ORLANDO, Fla. – Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando has the best of both worlds. On the on hand, it’s at Walt Disney World; on the other, it’s a Marriott property with 333,000 square feet of meeting space that caters to big-league conferences that have nothing to do with Disney or its cast of colourful characters.
Marriott recently appointed Jim Curtis director of sales and marketing for the complex, which is preparing an ambitious expansion scheduled to open in 2021. The Cove at the Walt Disney World Swan is a 14-story tower that will add 349 rooms to the current count of 2,270 rooms.
Curtis brings more than 30 years of sales experience in the hospitality industry to his new role. Most recently, he was area director of sales for Omni Hotels & Resorts, where he led sales and marketing efforts for the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate and supported five additional properties across the United States.
He recently discussed his work and what lies ahead for the resort with Canadian Lodging News.
Canadian Lodging News: Can you give some idea of the size and scope of Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort — the size of grounds, size of the hotel, number of guests per year, F&B covers each day, the number and variety of foodservice outlets.
Jim Curtis: The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort has 2,270 guest rooms, 18 restaurants and lounges and 333,000 square feet of meeting space. We sit in the heart of the most-visited tourist destination in the world. It draws 75 million tourists a year. Our dining options range from our casual quick-serve fuel to Disney character dining at Garden Grove to some of the highest-rated fine dining at Todd English’s bluezoo and Shula’s Steakhouse. On the group side, we do more than 1 million banquet covers a year.
CLN: There is a new tower, The Cove, coming onstream in 2021 with 349 rooms. Tell me a bit about this new tower and how it will fit into the existing complex.
JC: The tower will be 14 storeys and 151 of the guest rooms will be suites. There will be over 22,000 square feet of meeting and event space, including an absolutely one-of-a-kind rooftop reception space that will offer spectacular views of two Walt Disney World fireworks shows.
CLN: The Swan is a Westin; The Dolphin is a Sheraton; will The Cove also be a Marriott brand?
JC: Yes, The Cove will be part of The Autograph Collection.
CLN: Tell me about your conference space, and the range of events you accommodate. During a recent visit, we saw a circus tent going up for one of your convention clients.
JC: We have a total of 333,000 square feet of meeting space. This includes 86 meeting rooms with 110,500 square feet of convention space. We truly have the ability to host meetings of all types and sizes. We’ve done everything from intimate executive retreats to entire resort buyouts with thousands of guests that utilize not only our existing meeting space but temporary tent and space at our neighbouring hotels. Our flexibility will only increase further with the addition of The Cove in 2021 as well have a tower that will feature more executive suites for private breakouts, offer smaller groups an even more intimate setting or offer larger groups additional space and options.
CLN: Half the guests are group travellers while half are meetings these days. Has this changed over the years?
JC: Our hotel is designed to really cater to both meeting and leisure guests, and it is very helpful, as the market is constantly changing, that we are able to attract both types of guests.
CLN: How has the décor in the hotel changed over the years to accommodate the business clientele?
JC: The hotel has gone through several renovations over the years, each updating and modernizing the property with a new look that appeals to guests. In 2019, we completed the last phase of our most recent major renovation that, at $150 million, was the biggest in the hotel’s history. It completely transformed both lobbies, every guest room and added several new dining and beverage outlets that have been a huge hit. Our water theming, which provides a soothing atmosphere for our guests, is something that really appeals to all types of guests and meeting attendees. It has been very well received.
CLN: How would you go about planning a chairman-of-the-board, serious-business type of event at the hotel? What types of things could the hotel offer this clientele?
JC: First and foremost, we always work very closely with a group’s meeting planners to find out exactly what they want and then our team of seasoned professionals will work to ensure those needs are met, whatever they might be. Our convention services team consistently receives the highest marks in feedback from our planners. We offer two executive boardrooms that offer amazing views of the Walt Disney World Resort, a food-and-beverage banquet team that can cater the finest of meals and top-rated fine dining. We also have an award-winning spa and our guests receive priority tee times at the Walt Disney World golf courses.
CLN: How about a group that is all about Disney? What sorts of things can you offer (a long list, I know, due to the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort’s special location and relationship with Disney).
JC: Because of our relationship with Disney, we can offer groups several exclusive Disney Differences that add a unique spark to events. These include: access to Walt Disney World theme parks for parties and events, Disney character appearances at group functions, Disney event productions technology, exclusive mid-day and multi-day meeting/convention tickets to the Disney theme parks and much more. In addition, the attendees themselves receive great benefits such as a 60-day Fastpass+ booking window to reserve spots on the most popular Disney attractions, Extra Magic Hours to experience the parks outside of the standard operating hours, and complimentary transportation throughout the entire Walt Disney World Resort.
CLN: How do things work for business clients who bring their families and either have them go to Disney during the day or tack on a Disney visit to the trip?
JC: The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort really is the perfect hotel for a business and leisure trip – or a bleisure trip as they sometimes refer to it. Our location makes this extremely convenient and our meeting capabilities are second-to-none. It’s certainly a draw for planners as well, as this unique combination helps them draw attendees.
CLN: What makes Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort unique among Disney convention hotels?
JC: First is our location. We are in the heart of Walt Disney World Resort and our guests can walk to two Disney theme parks. There is nowhere else that offers that. Second is our combination meeting expertise and unique offerings. Executing meetings is what we do, and we do it very well. Thanks to our great Disney partnership, we can offer many exclusive Disney experiences for groups and yet, as a Marriott property, guests and planners receive the benefits of working with a Marriott Convention and Resort Network property.