Steven A. Rudnitsky joined Dolce Hotels and Resorts in 2008 as the next step in a 30-year career associated with iconic hospitality and consumer packaged goods companies including Wyndham Worldwide, Kraft, Nabisco, PepsiCo..., where he built a reputation for generating strong top- and bottom-line growth and expanding into new markets.
According to American hotel research firm, group demand in the United States is on track to be in line with 2007 and 2008 performance. Rubicon, another research firm, says future bookings are up 6.7 percent. We believe the recovery already has begun – albeit slowly – based on our improved bookings for this year. We’re looking for the recovery to really accelerate toward the end of this year and the beginning of next, particularly as corporations refocus on sending their sales forces into the field, resuming large-scale training - which generates group business - and conducting off-site meetings to plan strategy and tactics. Over the longer term, we see three to four years of very positive revenue streams for the industry as the meetings business targets training, reorientation and the invention of growth industries.Dolce today is far more than what it once was. We transformed Dolce International – a conference center operating company – into Dolce Hotels and Resorts, a hotel, resort and conference brand with a mix of 60 percent group and 40 percent transient clients. We’re a viable, branded alternative to the other upper-upscale brands that charge a lot more.HTR: Have you experienced in the recent years the consequences of stricter travels and meetings policies from big and smaller corporations to cut expenses?Corporations and associations slashed spending across the board to survive the recession. They cut way back on business meetings, client meetings and off-site training for their associates. However, we continue to see a steady rebound of corporate business and expect it to increase throughout 2011.HTR: Have you noticed a change in these policies now than the western economies are improving?Year-over-year, our group business is up double digits in terms of room-nights. However, the booking window continues to be much shorter than it had been before the recession, and meetings are shorter in duration. Net-net, groups are starting to book.HTR: Do you think that you have to adjust your concept to face changes in the company meetings market? Our ongoing challenge is to demonstrate the return on investment gained for hosting meetings and training sessions at our properties. Our properties are very business-oriented and insulated by virtue of their location from some of the typical distractions that erode offsite meeting effectiveness. For example, our Complete Meetings Package rate provides three meals daily, minimizing the need to leave our properties during the business day.HTR: Is the “resort” side of your business just marginal to feed the week-ends or is it a potential market you would like to develop alongside the “meeting” core business?Dolce traditionally focused its resources on attracting group business: corporate, association and government meetings; social activities including weddings and reunions; and off-site training programs, all of which leverage the key attributes of our properties: function space, meeting expertise and culinary talent. The recession caused us to focus more attention on attracting transient leisure business to make up for some of the softness in group business. We rebuilt our Web site, introduced new promotional rates and expanded our relationship with online travel agents. Thanks to those initiatives, we have seen transient revenues up 30 percent year over year. Moreover, we more than doubled our reservations contribution during the last 20 months to more than 40 percent. We expect our investment in transient programs to pay even bigger dividends as the economy grows stronger.Not only will we benefit from a resurgent group business, but we will be able to fill soft spots, weekends and holidays with more transient leisure travelers.HTR: For your future developments would you give priority to conversion or takeover of existing facilities (such as The Thayer Hotel and the Silverado Resort in the United States or Dolce La Hulpe in Belgium) or would you emphasize the new-built especially designed buildings to meet your specific requirements?We are equally adept at taking over existing facilities as we are working with developers who are constructing new properties. Either way, we work with owners to develop purpose-built spaces.HTR: Has the economic crisis enlarge the opportunities for a group with solid resources to develop? Will you speed up your development to take advantage of these opportunities?We have demonstrated our ability to grow despite difficult market conditions. During the last 20 months, we added the 349-room former Ritz Carlton Lake Las Vegas; Seaview, a 297-room former Marriott near Atlantic City; The Thayer Hotel, a 149-room historic property on the grounds of West Point; and the 439-room Silverado Resort in California’s Napa Valley. Also during that time, we opened Dolce Munich Unterschleissheim, a 255-room, new-construction hotel in Germany. We reorganized our development program earlier this year and filled our development pipeline with many promising opportunities in both North America and Europe. HTR: Do you rely mostly on Broadreach Capital Partners to feed and finance your development or do you partner with other financial and real estate operators?Dolce is a pure-play, branded management company. Our expertise is in operations, sales, marketing, development and finance, not real estate investment. We know how to improve the performance of large resorts and conference hotels operational by implementing methodologies and practices that maximize efficiency, productivity and revenue yield while fulfilling guest expectations for quality and service.HTR: You are mostly located in the United States and more recently in Europe, how would you like to balance your portfolio on each side of the Atlantic?Dolce currently is looking at properties in London, Berlin, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Italy and throughout the United States. We are more interested in steady growth than seeking a particular balance between Europe and North America.HTR: Do you see also promising opportunities in the emerging countries following the tracks of larger hotel groups in China, India, Central Europe?I would like to see Dolce enter the Asian market eventually, but for the moment we are focused on growing in North America and our core European markets to fully leverage our existing infrastructure.HTR: What is your expectation in the meeting business for the years to come?