With new owners, a $30 million renovation wrapping up and an economy showing signs of recovery, leaders at The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa say they're poised to emerge as a top-notch national destination for tourists.
Perhaps even more important, they are positioned to vie for the lucrative group and business sector that books blocks of rooms, requires meeting spaces and hosts on-site functions.
"The property has elevated to the next level," said Gail Wargo, director of sales and marketing, who is part of a team brought in to oversee the revamped hotel. "Because of what we've done, the meeting planners we're bringing in, what the island has to offer, we think we can become the spot for more national and global events."
Like most of the area's hotels, group and business travel represents about half of the Westin's business, said Tom Freisen, general manager.
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But in the 1990s, it was nearly 70 percent of area hotels' business.
Freisen, also a recent addition to the team, would not speculate on the share of group and business travel the resort could grab.
"We're going to be aggressive going forward," he said.
The hotel near Port Royal Plantation is averaging 10 to 15 visits per week by meeting planners scouting locations for companies they represent, said Jeff Waddell, director of operations.
It translates into bookings, including one last week by Verizon for training and an awards ceremony for 200 employees. This week, RBC and Coca-Cola, two of the sponsors for the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing, also are using resort space.
To keep the visits coming, the Westin has added new features just for groups. They include:
- A second deck overlooking the ocean that can be set up for group functions.
- Large cabanas with ocean views that groups can use for parties and other functions.
- A beefed-up staff to pitch to meeting planners, four more meeting rooms, and electronic media boards that direct group participants to events.
Other major renovations were done to the lobby, the 400-plus guests rooms, three pools, the spa, six dining outlets and the ballroom. The work took about a year and a half and will be officially unveiled during a ribbon-cutting Friday with Gov. Nikki Haley.
Southwest Value Partners, a San Diego-based real estate investment firm, purchased the Westin, Hilton Head's second-largest hotel, in 2012. The previous owner, Transwest Resort Properties, filed for bankruptcy protection to avoid foreclosure.
The agreement between the companies required the new owner to invest more than $60 million in improvements, divided between the Hilton Head hotel and a second Westin in Tucson, Ariz., that also was acquired in the deal.
The Westin isn't the only area hotel undergoing major work.
Renovations are also underway at The Beach House, Sonesta Resort Hilton Head Island, Hilton Head Marriott Resort & Spa, and the Omni Hilton Head Oceanfront Resort.
They, too, have an eye for increasing group sales.
For example, The Sonesta, undergoing a $30 million renovation, has added outdoor terrace space for group functions and technology to handle meetings that have large audio-visual components.
The island-wide hotel renovations are making area leaders optimistic about rebuilding the tourism trade that slumped during the economic downturn.
"Today's travelers, both business and leisure, are a savvy bunch with high expectations of what their travel experience is going to be," said Charlie Clark, spokeswoman for the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce. "The more you can meet and exceed those expectations, the better off you are as a destination."