Florida knows tourism. Aside from international trade, farming (think oranges!), the space industry, services and a myriad of universities and tech firms, tourism continually reels in well over 70 million wayfarers and $50 billion year after year. Boasting itself as the top tourism destination in the world is an easy claim for this seaside state.
With this precedent, attending a recent VISIT FLORIDA symposium is ‘kind of' a big deal, if you catch my drift. This is especially true when it's symbolically held in Orlando, a million-plus city built from the ground up by the idealism of American resort travel and the ever-ostentatious Walt Disney. The event itself was a who's who of the industry and thoroughly inspirational.
Staying at the Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld (www.renaissanceseaworldorlando.com/
), I was treated to a topnotch and totally inclusive experience as the hotel is directly connected to the theme park and its gargantuan convention halls. Upon leaving, I was able to swap a few words with Tim Swan, the Director of Sales at SeaWorld (seaworldparks.com/en/seaworld-orlando/
), and corral Peter Psihas, Director of Sales and Marketing for the Renaissance, to discuss the hotel's partnership with the amusement park, especially in regards to groups business.
Tim Swan, SeaWorld Orlando / Peter Psihas, The Renaissance Hotel
Tell me a little bit about SeaWorld and the Renaissance Hotel (situation, growth, leisure/groups mix, etc.)
[TIM] SeaWorld is on the verge of celebrating 50 years as a brand, and our evolution in Orlando makes it seem like we've only just begun. The reasons for that are many. First, we have added several new elements to our collection of parks: Aquatica by SeaWorld – our Waterpark – and Discovery Cove. These additions ensure our parks remain ‘must see attractions' in Orlando. Second, our uniqueness in Orlando has broad appeal to both tourists and residents alike. Our mission to ‘celebrate, connect and care for the world we share through the power of entertainment' resonates with everyone, especially in today's world where people seem to be gravitating toward a more caring approach to conservation. And third, tied into the other two, is our evolution from a single theme park attraction to a collection of three world class parks, and seven Official Hotels, collectively referred to as SeaWorld Parks & Resorts Orlando.
[PETER] We have 781 guestrooms (very spacious 450 sq ft), including 65 newly remodeled suites. Our hotel handles approximately 110,000 group room nights and 100,000 leisure room nights per year. A stabilized year looks like 124,000 group rooms and 100,000 to 114,000 leisure rooms. The hotel has 76 meeting rooms located on two levels and two very peaceful, secluded outdoor lawn spaces to accommodate all types of events.
Describe the extent of your partnerships with other hospitality businesses and some of the specific programs you've developed.
[TIM] We have maintained very solid working relationships with our partner hotels for many years. But our relationship with the Renaissance, as well as the other Official Hotels of SeaWorld, has evolved significantly in the past couple years. For one, we extended a collection of benefits to all guests who stay at our Official Hotels. These benefits include things like complimentary transportation to the parks 365 days a year, access to an exclusive ‘behind the scenes' tour and free Quick Queue, our front-of-the-line program at SeaWorld.
[PETER] We partner first and foremost with SeaWorld. Aside from the aforementioned Quick Queue, our packages also include behind-the-scenes tours at SeaWorld, both exclusive and complimentary. One other noteworthy partnership item is that we ‘allow' SeaWorld Vacations to sell us on SeaWorldGetaways.com. This is an unusual practice for a Marriott property but because we have such a deep partnership with the park, we're able to make this happen. SeaWorld Vacations has sold over 10,000 room nights this year for us.
Apart from a Shamu 'floatie' in the bathtub (which I took home!), what are the other ways that you profile SeaWorld in neighboring property?
[TIM] When you stay at any of our Official Hotels, their connection to SeaWorld is wholly transparent. We have a ‘SeaWorld Vacation Planning Center' in the lobby of each property. The hotels have a custom video that plays in the rooms to highlight the guest benefits available and to introduce guests to all of the experiences available in our parks. We also provide access to products that others can only get upon arrival in the park, making their visit that much more convenient.
[PETER] The SeaWorld Vacation Planning Center is where we introduce SeaWorld, but we have more subtle ties as well. These include: the lobby waterfall, virtual aquarium loop that runs behind the front desk, Mist (our lobby sushi bar), the Wyland mural and corresponding blue color tones throughout the hotel. We also have characters, such as Shamu, stop by at brunch time on the weekends; this is really great for the kids.
How do you lever your partnership for the development of your group convention business and leisure planning?
[TIM] As an Official Hotel of SeaWorld, the Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld is promoted on our website, offering consumers the very best values available for an Orlando vacation. Together, we offer consumers the area's most convenient location, with easy access to all of Orlando's favorite pastimes. The exclusive benefits available to guests also make their experiences with our parks seamless and bestow palpable savings as well. And for no extra charge, we provide vacationers with memories they'll cherish for a lifetime! On the group side, we work very closely with the team at the Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld to provide groups with special ticket offers, easy access to the parks for events, and special programs for any ‘free time' organizers can muster around their group itinerary.
[PETER] Aside from these, we have a few more items that help us book group business. One is we offer a discounted pass that allows the group guest access to the park after 4PM. We encourage our groups to do their offsite events at the Ports of Call area in SeaWorld whenever possible or practical.
How closely do you work together on issues where there are special group needs, such as our recent Visit Florida event?
[TIM] We work very closely with the sales team to ensure our proximity is an asset to their efforts to secure group business. We pride ourselves on flexibility and will do whatever we can to provide groups with a great experience. Sometimes that involves events, other times it is animal appearances at the hotel or even just ticket options. Whatever it takes; at SeaWorld Parks & Resorts Orlando, we're in this together!
[PETER] We have a great working relationship. If anything comes up with a group, SeaWorld is always open to assisting us. The partnership is what sets us apart from our competition and really defines the guest experience here at the Renaissance. It is a great example of the Renaissance brand marriage to the neighborhood.
(Article published in eHotelier
on November 7, 2012)