The governor’s State of the Territory address spoke of hard times and tipping points, but for the Marriott Frenchman’s Reef, the next couple of months is a time to reinvest and "reposition" the hotel as one of the premier destinations in the Caribbean, according to its general manager.
Starting May 1, a portion of the hotel will be down for renovations for five months, which Marriott General Manager Jose Gonzalez Espinosa said is necessary to improve the infrastructure.
The hotel has received $50 million from its owners to do the repairs, which range from refurbishing the balconies to installing central air, he said.
A total of 186 out of the hotel’s 478 rooms will remain open, along with Morning Star Beach Resort, he said.
Espinosa said in a meeting with the Source Wednesday that the upgrades will make the hotel more competitive, particularly within the region, and hopefully attract more customers.
"Our biggest challenge has been customers telling us our product is not up to the standards they expected," he said. "People have been going to other destinations like Aruba and Puerto Rico because they have a better product over there."
Espinosa explained that the hotel could have cut its rates and let things be, or reinvest and renovate, which would create a better product and allow the hotel to increase both its rates and customer volume. He said the latter was the smarter business choice.
"It’s time for us to get moving," he said.
While the renovations are ongoing, there are going to be temporary layoffs, which Espinosa said the staff and Department of Labor have already been told about.
During the five months, employees will be retrained for the reopening, then re-hired in September.
"We want them to feel proud of it," Espinosa said. "We told them it was for five months only, and that we want them back afterward, energized and refreshed, and ready for us to continue to be one of the top leaders in the market."
He added that many of the employees also participated in the process, providing feedback on how to renovate the spa and restaurant areas. Espinosa said his next meeting with the staff will be in a week, with more meetings to follow.
In the meantime, local contractors will be working on the building to ensure that it will be reopened in five months, according to Espinosa, who said two large groups have booked up the hotel in October and November, so the work has to be completed on time.
The hotel has more bookings for the winter months than it did last year, he said.
The scope of work includes work on the balconies, changing the hotel’s copper pipes to PVC, switching to central air conditioning and looking for other energy-saving alternatives.
Espinosa said the hotel has already spent thousands on upgrades to reduce its water consumption, such as installing water-saving toilets. Replacing the individual air conditioning units in the hotel’s rooms with central air, he added, will also improve air quality and energy costs.
"We want to be able to compete with quality, with product, with service — then we can become a better option than the other islands," Espinosa said.