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Posted: September 08, 2009

Putting on the Ritz in Florida

Ritz Carlton properties really shine

Robert Polk

 

Last week, I flew from coast-to-coast and back again for various meetings. At the end of the week, I was lucky enough to find myself at the Ritz Carlton in sunny Florida. (Oh, the trials and tribulations of being in the travel industry!)

The Ritz Carlton is one of our agency's preferred hotel partners and asked us to participate in focus groups to advise Ritz Carlton management on policies and service, make suggestions, and otherwise offer feedback on our experience working with them.

The focus group met at The Ritz Carlton in West Palm Beach and included some of the largest agencies in the country that sell corporate travel, vacation travel and meetings and incentives. I could not have been more impressed with the level of talent in the meeting room - from both the agency side of the travel desk and from the Ritz Carlton executives that were present.

Simon F. Cooper, the President and CEO of Ritz Carlton, was present for the entire meeting. He is very impressive, as is the management team he has assembled. Not only did he deliver a complete overview of the current business conditions at Ritz and their outlook for the hotel industry into 2010, but he also impressed us with world-famous Ritz Carlton luxury and hospitality.

It will come as no surprise that 2009 has not been a great year for Ritz Carlton, and they do not expect conditions to improve until late 2010. All of the travel professionals in the room agreed that we are at the bottom of the economic downturn, and all expect a long and very slow road to recovery. Ritz Carlton is expecting little or no growth for existing properties until 2011.

I had been to the Ritz Carlton in Palm Beach many years ago and remember it as one of the nicest properties I have seen. The hotel recently went through a major renovation and it is now so far beyond nice it borders on heavenly.

The hotel is right on the Atlantic (with all rooms having an ocean view) and just finished expanding and remodeling its Spa. The new and improved Spa is over 40,000 square feet and, though I did not experience it first-hand, I hear it is one of the nicest in Florida.

I can attest first-hand to the fact that the food and beverage service was the best I have ever received at any property of any kind. Each meal was served with a creative theme, and the service and quality of food were simply the highest possible level.

Our meetings in West Palm ended Friday afternoon. From West Palm we drove over Alligator Alley to Naples. I had never driven over Alligator Alley, and I can now tell you that the term "River of Grass" (often used to describe the Everglades) is absolutely true. As far as you can see in all directions, there is nothing but native grass and water. The River of Grass slowly opens into areas of Cypress and Pine trees, and then, in less than 90 minutes, you run into the Gulf of Mexico.

In Naples we stayed in the older of the two Ritz Carlton properties. Like the Palm Beach Ritz, the Naples Ritz is directly on the Gulf of Mexico. And, like the Palm Beach Ritz, the Naples Ritz is also very, very nice.

We also got a chance to visit the newer Ritz in Naples, located four miles inland on two Greg Norman-designed golf courses. There is a hotel shuttle to take guests between the two resorts. If you like water and golf, you cannot go wrong with either property; both are first-rate

As I have mentioned many times this year, there has never been a better time to travel, and that absolutely applies to a stay at any Ritz Carlton. Their executives have seen customers of all ages this summer. Long-time Ritz Carlton customers are still visiting their many hotels and resorts all around the globe, while new customers have been enticed to the luxury brand through exciting summer promotions.

The obvious hope is that these new customers will become accustomed to their luxury service and grow to be long-time Ritz Carlton customers when the economy improves.

If you are thinking of visiting Florida this winter, or if you are planning any kind of incentive trip for your staff, advertisers or sales team, I highly recommend the Ritz Carlton properties in Florida. Each is a true Five-Star resort -- and rates will never be as attractive as they are today.

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Robert Polk is CEO of Polk Majestic Travel Group, Denver's largest independent travel agency. He welcomes your comments and questions at Robert@polkmajestic.com.

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