Ceremony heralds new management, name for Hilton Head resort

gmartin@islandpacket.comApril 27, 2012 

As about 100 employees of the former Crowne Plaza applauded, a flag was raised Friday commemorating the hotel's formal renaming to Sonesta Resort Hilton Head Island.

The hotel, which first opened as a Marriott in 1984, will undergo extensive renovations to each of its 340 rooms and halls, in addition to several cosmetic changes already under way.

"It does need some modernization, but we won't fundamentally change the hotel," said William Sheehan, chief executive officer of Boston-based Sonesta International Hotels. "The building has a great history, and we're very excited to be here."

Sheehan, who declined to estimate of how much would be spent on the overhaul, said the property was the first of 19 hotels nationwide Sonesta would acquire by the end of the summer.

"As we come out of the recession, the hotel business is getting stronger," he said. "Hotels are taking their increasing revenue and investing it in their assets."

The Crowne Plaza's re-naming is only the latest example on Hilton Head to substantiate Sheehan's statement.

The island's four other beachside hotels -- The Beach House, the Westin Hilton Head Island Resort and Spa, the Hilton Head Marriott Resort and Spa, and the Omni Hilton Head Oceanfront Resort -- each have recently either undergone or announced major renovations.

On Wednesday, The Beach House -- formerly the Holiday Inn Oceanfront -- opened its doors after a $5 million renovation.

The first element of the Sonesta overhaul is a training program for its employees -- which number 275 during peak tourism season -- virtually all of whom were retained during the management transition, the company said.

The reclining chairs and umbrellas by the pool have been replaced, and new signs reflecting the name change along the entrance to the property near William Hilton Parkway were installed Friday.

Aesthetic changes have been made to the guest rooms, such as new pens, laundry bags and shower products bearing the Sonesta logo.

Among the more extensive changes planned include replacing the blue and white, thickly striped wallpaper in the corridors. That wallpaper is among a few aspects of the hotel that returning guests have found unfashionable, longtime resort doorman Eric Fawbush said.

"Some of our repeat guests have brought that to our attention, calling it a little outdated," Fawbush said. "So this may seem a little overdue, but we're all excited about it."

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