The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Hotels doll up for business travellers

Lake Buena Vista, Oct. 30: The advertisements for restaurants inside the Swan and Dolphin hotels here include a place with “Disney Character Dining Opportunities,” as illustrated by a young girl grinning at a person dressed as a dog who holds a thumbed paw the size of a steering wheel atop her blonde head. For somewhat more sophisticated travellers, a steakhouse, according to the promotional literature, features “a pleasant, intimate atmosphere, surrounded by Miami Dolphins memorabilia.”

Marlin Evans, here from Birmingham, Alabama, to attend a convention of the Chartered Property and Casualty Underwriters Society, finished his ice cream cone one day last week at the Dolphin Fountain, a malt shop near the lobby.

“You do have to accept the fact that you’re going to be around children,” Evans said, as Buddy Holly’s voice on a jukebox pledged an indefatigable affinity for Peggy Sue. “It’s not your typical businessman’s place.”

Tishman Hotel Corp, a wholly-owned unit of the Tishman Corp. of New York that owns these hotels in partnership with Met Life, is spending $ 75 million to brush away just enough of that imagery to make the Dolphin and Swan hotels, which are operated by the Starwood Corp., appeal to more business travellers and convention-goers.

The task is delicate, in part because the Walt Disney company owns the ground beneath the hotels and has veto power over any modifications and in part because the location of the two hotels within the Disney World heartland makes it imperative that Tishman not turn its back on the family leisure travel market altogether.

But the company has calculated that it sorely needs the grown-ups. Revenues from the 2,267 rooms, priced from $ 199 to $ 405, are expected to fall to about $ 200 million this year from a peak of $ 225 million in 2000, according to John A. Griswold, president of Tishman Hotel Corp.

“We’re trying to cater to what those markets expect,” he said. “For the price we’re charging, they’re expecting a little more contemporary, a little more hip.”

Travel is still off all over the country, industry analysts say, although leisure travel is rebounding far better than business travel. Average revenues generated by each available hotel room nationally, the common industry gauge for the real estate side of the travel business, declined 7 per cent in 2001, according to Smith Travel Research. The accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers forecasts another decline of 2.3 per cent for 2002.

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