Marriott General Manager Jose Gonzalez, in smartly pressed chinos and a spotless blue polo shirt bearing the Marriott logo, did not physically betray the roller coaster ride he admitted he was on Monday, with barely two weeks before the hotel opens after a five-month, $48 million renovation.
Gonzalez appeared unfazed, however. Another day at the office.
But when the office is a 478-room hotel in the last throes of a massive renovation, the office can be more than a bit challenging.
Gonzalez gives one of his frequent quick smiles.
"It’s a beautiful accomplishment," he said. "That’s the good news. We’re opening Oct. 4. I’m very impressed by the work the main contractor, Raider Construction, and all the other contractors are doing."
Why did he set a time limit of only five months for a seemingly gargantuan task? "The booking demand sets the time," he said. "We have two big groups in October; we have to go by the bookings. We had to get moving.
"It’s a very tight schedule," Gonzalez allowed. "That’s been our biggest challenge."
A decision was made earlier this year to proceed with the costly renovation. Gonzalez said at the time, "We could have cut our rates and let things be, or reinvest and renovate. We have done the latter, which was the smarter business choice."
The hotel, the island’s largest employer with more than 500 on staff, closed May 1, laying off 271 employees, all of whom were rehired and will return Sept. 27 for four days of intensive training.
The hotel worked with the Department of Labor to arrange employee retraining, unemployment benefits, and other information over the five-month layoff.
Perhaps one of the biggest changes, and likely the thing Gonzalez is most enthusiastic about, is the switch to central air-conditioning.
"The energy savings should be about $1 million a year," he said.
Oh, and there’s a decal on each glass balcony door instructing guests: "If you leave the door open, the air-conditioning will automatically shut off."
And there’s the new aesthetics. Two hundred of the hotel’s 478 rooms, those in the main tower, have new interiors, light and cheerful with a pastel color palette, paintings in greens and blues (reflecting the island’s natural beauty), and newly designed balconies.
Gonzalez led a tour of the hotel, from the public fitness room, which has been moved up one floor to give more space to the elegant spa.
Wending a path between rolls of carpeting, cartons of furniture and sacks of building materials, Gonzalez knew exactly where he was going.
He knows to the last detail what goes where. "These are the spa wet rooms, for massages, facials," he says, indicating two rooms, windows facing the mezzanine esplanade.
"Yes, they will have shades," he explains.
What used to be Windows on the Harbor, the hotel’s premier restaurant, has been expanded to include a generous lounge overlooking the harbor with beautifully upholstered banquettes, in shades of blue.
Though obviously delighted with the beautiful restaurant, Gonzalez added that "we haven’t decided on its new name yet."
"Now, for the pools," he directed, as if on a mission.
There are now three pools, two on one side of the hotel, and the other, an infinity pool, on the other side by the sunken bar.
"See," Gonzalez pointed out, "you can swim right up and have a drink."
Some imagination was required to envision all the improvements, but Gonzalez has that vision well in hand. He’s not flustered by all the work to be done in the slightly more than two weeks.
He throws up his hands, "I’m a juggler," he said, "all the balls in the air."
Brimming with what appears characteristic confidence, he said firmly, "It will get done."
As he tours the hotel, Gonzalez seems to know most of the workmen, who are busy painting, plastering, cleaning, repairing just about everything. The project uses local contractors, and local workmen.
"Only locals could do the work so quickly," Gonzalez said. They know the idiosyncracies of the community, how to get things done."
Now, about the training for returning staff, which Gonzalez calls the "most important part."
A total of 500 employees will receive four days of training in the hotel’s expansive main ballroom.
The training is based on new standards, Gonzalez said, and new concepts of leadership, hospitality and customer service. He said employees are still needed in several management positions, including resident manager, restaurant manager, and director of event planning and operations. The positions can be applied for online at Careers.Marriott.com
"We want the employees to feel proud of the hotel," he said. "We want them to return energized, ready to continue to be one of the leaders in the market."
And so far the guest numbers are good. Gonzalez said the hotel’s bookings indicate a 6 percent increase in volume, and an occupancy rate that’s 12 percent better than last year.
So, the venerable hotel, an integral part of the island landscape since 1976, will shortly be restored to its former glory, the Marriott’s flagship Caribbean resort.
Gonzalez can’t wait.