The white sand beaches of Destin, FL, are 500 miles from the historic cobblestone streets of Charleston, SC, but the two have a few things in common. One, each is a premier Southeast tourist destination; the other is Robert Morgan, the new general manager of The Henderson Beach Resort & Spa in Destin by way of the Renaissance Charleston Historic District Hotel, where he served as GM for nearly two years.
Morgan’s arrival at The Henderson, a 170-room property, solidifies DiamondRock Hospitality Group’s management team. DiamondRock this past January bought The Henderson Beach Resort—which opened in November 2016—for $112.5 million in an off-market transaction from Salamander Hotels & Resorts.
Located across from Henderson Beach State Park—considered to be among the top five beaches in Florida—the Henderson Beach Resort & Spa is DiamondRock’s first property in the Florida Panhandle.
“Salamander built a strong culture with The Henderson,” Morgan said. “My goal is to continue to evolve that culture and also to improve it. From within the hotel, we’re looking to continue and grow.”
Specifically, Morgan said, growing the property on the food and beverage side. The hotel features five restaurants and lounges, including its signature Primrose steak and seafood eatery, and The Rooftop lounge that serves casual fare along with great views of the Gulf of Mexico.
“One of the things that we accomplished in Charleston was repositioning the food and beverage. I formed a partnership with Chef (and cookbook author) Vivian Howard and we revamped the F&B at the hotel.
“I don’t know if it will be to that extent, but we will be investing heavily in food and beverage at The Henderson. We will be looking to invest in the rooftop space, the lobby bar area and in Primrose. Not necessarily reconcepting them, but elevating the overall designs and aesthetics within those spaces.
“The Rooftop probably will be the biggest design element that is going to change. We want to make it a year-round destination. Right now, it’s very exposed to the elements. It’s one of the only rooftops in Destin. I don’t think you can beat the views. We want to make sure we are capitalizing on that and make it a great experience. We’re going to continue in the direction of Coastal cuisine at Primrose, as well as continue to grow by developing local partnerships.’’
The Henderson was one of several acquisitions and openings for DiamondRock between ‘21 and ‘22. In 2021, the company opened The Hythe Vail as the Vail Valley’s newest luxury property. It bought Bourbon Orleans Hotel (220 rooms) and Destin’s Henderson Park Inn (37 rooms) for a combined $108.6 million. The company acquired The Henderson—as well as Tranquility Bay Beachfront Resort (103 rooms) in Marathon in the Florida Keys—this past January for a combined $175.5 million.
DiamondRock’s portfolio also includes Havana Cabana and Margaritaville Beach House, each in Key West; Westin Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort; and Chicago Marriott Magnificent Mile.
The Henderson—which features 40,000 square feet of meetings and convention space, a 10,000 square-foot spa, a lazy river and adult and kids pools—is adjacent to the oceanfront Henderson Park Inn. Together, the properties give DiamondRock a solid foothold in the Destin-Pensacola Beach-Panama City market.
“From a tourism perspective, I think people come here because of the beaches,” Morgan said. “In Charleston, people are going for history. But I think there are similarities. Each one definitely is a drive market, with a lot of ‘feeder’ markets like Atlanta and Nashville.”
How does Morgan expect the seemingly daily increases in gasoline prices to impact those drive markets?
“We anticipate to continue to see a strong drive market, especially because a lot of our guests are ‘generational’ families. They pack up their cars and come down. It’s still a lot more affordable than air fare.
“The Destin market is very condominium-driven. The Henderson has a condo component within the hotel, which makes it a little bit unique in the market. But if you look at the [high-end] hotels we’re competing against—like the Watercolor Inn (in Santa Rosa Beach)—I’d say we are on par with them,” he concluded.