By Steve Pike
In these days of elevated health and safety protocols throughout (and beyond) the hospitality industry, the luxury segment must rely on trust as a pillar of branding.
At least that’s the opinion of Tricia Taylor, EVP and General Manager of The Breakers Palm Beach. “The confidence of the discerning consumer in our ability to care for their well-being and welfare is as important as their satisfaction with the travel experience,” Taylor said. “Challenges such as COVID-19 require us to be entrepreneurial, flexible and committed to go above and beyond. That is what the luxury market of travelers finds most reassuring.”
Understand that The Breakers, for almost 125 years, has been an icon of resort luxury market in Palm Beach and South Florida, thanks to the commitment of its long-standing, family ownership (heirs of founder Henry Flagler). Taylor maintained that the resort’s dedication to the well-being of its team members and guests, entrepreneurial culture and staff training helped put it ahead of the Covid-19 curve, while most hotels were devising plans to flatten it.
“The Breakers had extensive measures in place prior to COVID-19,” Taylor said. “Subsequent to the introduction of our enhanced Health & Safety Precautions, standards such as facial coverings and social distancing were incorporated, which will remain for the foreseeable future.
“Our guests immediately recognize the extensive new practices in place throughout our resort, from the mandate of facial coverings and reduced capacities, to touchless digital transactions and the logistics of social distancing in all facets of operations and service delivery. Earning our guests’ trust is at the heart of our mission, and we are grateful for their support and confidence.”
Behind the scenes, the resort–which re-opened this past May 22 after being shut down for eight weeks–implemented additional systems and new technology for cleaning and disinfecting, such as EPA-approved, antimicrobial applications and electrostatic spray technology.
“We anticipate these heightened protocols may be eased at some point, but they will remain integrated into our operations and organizational culture,” Taylor said. “Again, the overriding objective is to ensure the well-being of our team, guests, club members and community.”
The heightened protocols worked so well that The Breakers opened Henry’s Palm Beach – its 10th restaurant – this past June. “But we did a lot of things prior to opening that helped,’’ said Nick Velardo, the resort’s vice president of food and beverage.
For example, said Velardo, the F&B team removed some tables from Henry’s 4,200 square feet of interior space to ensure social distancing. Also, from this past March, when Henry’s was originally scheduled to open, until the opening, each staff member was given a daily online test of five to six questions to keep them sharp on everything from Henry’s menu to safety protocols to cleaning procedures.
“They were just so ready… almost over trained,” Velardo said. “It was one of the easiest openings I’ve seen, in many ways, because the team was confident and calm. It felt like we had been open for a long time.”
But as successful as the COVID-19 safety guidelines have been, Taylor knows there still are plenty of unknowns ahead for The Breakers and the hospitality industry.
“Consistent with national industry trends, we continue to see decreased occupancy levels for the short-term, which is also impacted by reduced capacity – a mandate that remains for an indefinite period,” she said. “This will likely have longer-term implications.”
On a brighter side, Taylor said The Breakers, which features 10 restaurants, the Ocean Course (the oldest golf course in Florida), four pools, Spa and private beach club, is experiencing great demand from the leisure and local drive markets, as well as local and regional residents looking for ‘staycations.’
“While we recognize that economic forecasts are affected by uncertainty and unknown variables, we remain incredibly blessed with our supportive ownership, who take a long-term view of our business and steadfastly reinvest in The Breakers,” said Taylor.
To that end – and despite COVID-19 – the resort is continuing its annual $30 million-plus capital investment to improve its property, products and services. For this year and 2021, for example, The Breakers is renovating its guestrooms, as well as its famed Circle Dining Room, Polo Ralph Lauren boutique and Ocean Fitness Center.
“Locals, hotel guests and many returning patrons have told us that they come to The Breakers because they trust what we are doing, and the resort provides its own special form of respite that we all seem to be craving these days,” Taylor shared. “As one of our owners has always said, ‘On our best day, we can always be better.’ For The Breakers, acting on that philosophy is certainly in our customers’ best interest.”