Friday, December 2, 2022

Hotels Move Forward Together Part1

Photos by Samantha Husted | Marco Island Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Dianna Dohm (center) with JW Marriott’s General Manager Sharon Lockwood (left) and Director of Sales and Marketing Amanda Cox.

The Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort and Spa and the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort share more in common than their status atop the island’s list of destination locations.

Both are in the final phases of multi-year, multi-million dollar renovation and expansion projects and they’re also helmed by general managers who are fairly new to the island. Sharon Lockwood assumed leadership of Marco’s JW Marriott in January, while Steve Falciani, became the Marco Hilton’s GM in April.

The Coastal Breeze recently sat down with them, along with Dianna Dohm, executive director of the Marco Island Area Chamber of Commerce, and Amanda Cox, director of sales and marketing for the JW Marriott Marco Island, for a wide-ranging discussion, dominated by their views on the island’s economy and tourism industry, and the vitality of their rejuvenated resorts, both in the short-and-long-term.

For about one hour, the foursome shared their love for the community, their hotels role in the island’s commercial scene and the economic boost the renovation projects will provide and how they find working cooperatively, rather than competitively, to be beneficial for their businesses.

They also touch upon challenges the resorts face, while also sharing one overarching opinion: that the future is bright for Marco Island’s tourism industry and by extension, its overall commercial scene.

In Part One of the highlights of the discussion. Look for Part Two in the June 8 issue of the Coastal Breeze News.

Coastal Breeze News writer Don Manley meets with Hilton GM Steve Falciani.

What is the impact of your resort(s) on the local economy?

Lockwood: “I think that we are at a very special time, not only for the JW Marriott Marco Island, but also for the island itself because we’ve just opened up the first three floors of our 100,000 square feet of absolutely incredible (meeting) space. The reason for the building of the tower was so that we would be a year-round destination.

“It was no longer going to be a thing of in-season, off-season. We’re going to be busy all year round, which is great for the local economy. It’s great for the associates who are able to work year-round. It’s great for all the companies and business here, whether it be excursions or restaurants or transportation. As we see it, it’s always sunny on Marco Island and it’s going to be even sunnier¸ I believe, now that we have this additional tower.

“And that’s not to mention that with completion of the tower this summer, we will have (Marriott’s) first adult-exclusive tower on a beach in the United States.”

Falciani: “I think our hotels generate a lot of income for the surrounding businesses and not just the ones you might think about. You think about restaurants and entertainment and things that the tourists do. But there are a lot of other businesses that I’ve talked with and they’ve been impacted by this (guest rooms have been closed since last June, but the hotel is open for meetings and events, as is the Deck at 560 beach bar and outside dining area).

There’s a Remax office across the street from us. They get a lot of people who come here looking for housing that stay at our resort, but they’re not there right now. So it has impacted them. There’s a Chico’s across the street. So it’s things you might not think about, but it’s a lot of shopping, in addition to the dining. So I think that we do have a big impact on the island and when we’re renovated, which we both are, I think it’s good for everybody because now it’s a higher level of service, there’s a higher level of product and it raises everything. So as one goes up, the other goes up and everybody does well. So we think it’s very positive.”

Cox: “To me, one of the most exciting things about the area that we’re moving into is that in many cases, it’s not just new product at both resorts, but it’s exposing a brand new customer to Marco Island and the majority of the time, that new customer is coming between May and November, when this island really needs business the most. For example, looking at our forecast for this October, there’ll be more people in our building this October than there were in March.

The other thing that has been really exciting is that now, with so much meeting space available, we’ve been able to partner with our friends at the Hilton and the Marco Beach Ocean Resort. We have a lot of conventions between now and 2023 that are utilizing all three facilities. We now have a package large enough to compete for programs that have always had to be at the Fontainebleau or the Diplomat on the east coast of Florida because there was never a large enough option here on the Paradise Coast. We’re able to blend together to create that.”

Dohm: “I think another thing that’s important is the uniqueness of the proximity. If you go to Miami, you maybe have to be bussed to all the different locations. You can’t just walk on the beach or walk down the street. That is a very unique dynamic in the convention world.

“But I see a circle of life with our resorts. When I first came here, I stayed at the Marriott and I came across the bridge and said, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s just beautiful.’ I stayed at the Marriott, learned my way around, came back a couple times and stayed at the Marriott and found that this is where I wanted to retire and put down roots. Now we see a lot of our older population moving back North to be with their families, and now their families are moving down here. So to me, the resorts are really the first step in the circle of Marco Island life.”

Lockwood: “I also think it’s introducing a whole new community to Marco Island. What I’ve found is, as we look at a new customer base coming in, they’re going to be the ‘Diannas’ (Dohms) of the world, the next generation of people who are going to fall in love with Marco Island like we have.”

Dohm: “Everyone benefits when we’re all successful; our resorts, our realtors, our adventure businesses, from Goodland all the way up to Fort Myers.”

Readers are invited to forward any questions they may have for the general managers to the Coastal Breeze News to Questions will be discussed at the next meeting

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