The Boca Raton Resort & Club is aiming to lure younger, tech-savvy travelers and local residents by shedding some traditional ways of doing business.
Along the way, it also wants to ease its heavy reliance on high-end corporate meetings.
In some respects the resort, founded in 1926 by architect Addison Mizner as "The Cloister Inn," and renovated and expanded over the decades, had been stuck in a time capsule, company officials said. They're eager to change that.
"The way we operated, the way we communicated … especially as it relates to our guests and our club members, it was very traditional… I felt I walked into 1995," said Richard Hayduk, 49, the resort's president. Before joining the Boca property in January, Hayduk was regional managing director for several LXR resorts and hotels on Sanibel and Captiva islands. "We were not mirroring Boca, we were not mirroring our community, our membership, or who was walking in the door."
Boca Raton is not only something of a college town, it also has 35-year-old entrepreneurs driving around in Maseratis and Teslas, and wealthy 65-year-old seniors who look like they're in their 40s, Hayduk said. That's a far cry from misconceptions fueled by pop culture references that Boca Raton is mostly a retirement community.
The initiatives to attract more leisure travelers, while not new (previous ownership in the 1980s pursued similar strategies) will help the 1,047-room resort diversify its customer base, said Scott Brush, a South Florida-based lodging industry consultant.
Efforts are already paying off. This summer, the resort posted an 18 percent increase in leisure travelers compared with the previous year, officials said.
It can also help change old perceptions among consumers.
"It's true you gain your reputation [from] the individuals you have coming in [to the resort], rather than by the groups," said Brush, noting referrals can spread more quickly person-to-person.
As part of a new "luxury with an edge" strategy, which includes targeting families, the resort at 501 E. Camino Real will unveil an ice skating rink Nov. 1 to kick off the holiday season. The pink-colored rink will operate through Jan. 1.
In the summer, it added Mizner's Quest, a self-guided walking tour that explores 17 points of historical and natural interest on the 356-acre property, where kids can post their photos on a wall of fame.
In May, it partnered with popular Australian surf wear company Billabong to open a surfing school at its Beach Club. Hayduk said it's the only Waldorf Astoria hotel of 24 worldwide to have a surf school.
Executives next May plan to expand the surfing program to the resort's pool area as an additional amenity for corporate groups.
Management also retooled Lucca, an upscale Italian eatery that usually closes in the summer, to provide a more casual ambience during the summer. The trattoria-style restaurant offered pizzas and smaller pasta dishes and was packed throughout the summer, Hayduk said.
"It was so well received by our club members we're going to do a hybrid of the menu as we go into the winter season."
Also during the summer, the resort added technology to improve customer service and guest communications. A texting program sends guests a welcome message after check-in. The message includes a number they can use to text questions, request services, and make dining and spa reservations. A GPS-based tracking system alerts guests waiting at shuttle stops about the movement and location of shuttles.
The new technology is part of management's effort to make things easier for guests, said general manager Kelly Vohs.
"We have an acronym that we use around the property called MEP — 'memorable, easy and personable,' " said Vohs, 35, who joined in April from New York, where he oversaw operations of 17 locations for restaurant operator BR Guest Hospitality.
"There isn't one thing we do that [from a guest perspective] we don't boil down into those three things."
The texting service has been a hit with guests — even a lifesaver of sorts. One guest who'd forgotten an anniversary gift, texted to have flowers delivered to his room while his wife was there with him, Vohs recalled. Another sent out a 2:30 a.m. text requesting a facial appointment for the next day.
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