The symposium on condo hotels in Hollywood, Florida on 22 and 23 May, 2006 was a good opportunity to take the pulse of the industry, make useful contacts, and also educate key players on the value butlers bring to high-end condo hotels. In attendance from our industry were the Executive Director of the International Institute of Modern Butlers, the Head Butler of The Cloister and the Front of the House Manager of The Lodge, both prestigious properties off the coast of Georgia, USA.
To recap, condohotels are basically condominiums in or connected to hotels that allow owners access to the resources of the hotel, including management of their condominiums.*
Condos in hotels are not all the same. Residential units in condotels are lived in by the owner; others limit the amount of time owners may live in their units, expecting them to allow their units to be rented out by the hotel. Owners like the idea, because they generally only want to use their condos occasionally, and the rental income (shared by owner and hotel) offsets or covers the cost of their unit: all of which adds up to these units being viewed as investments and second/vacation homes. The downside to these rental units is that owners may not furnish or decide on the décor of these units, although they are usually allowed to store on site and then use personal items such as portraits when they are in residence. Hoteliers like condotels because they make it easier to acquire financing for development, as well as providing a healthy income stream year round.
Almost half of the condotels on the market or under construction in the US are ocean front, the rest mainly in urban areas, casinos and theme parks. Other markets where condotels are expanding significantly are the Middle East, China, and South America. One developer alone in Brazil has fifty condotels. While condotels began to appear in Europe and London in the Seventies, the first on record appears to have been in Miami Beach during the 1940s.
So what does this all have to do with butlers? Rather a lot, actually. Owners pay anything from about $300,000 to $25 million for these properties. But no calculator can create or measure their true value because what the owners value is the lifestyle their condotel offers them. Hoteliers have to deliver experience, not just four walls. As with any effective marketing, it is the sizzle that sells, not the steak. The sizzle in condotels is not really the marble baths with gold-plated fixtures, as these kind of amenities are almost the baseline of expectation. The sizzle includes the spa, restaurants, gym on or off site, the theaters, etc. But even these are also part of the basic expectation, otherwise the owners would not have been looking in that particular area for a condotel.
No, what guests and owners want more than anything else (as mentioned by a few speakers at the symposium) is to be pampered. They want to be wowed inside and outside their suites. Speakers mentioned maid and even concierge service as examples of pampering. Only one person mentioned the “B” word. That is because perhaps the majority of condotels are not in the five-star range that would require butler service. As another speaker pointed out, concierge service speaks of a 4-4.5-star service. And because we have yet as a profession to make inroads into the condotel market, most people, even in five-star environments, have not made the connection between pampering and butlers. To be sure, concierges pamper and offer marvelous service, but they are limited to front-of-the-house activities. They rarely do anything in guest or owner units short of delivering items or perhaps taking care of emergencies for absentee owners.
I think we have to recognize that as butlers, we are Johnny-come-latelies in the hospitality environment. We have to keep talking up the sizzle for high-end hotel and condotel owners, developers, and managers, or they will continue to think in terms of the more limited concierge and maid services.
Well, the good news is that we spread the sizzle a bit through one-on-one chats with developers, owners, and managers, as well as during the final panel presentation. We now have interest from quite a few large and boutique projects in the US, Caribbean, and China.
We would like to help you do the same. If you see possibilities for introducing butler service into a luxury condotel (or even hotel) being built or completed in your area, please contact us so we can assist you in presenting the concept to the owners, developers, or managers.
There is no doubt in my mind that condotels represent a huge market (halfway between private residence butling and hotel butling and combining the benefits of both) that only needs a few butlers boldly going where no butler has gone before to blossom into a whole new field of employment for our ranks!
* As a note, condos in America are owned residences sharing the same building and management, with common areas and gardens cared for by the management company. In England, these are known as “flats” or “apartments,” but in the US, those terms are used only in connection with rental units.
This article also appeared in the 16 June 2006 issue of 4Hoteliers.com
About the Author (Author Profile)Steven Ferry is chairman of the International Institute of Modern Butlers and the author of bestsellers "Butlers & Household Managers 21st Century Professionals" and "Hotel Butlers, The Great Service Differentiators." He also trains and consults for the profession around the world.
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