Hotels to scratch upscale niche

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ORLANDO -- By July 2003, a 584-room Ritz-Carlton and a 1,000-room JW Marriott will be operating as part of the Grande Lakes Resort complex here, and resort officials report strong sales -- even 16 months before the properties open.

In addition, the new hotels will bring a needed boost to the upscale Orlando market, said Ezzat Coutry, the project's vice president and managing director.

"Grande Lakes will redefine the Orlando experience, offering a new level of product and service," he said.

Although the Orlando area has some 108,000 rooms, premium hotels are limited, Coutry said, and except for the past year, demand has caught up with supply, he said.

Within its 500 acres, the two hotels offer more than 100,000 square feet of meeting space; an 18-hole, Greg Norman-designed golf course; three tennis courts; and a 40,000-square-foot Ritz-Carlton spa.

Coutry said both properties will be available for citywide conventions. The hotels open several months before the completion of the Orlando-Orange County Convention Center's 1 million-square-foot expansion. The center is 3.5 miles from Grande Lakes.

The properties, owned by Thayer Lodging Group, will be managed by Marriott. Within five years, a Marriott Vacation Club time-share will rise near the JW Marriott, he said.

Coutry predicted that the meetings sector will make up 70% of the Ritz-Carlton's clientele and 75% of the JW Marriott's business.

Some large meeting groups already have booked both hotels, he noted.

The sales staff at both hotels is 13, but will climb to 22 once the properties open, Coutry said.

Bruce Seigel is marketing director for the Ritz-Carlton, at (407) 529-2223, and Jane M. Chaney for the JW Marriott, at (407) 529-2254.

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