HOTELS Interview: Renewal at Turnberry Isle

Last August, Turnberry Isle Miami’s owner, the Soffer family’s Turnberry Associates, removed Fairmont Hotels & Resorts from management of the 408-room resort in Aventura, Florida. While talks to settle the dispute between the two parties apparently are ongoing, the hotel has since been functioning as an independent, and the owners are considering potential expansion of the Turnberry brand.

The other big news here is that the hotel, which was reacquired by the family in 2006 and is part of the Turnberry Hotel Group, is expected to join a large, branded collection next month, and is planning to launch a new wing in 2014 with 200 additional rooms.

HOTELS spoke to the property’s new Managing Director Douglas Hustad — who for the past seven years was vice president and general manager of The Inn on Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina — about what will happen next at Turnberry Isle as the company renews and realigns the hotel and the brand.

HOTELS: Why did you accept this challenge?

Douglas Hustad: When I got the call to operate the resort and help establish the Turnberry brand, I was very excited about the opportunity. What we are doing at Turnberry Isle is the thumbprint for what future Turnberry hotels will become. It is a creation and evolution.

HOTELS: What is happening at the hotel right now?

Hustad: We have signed on with a large collection, which opens huge distribution for us. We get to keep our independence and create things like our own custom amenity line, which is fun stuff. We come online May 23, and we expect the floodgates to open. Our Union Station hotel in Nashville (Tennessee) joined Autograph two months ago and has seen a huge jump in RevPAR.

HOTELS: What are you doing to refresh the hotel?

Hustad: We recently signed a deal with Cañas Tennis to run our tennis academy program. He will run 12 courts. Day-to-day operations of the program will be overseen by Gustavo Oribe, tennis director and co-founder of Canas Tennis, who was among the world’s top 10 players.

We are close to making a deal KPC (Kinetic Performance Center), which just partnered with Nike, to give our guests a holistic approach to improve their golf game — from shoes, to clubs and fitness. It will launch this fall.

In the spa we are close to signing an agreement with WTS International, who has partnered with Aqua Di Parma, and we would become the first branded Blu Mediterraneo spa in North America.

We are also close to finalizing an agreement with Intelligent Living, which can offer services such as medical and fitness tests, and has ability to prescribe medicine to better guests’ live. They can also do injectibles, which is very popular in South Florida.

We just hired a master chef from the Ritz-Carlton Naples, Derin Moore, and he is revamping our F&B program to align with our overall enrichment philosophy. (Editor’s note: Since the date of this interview, Chef Moore has left Turnberry to accept a position at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs.)

HOTELS: How is business?

Hustad: Group pace looks much stronger than previous three years. Occupancy is strong, if not a little stronger than last year, in the low 70s. Average daily rate is up about 7% to 8% in the mid-US$200s.

We have been going through a transition and our website conversion and engagement with Autograph Collection creates an opportunity to maintain momentum.

HOTELS: Are there plans to expand Turnberry as a hotel brand?

Hustad: We think there is great potential. It starts with the fundamentals and making sure this property is what we want to launch a brand. That is what we are working through right now. It is certainly possible we will expand the brand.

HOTELS: Are you expanding Turnberry Isle?

Hustad: In 2014, we expect an additional 200 keys to come online. We are in the final stages and drawings for a 200-room addition and potentially we will break ground this fall. The location will not impact existing business as it is located on side of one of our other existing buildings. The new space will have about 10,000 sq ft (929 sq m) of additional meeting space.

HOTELS: How else are you reacting to other industry trends?

Hustad: F&B is becoming more local with field-to-table menu items, and we are interjecting more healthy options, even though you can still have duck fat fries in our Michael Mina restaurant. We have already added bandwidth so group guests can work efficiently.

Turnberry Isle Miami Managing Director Douglas Hustad
Turnberry Isle Miami Managing Director Douglas Hustad