Reviewing St. Regis Bal Harbour

I had heard about the new St. Regis in Bal Harbour on the northern tip of Miami Beach (opened January 2012) long before my recent vacation there. After all, a capital expenditure of nearly one billion dollars does not easily hide in today’s hospitality investment circles. This is enough to make anyone curious, especially a marketing consultant such as myself.

So, did this new landmark hotel meet and surpass all the pre-launch hype? While on property, I dined with the General Manager Marco Selva to discuss just this in addition to a thorough site inspection.

For those not already familiar with this property, the St. Regis Bal Harbour sits on land formerly occupied by the Americana resort, and subsequently reflagged as the Sheraton Bal Harbour. The 5-acre (2-hectare) beachfront block sits directly opposite the Bal Harbour Shops, considered to be the finest open-air mall in the world by those who have no real need to look at prices (read: snazzy).

The property’s 243 rooms and suites are flanked on each side by private residences, a logical way to generate the necessary upfront capital to make such a grand venture possible. Each of these wings has separate motor entry ramps and service quarters, thereby minimizing congestion. Ingeniously, the hotel’s ballroom-level entrance is one floor below the lobby; it works rather brilliantly when you see it in action.

Stepping out of one’s vehicle and into the St. Regis lobby is a truly awe-inspiring experience. The hotel owes a lot to designer Yabu Pushelberg’s keen sense of broken sightlines, powerfully oversized furnishings and world-class contemporary artwork. (The artwork alone is worthy of a visit, and would not look out of place in MOMA.) Proceeding to reception builds a heightened sense of anticipation of good things to come — a key takeaway. In essence, this “sense of arrival” — critical to escalating a guest’s positive first impression — provides a bold statement of lush décor and extravagance.

Assembling the team to execute the service needs of this property was no small matter. In speaking with Mr. Selva, he indicated that his greatest desire was to seek a staff component with a profound luxury hotel background. “I wanted to meet each team member personally, to see the commitment to service in their eyes. For only then would I know if they were serious about the task we were initiating here in Bal Harbour.” My stay confirmed Mr. Selva’s goal. Each staff member I spoke with was not only performing his or her job, but was also executing individual touches to make me feel comfortable. There was not one situation where I felt that a staff member was merely going through the motions and not committed to their craft.

Mr. Selva plotted an interesting strategy for the property’s primary dining room, J&G Grill. He noted, “Our property’s restaurant had to make a critical welcoming statement to the local community, more of a regular dining spot than just for special occasions. We did this by doing away with the traditional white-tablecloth setting, opting for rubberized placemats instead. We also adapted price points for food items and entry-level wines to be consistent with local restaurants.”

St. Regis Bal Harbour’s geographic origin markets are indeed interesting and speak to the general economic shifts for that whole chunk of Florida. The primary feeder market is New York. But key secondary markets include Brazil (Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro), Eastern Canada (Toronto, Montreal) and other South American clusters. During my short stay, I witnessed many guests returning from shopping trips at the mall, laden with a myriad of designer bags. It is clear that this sartorial proximity is a big draw.

Mr. Selva agreed and added, “In recognition of this important element to our mix, we have created a unique promotion in concert with Neiman Marcus. We call it our ‘Curated Closet’ program. A stylist pre-shops for our customers, stocking the closets of their suites with items they may wish to consider for purchase. Guests (men or women) can then select without any hurry in the comfort of their own rooms, conveniently adding those items they wish to take home onto their guest folio.” (I forgot to tell my wife about that one, and I’m already dreading the next credit card bill!)

This is a very innovative idea. I often point out that a creative use of your location and immediate situation will make for an excellent point of differentiation. In Florida, every hotel is on the beach. Advertising based on this alone might not prove effective. Here, the St. Regis Bal Harbour has the ocean, but it’s also across the street from outstanding shopping, and through such marketing techniques as the Curated Closet, it’s quite apparent that this property is taking full advantage of its proximity.

While less than a year old, the St. Regis Bal Harbour is clearly off to a fast start. Occupancies and ADR are well above target and among the highest in Bal Harbour — or all of Miami Beach, for that matter. This prompted me to ask about the competitive set. “Our guests are not really comparing us with other local properties; rather, we compete with the finest resorts in the world,” said Mr. Selva. “However, that does not mean that our customer base ignores price considerations. While we are premium-priced, we strive to constantly deliver value in terms of quality, amenities, location, service and extras by providing the absolute best in everything that we do.”

In summary, the St. Regis Bal Harbour is an example of hospitality at its finest. For those who can afford it, this hotel is proof that America has not lost the ability to deliver a top-drawer combination of products and services.