 140 million at this point. But we’ve, uh, I think achieved what we wanted to achieve and we’ve gotten great reviews from the public.

Ryan Embree:
Yeah, well, congratulations, to you and your team. Like I said, I had the, the pleasure of walking the grounds so much to do at, at a resort like this. And, you know, one of the questions I had on the tour was how do you get all of this packed and, and set the expectations for your guests that come on property? Because I can’t imagine when they first step on that you have things from like pickleball, for example. You have catch and release fishing at the property. Those to just name a couple. But how do you pack that whole guest experience prior to a guest arrival at the property?

Amaury Piedra:
You know, we have a lot of information on our website, and when we send out our, our pre-stay message, we pack as much information in there as possible. Then our front office has the duty of explaining it to them and providing the property map. The reality is, you know, we’ve had to stay in tune with the times. Pickleball recent phenomenon, Paddle Tennis, another recent phenomenon. So we built those courts to address what the voice of the customer was asking that we needed. You know, and then so you’ve got that, then you’ve got the catch and release fishing, which is always popular with families. You’ve got the bicycle rentals, you’ve got the trails, so you’ve got the water slide. You know, you’ve got a variety of things. So I guess what happens is there really is something for everybody. So, if you’re here on business, you know, you’ve got, you wanna go exercise state-of-the-Art Health Club, as well as the pickle ball and the paddle tennis. You’re here with your family. You got the pools, you got the slide, you got the, the catch and release fishing, you got the bicycles. You know, if you want to take a spa treatment, you’ve got a spa. So you’ve really got something for everybody. And that was kind of, we wanted to make sure that as we reimagine the resort, we could take care of all the different types of business and travelers that come to Orlando.

Ryan Embree:
Yeah, absolutely. And, and you made a great point about listening to your guests, also keeping up with the trends, right? And kind of getting that we’ve already talked about it, putting your ear to the floor and saying, okay, this is, this is what the guests anticipate here, but there are those things that maybe they come on to property and they didn’t know that they were gonna have. And that there’s that, that surprise and delight aspect of, of the property that certainly, you know, creates experiences which in the hospitality, That’s what it’s all about. So, well, let’s talk about, as a sports lover, my favorite place. And I have heard in the news, and if you’re in Orlando, maybe outside of Orlando, you know, you’ve heard about The Stadium Club here at the Caribe Royale Orlando. I will tell you the pictures, do not do it justice. So travel here, and come see this concept. It is so cool. What type of feedback are you getting from guests that are, that are seeing this? Because it’s such a unique dining outlet.

Amaury Piedra:
You know, not to use a sporting analogy, but it’s been a home run so far. And we worked on creating this unique, this is not something that, that’s anywhere else. So we wanted to create something unique. And we worked with a design firm that I’ve worked with before Street Sense, so kudos to them. And, we worked on this together for two years, putting Stadium Club together, and we wanted to make it feel as if you were in a stadium. So the sound system is state of the art, the audio visual systems, state of the art. So we wanted, and we designed kind of like that, that circular tv video, kind of like SoFi Stadium where the Chargers play. So it’s, it’s created a great sensory experience and it’s, it’s been very well received. There’s nothing like it in Orlando. Simulators, elevated sports bar food, great drink menu, the overall sensory experience, the lights, the sound, the smoke, the this, the that. So it’s really been a lot of fun and it’s been very, very well received by all the customers. So we’re happy. You never quite know until you open. You know, we thought we had done it right, but it was very well received. We’ve gotten a lot of press out of it.

Ryan Embree:
Well, A+ marks over here. I mean, to speak to what you’re talking about, it is completely immersive. Yep. You know, which is is what you want in a, in a sporting event, if you can’t be physically there for you to be watching and enjoying that sporting event like that it’s very unique. One of a kind. So mission accomplished there to you and your team.

Amaury Piedra:
The Super Bowl’s a perfect example of that. We had over 500 people in the venue. And when the halftime show came on, first of all, during the game, but when the halftime show came on, brought down the lights a little bit, turned up the, the sound system, it was like you were at the halftime experience, the halftime concert. So it was really, really encouraging to see. And people really vote with their feed. And the volume has been good so far.

Ryan Embree:
I’m sure. Yeah. On the tour I was saying, you know, there’s multiple areas, and I think this is part of the re-imagining process, right? Of like, adapting to what you want to see in those spaces. I think before it was a ballroom and then you converted it to this stadium club, where it could be rented out by meeting planners and groups that come on property. Talk to me about that. because I’m sure these planners for these events, which I’ve talked about on this podcast, rather they’re coming back by storm now. I think that we had the revenge travel of the leisure. But there’s a revenge travel of groups and events. Now. Tell us a little bit about how that process is for me. I’m sure they’re ecstatic when they come on a property like this. They say, I can have my take care of my business, but I can also take care of my employees or associates or attendees. Talk to us about that process of, you know, from start to finish what you and your team do.

Amaury Piedra:
Sure. First of all, when we went into planning what we were gonna do with the re-imagination, what we did was, okay, great. What do we believe the leisure guest is gonna want so we can fulfill that? And what do we believe the meeting planner’s gonna want and the groups are gonna want, and what are they gonna need? And how do we fulfill that? So we, we reimagined it with all that in mind. And, and that, that took a lot of planning. But, you know, the Stadium Club’s a perfect example. So we knew that we were missing this vibrant restaurant bar that people could go to at night. We had some good venues, but it wasn’t as much as what we have there now. And a really fun venue. So that’s how that came about, because we have enough meetings. We sell the original meeting room for the hotel, now we’ve got our 220,000 plus square feet at the convention center. So we took that, we reimagined it. And what’s happened now, it’s the reviews from the meeting planners have been great. Not only on Stadium Club, but we wanted to create restaurant quality food in a banquet setting. We’re able to accomplish that. We wanted to make sure we had the best service in banquets. So we’re able to pick the best team possible. That’s working out great. Our meeting planner satisfaction scores are 9.6 out of 10, which is fantastic. So, you know, we really wanted to create a seamless, just great experience for the meeting planners. At the same time, they didn’t know Caribe as a four diamond destination. So we spent 2020, 2021, and 2022 and continue today doing a lot of education and awareness. The good thing is, we are having over 55% return customers. So over 55% of the groups that booked here are coming back. And it would be higher. Some of them just go to different cities and different rotations. But that’s a fantastic number. And then they’re referring us to others. So we knew we needed to hit a home run when we first got them in. I believe we did that. In most cases, meeting planners are happy, end users are happy, and they’re referring us to their friends and others within their organizations. And, that’s playing a big, big role in it.

Ryan Embree:
It’s a really great cycle when you get that healthy kind of referral. Especially in the meeting planning and conference and event space. So this is a digital marketing podcast primarily. So we talk about a lot about social media using tools like social media, online reputation, because one of the most powerful stories, you know, we can do a great job at the property. I tell my audience this of trying to sell everything there is. But one of the most powerful stories is actually when it comes from the mouth of a guest or of a meeting planner, right? With those referrals that we just spoke to. So talk to us about this re-imagining and how you’ve used things like social media and relied on your online reputation. Because this is really just a re-introduction, right? As you mentioned of this, this resort. And to tell people this is a brand new experience you’re gonna have here.

Amaury Piedra:
Yeah. We have a great marketing department that we expanded and we wanted to make sure as an independent we could cover all bases. So we have people dedicated to social media to make sure we’re always getting the message out about what’s happening at the hotel, engaging with the customers that are on social media, putting responses down. We engage with them. We thank them. Same thing with reputation management. You know, we wanna make sure that if somebody comments on something, we act upon it so they know that we’re reading it and they know that we’re taking whatever they’re saying seriously. Either a compliment or, Hey, you could have done this better. That’s fantastic. Thank you for your feedback. Feedback is a gift. You know, we interact with them. And I think that goes a long way. And we’ve been exponentially growing in all our various social media platforms because of that. And the more that happens at the hotel, the more that we can engage with our customers. We do some live boxing events here that are televised internationally. That’s helped. We’re gonna do some music concerts starting in the new year. Not ready to announce that yet, but we’re gonna do a music series. So all that kind of stuff to keep not only the international customers, but even our locals involved with what’s happening at Caribe.

Ryan Embree:
Yeah. It’s a snowball effect, like you said. And I wish more hoteliers out there would look at feedback, guest feedback as a gift sometimes because sometimes we think it’s a gift and a curse, but it really is, they’re taking time outta their day to hopefully give you a blueprint on how to perfect that guest experience. You can’t please everyone. We know that, but we can, we can darn near try.

Amaury Piedra:
I think that’s part of being an independent too. I mean, for many years I worked for one of the largest hotel companies in the world managing some of their largest hotels. We create our own brand standards and we need to live up to our own expectations. And I think by being an independent, we have more freedom to engage in different ways with customers and with some of the brands where, hey, the response should be this. Well, we can engage with them in different ways, and we try to take advantage of that as much as possible.

Ryan Embree:
Super smart. Yeah. I love that. I’m sure you leverage that independent status as well for staffing, you know? And some of the things that you’re able to do. I want to shift our conversation to that. Obviously we know staffing has just been this kind of thorn on our side in the industry. We haven’t been able to shake since the pandemic. It’s just been the staffing shortage. We just had Chip Rogers from the AHLA come on and kind of talk about this. What has been your experience with staffing here? Any creative new ways that you’re doing to retain or recruit talent at the Caribe Royale Orlando?

Amaury Piedra:
Well, you know, it’s funny, right? Because a lot of people still talk about being short and yeah. There’s never enough in some key areas. When we reopened in 2020, we actually had to bring in J-1 Visa workers and H-2B visa workers from Jamaica to help us. Because we didn’t have enough. But we really made it a point that we wanted to recruit and recruit the right people, bring them into the right atmosphere, treat them right, and they’ll stay. And over the last two years especially, we’ve been able to do that. We no longer bring in H-2B visa workers don’t need them. We have our own. And we really tried to foster a family atmosphere. And that was one of the biggest things that we wanted to accomplish. Treat the associates like family, make them part of the experience, make sure they’re valued, make sure their opinion is valued. And I think we’ve been able to accomplish that, because I don’t mind sharing that. Our turnover rate was only 18% last year. In the hospitality industry, that’s tremendous. And, you know, they’re happy, they’re engaged, you know, the hotel’s been doing well so that they’re happy from that perspective. And, you know, it’s one of my biggest initiatives. It’s one of my biggest things going forward as we continue to grow. We’re over a thousand associates right now. So as we continue to grow to make sure that we’re able to maintain that atmosphere and that culture that we’ve created, and have it flow all the way down. So we do a lot of things for the associates, and we make sure they’re valued and, and, uh, you know, we take the time to speak with ’em and listen to ’em, and their input’s valuable, and we act upon that input. So it doesn’t just fall on deaf ears. And I think that by doing that, you know, we’ve been able to have that low turnover and we’ve been able to create the right atmosphere.

Ryan Embree:
Well, yeah. It’s what we talked about at the top of the episode about creating, you know, stories like yourself, right? Of coming up in the hospitality ranks. I mean, if you have a thousand plus associates here at, at this property, how many are gonna get the, we want to keep them in hospitality as much as we can. And hopefully, you know, I can be on the other side of this table interviewing somebody else that had their start here.

Amaury Piedra:
One of our biggest responsibilities I always tell our managers is we gotta develop people. And who knows, they might end up going somewhere else, you know, two or three years from now. But the reality is we owe it to them to develop their max potential. And as much as possible. Probably 95% of the time we promote from within. And we gotta make sure we have people ready for that and, and have them ready for the opportunities if they so choose.

Ryan Embree:
That’s fantastic. Well, let’s shift our attention to where we are today. Beginning of March, we got this episode launch still in the spring, spring break. You know, the dreary winter. We don’t really have a dreary winter here in Florida, but for parts of the country. Right. But, but the spring’s starting to heat up a little bit. What do you got coming for spring break or even maybe looking into the summer months? Here at the Caribe Royale Orlando.

Amaury Piedra:
Yeah, we’ve got some great spring break offers that are available on our website. We’ve got some great summer offers that are available on our website. You know, we’ve got a lot of fun things happening around the pool deck. You know, it’s definitely gonna be an entertaining time period. Like I say, we’re gonna roll out a music series and some entertainment components soon. So there’s gonna be a lot going on at Caribe. I mean, the reality is, you know, Disney’s famous for its parks and you got Disney and Universal and all the others, but you gotta have entertainment on property too. Because people might take a break in between and what have you. So between some new food and beverage rollouts that we’re gonna do, some new initiatives we are gonna have going on in the pool deck. We just built a DJ booth over the waterfall. So the DJ will be playing up there all spring and summer over the waterfall. We’ve got some fun things going on out there. So I think it’s gonna be a great, great spring and summer and, you know, we encourage everybody to come down. I mean, it’s a great place to be.

Ryan Embree:
I want to post up on one of those cabanas, those things are nice right!

Amaury Piedra:
Yeah. The cabanas are cool. You know we started with two, there was demand, we added a third, and there’s demand for more. So it’s just a great place to hang out, either as a couple or with the family and just either catch up on a game on TV while the kids are in the pool or the water slide or just whatever. So it’s, it’s fantastic. It’s gone really well.

Ryan Embree:
My favorite time of year is certainly hoteliers just because of the busy season coming along. So, let’s do some rapid fire. So test your knowledge on your resort a little bit. Favorite view on property?

Amaury Piedra:
My favorite view on property is the one that happens on top of the waterfall. Seriously. That’s my favorite view. Where the DJ goes, okay, you’ve got the waterfall, you’re overlooking the entire pool. It’s, it’s a cool view. You’ve got the slide on one side. It’s a cool view. That’s why we wanted to activate that area.

Ryan Embree:
Fun fact about the property?

Amaury Piedra:
Fun fact about the property. I think that not many people would know that we stock our lakes with fish. So hence the catch and release. This is the first property that I’ve ever worked at or resort I’ve ever worked at, that we stock our own lake. So it’s fun and it’s, it’s cool when you see the families and the kids out there having that experience, you know, a father and either a daughter or their son or whatever, catching the fish and doing all that. And it’s, it’s very good to see.

Ryan Embree:
Yeah. High probability of catching a fish.

Amaury Piedra:
High probability. We wanna make sure there’s a high probability of catching a fish.

Ryan Embree:
Yes. Yes. We want that experience for everyone there. Put it on social media.

Amaury Piedra:
By the way we have all the rods and reels and everything for them. So they, they don’t need anything.

Ryan Embree:
That’s a unique amenity. I love to hear. Favorite signature dish at the property?

Amaury Piedra:
There’s gotta be two. I’m sorry. So, we have probably Orlando’s Best Fried Chicken and Waffles at Stadium Club. It’s been award-winning from our chef, Jeff McGinness. He’s won many awards for it and even cooked it for the James Beard Foundation. Great Chicken and waffles, his grandmother’s recipe actually. And then the other one is the ribeye at Venetian. It is absolutely fantastic. So put it on a par or to challenge anybody at Morton’s or Capital, any of those Venetian chop house, the ribeye. Fantastic.

Ryan Embree:
Alright, last one here. Favorite piece of art at the property?

Amaury Piedra:
I like our, I like our living green wall that’s down at the ground floor of the reception building, you know, so those, those two living green walls are really cool and they really add something very unique. I mean, you can go places and you’ll have a piece of art or whatever, but that, that living green wall is, is exactly that. It’s something that’s alive and it’s a huge selfie spot because people love to take pictures in front of them. So, yeah, it’s cool with the Flamingo and what have you and the Aviary look and yeah, it’s become a really big selfie spot.

Ryan Embree:
Yeah. Super picturesque. We’ve talked about it on this podcast. Having a unique space piece of art where people can engage with that on social media. And every single time you see it, you know, it’s your property. And, hopefully getting in there and engaging and doing that for social media.

Amaury Piedra:
By the way, you talked about a dish, I gotta say. Because it’s just popped in my mind, we make a killer mojito at Calypso, our pool-side bar & grill.

Ryan Embree:
All right. Mojito, Cabana, you sold me. Well, as we wrap up, you know, I always love asking this question, especially on our spotlight series, you know, walking into the property today as a guest, you get so excited you got this vacation planned. What do you want people to say as they leave? They check out, they turn in their keys as they’re leaving the property about their experience here at the Caribe Royale Orlando.

Amaury Piedra:
Our goal is to provide, I guess you can call it relaxed luxury. Casual luxury. We don’t want to be stuffy, but we’re four Diamond, but we want to provide that in what we call our royale service way. So our associates are really genuine, you know, we don’t script them too much because we want their personality to come through. So at the end when a guest is leaving, you know, the ultimate, oh, we had a great time. We look forward to coming back. And I think that’s the key. Hey, we had a great time. And whether it’s, whether you were here for a convention and say, wow, man, we had a great time here. Or you’re a family and you made a memory with your kids, that’s the key. And you know, that memory will serve you for years to come and we had a great time. We want to come back. That’s the biggest thing.

Ryan Embree:
Yeah. And well, you can see that with the return numbers that you were talking about. And, you know, when you have everything that you offer here, it’s easy for a transient leisure guest to come in and come with their family and say, you know what? I’m gonna suggest that we do this for a company retreat next year. Or vice versa. Right. I come in for a conference, didn’t know much about the property, and all of a sudden, Hey, next summer, let’s, let’s bring the wife and kids here.

Amaury Piedra:
Our staff’s empowered. Take care of the customer. You know, just, just make ’em happy. Take care of ’em. Don’t worry about things. Just make sure they’re happy. And that’s our goal. And you know, so far it’s been going well and we wanna make sure we are able to do that and execute that on a daily basis. But really it’s, you know, Hey, we had a great time. We want to come back. Nothing’s better to hear than that.

Ryan Embree:
Yeah, absolutely. Vote of confidence for sure. We covered a lot of ground on this, this episode. Any final thoughts today?

Amaury Piedra:
No, I appreciate your time. You know, appreciate it. Very proud of Caribe Royale. Proud of what we’ve accomplished, proud of the transformation of the hotel. And the good thing is that more and more people are coming every year. And you know, like you said, revenge travel started with the leisure side in 2020 and 2021 groups started exploding in 2021, 2022, continuing into 2023. And I thought we were, you know, we were in a perfect position having come out of Covid fully reimagined to take advantage of that. And you know, so far everything’s gone well. And for those that haven’t visited, look for our specials online, come visit, we encourage it and I think it’s just gonna continue to grow and we’re gonna continue to do fun things and continue to get the name out there.

Ryan Embree:
Awesome. Well, congratulations again, thank you on everything. And we’re next door neighbors. Our corporate office at Travel Media Groups right up the road, so we’ll certainly keep an eye on all the exciting things you have coming over here.

Amaury Piedra:
Oh, we’ll let you know too. We’re gonna make some announcements soon about a music series and all that, so, it’s gonna be great. But thank you for your time today. It’s truly appreciated.

Ryan Embree:
Absolutely. Thank you for joining us on The Suite Spot. Thank you for listening or watching. Make sure to follow and subscribe to us wherever you get your podcasts and have a fantastic rest of your day. To join our loyalty program, be sure to subscribe and give us a five star-rating on iTunes. Suite Spot is produced by Travel Media Group. Our editor is Brandon Bell with Cover Art by Bary Gordon. I’m your host Ryan Embree, and we hope you enjoyed your stay.

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