Gaylord sells 1M room nights before debut

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ORLANDO -- When Gaylord Entertainment Co. hosted the grand opening of its first Florida property on Feb. 2, the $450 million, 1,406-room Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center here, the hotel already had notched sales of more than 1 million room nights.

The property, which sports an atrium the size of Chicago's Wrigley Field, was more than 60% presold for 2002 before it opened.

Meetings represent 85% of the business this year, according to Mike Mason, vice president of sales and marketing.

In fact, most of the bookings under contract are to large meetings groups and associations through 2012.

They include the American Bus Association, which held its Marketplace during the grand opening, drawing 2,400 delegates, and the upcoming 35th annual Florida Governor's Conference on Tourism, set for Aug. 11 to 13.

The shrimp boat Gaylord has a bar where oysters, clams and tropical drinks are served. Adjacent to the boat is Sunset Sam's Fish Camp restaurant. One group, Dallas-based Home Interiors & Gifts, had members checking in from all over the U.S., filling the hotel Jan. 18 to 20, before the official opening, according to Mason.

The officers of the group, which had met previously in Nashville at Gaylord's Opryland Hotel, had faith in the firm's pledge that the new convention hotel would be able to handle the delegates.

The hotel's success, Mason said, also stems from design changes made as a result of the findings of a preconstruction survey in which officials asked planners what they did not like about meetings at hotels.

As a result, clients will find:

• Eighteen front-desk positions installed for peak check-in periods, a checkout kiosk and on-screen electronic checkout through the room's television.
• Checkout from the convention center. Meetings attendees' baggage can be delivered to the convention center, enabling them to check out once the event wraps up.
• A separate check-in facility at the center for large meetings and a designated transportation lobby, so the main lobby and hotel entrance are not blocked.
• An increase in restaurant and bar staffs when a major convention does not schedule a catered meal function.
• A 24-hour deli.
• A keycard-activated soda vending machine located near guest rooms. Charges are billed to the room.
• In-room refrigerators containing orange juice and bottled water. The cost of the beverages is covered in a $10 daily service fee, which also includes the Walt Disney World shuttle.
• An in-room safe large enough to accommodate a laptop computer and featuring a built-in electric outlet for recharging the battery.
• A variety of food options. The Villa de Flora, for example, offers a $14 soup-to-dessert lunch buffet that includes roast lamb, sausage-and-cheese pizza, baked chicken with mushroom cream sauce and grilled salmon with lemon caper sauce. Breakfast at Villa de Flora costs $12, and dinner is $18. Other restaurants are Old Hickory Steakhouse, also noted for its imported cheeses, and Sunset Sam's Fish Camp.
• Nightly entertainment, which includes a Jimmy Buffet-style band in the Key West area and a sunset party.

In addition, an Internet work station eventually will be available atop every guest room desk; negotiations are in progress with a supplier.

The hotel's winter rack rates are typically $360, single or double, for a traditional unit, and $400 for an atrium view. (Rates, subject to change, are reduced for groups.)

For $440, an Emerald Bay tower unit (362 rooms) is available. Small groups housed in Emerald Bay can be self-contained because the wing has its own meetings and catering space.

The hotel has 400,000 square feet of meetings and prefunction space, most of which is found in the convention center. The center has a 178,000-square-foot exhibition hall.

Mason said he has begun concentrating on leisure business. The hotel will hire a director of tour and travel and will introduce in-house packages and some affordable rates for motorcoach tour groups. Travel agents also will be invited to visit.

For information, agents can call (407) 586-2000 or visit www.gaylordpalms.com.

Resort takes Florida theme

ORLANDO -- The Gaylord Palms embraces a Florida theme with the re-creation of four areas of the state: the Everglades, Key West, St. Augustine and the Emerald Coast (Panhandle).

The theming applies to public areas, including dining outlets and guest buildings. The "Everglades" features cypress trees, swamps and mechanical alligators. In "Key West," a shrimp boat docked at an inside "marina" doubles as an oyster bar.

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