Just after turning 85 years old, the Renaissance Vinoy Resort is making a few changes. The crown jewel of St. Petersburg hotels will be in the tourist spotlight even more now with the opening of the new Dalí Museum and increased foot traffic on Beach Drive. And in the same way that technological advancements such as air conditioning helped shape its business decades ago, new technology is prompting changes again. Business reporter Katherine Snow Smith talked with hotel general manager Russell C. Bond about what guests and other visitors can expect.
How will the lobby change?
We're going to move all the functionality of the front office to the left (side of the lobby.) Now we have three large (check-in) sections and basically use one to one and a half on a busy day. We're going to gain some additional seating. I think most people would agree there isn't enough seating in our lobby. Renaissance Hotels is going across the country and around the world and redoing their lobbies creating a Renaissance Lounge and Renaissance Library.
Will it be like a classic library with books, a roaring fireplace and men smoking pipes?
There will be book shelves, maybe a fireplace and a TV with no sound on. This will be for people who don't want to be with others when they work on their laptop. They can be tucked away. It will be where the front office is now.
Why is it time to make these changes?
Most major hotels across the county are moving in this direction. You want the lobby to be like a living room, like a very comfortable place. People are working in the lobby on a laptop and on BlackBerries. When you have a lobby that was built back in 1992 before all of these technological advancements you have a lot of unutilized space.
I heard there is going to be an outside bar on the front porch. Is this so?
Our intent is to figure out a way to create even more service on the front veranda from a bar situation. We would double the size with a bar on the inside and a bar on the outside. We are still working through the logistics of where it will be exactly.
The fire pits in the former valet parking lot out front seem to have had some good crowds lately? When exactly did you start that sitting area?
About May 1 is when we finally got all the equipment here. Not great timing. But as we got into October and November it became what we thought it would end up being. It's about 40 additional seats. By adding additional service out on the front veranda we will continue to enhance the area. It's about 40 additional seats. Beach Drive is becoming very pedestrian friendly, so we want to partner with that.
What will the lobby and veranda renovation cost and when will it start and end?
We're not releasing numbers on that. We should start sometime in July and do it in stages and be finished sometime in mid to late September
Are the plans for a new spa still in the works?
The next big project in our life might be in 2012. We will embark on a spa expansion and will expand on its current space and increase its appeal and its lighting. We are not going to be building a new building. It is cost-prohibitive. There are so many moving parts here and so little space.
Did the Vinoy suffer any cancellations or slow business due to the oil spill?
We did see a slowdown in business. During the summer it is important for all of the beach resorts and hotels to succeed, which then pushes the overflow back to places like the Vinoy. It is evident that the beach properties in our area suffered fairly significantly this past summer. Our owners are in the process of making a decision on whether to file a claim or not as we speak.
Are Vinoy rooms available on the discount online hotel booking sites?
Yes, there are times when demand is slow that we would take advantage of those channels. As part of the Marriott family of hotels, we have a best rate guarantee through Marriott.com. If you book on another site, your rate won't be any less. The only exception is for sites like Priceline where you bid on a hotel stay without knowing what hotel you will actually end up reserved in. It is a blind bid. If you are willing to travel that way, you can often get great deals.
Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at (727) 893-8785 or firstname.lastname@example.org.