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Robot Concierges, Yacht Drop-Off And Mark Wahlberg: How Miami Hotels Are Competing For 'Bleisure' Travelers

As Miami's business community has experienced explosive growth, so has business travel to the city, and to ensure new visitors take home a memorable experience from the Magic City, hoteliers are continuing to try to outdo each other on amenities and offerings.

GlobalPro's Matthew Sengsourunh, Fontainebleau Miami Beach's Patrick Fisher, Gensler's Diana Farmer-Gonzalez, Dream Hotel Group's Christian Glauser-Benz and Phoenix Tower International's Scott Lewis at at Bisnow's State of Florida and Caribbean Hotels event on Dec. 8, 2022

Part of why, hotel industry insiders said last week at Bisnow's State of Florida and Caribbean Hotels event at the Intercontinental Hotel in Downtown Miami, is because of the rise of the "bleisure" traveler, who mixes work with pleasure on a business trip.

"'Bleisure,' it's a real thing. We see it here at Fontainebleau. Business levels have never been higher. We're higher than we've ever been pre-pandemic levels,” said Patrick Fisher, senior vice president and managing director at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach.

“We're doubling down our efforts, we've made a conscious effort, conscious decision to go ahead and expand our convention and meeting space. You have to create the energy, the buzz, the excitement, that's what's going to draw those guests in time and time again."

The Fontainebleau has started hosting a concert series on its pool deck with artists like Travis Scott and David Guetta, as well as offer intimate settings to meet other celebrities, like Eva Longoria or Mark Wahlberg, Fisher said.

The unexpected, pent-up demand after the pandemic began has been strong enough to force developers to accelerate reinvestment plans.

This year, the Fontainebleau launched a seven-story expansion (two of which are new parking levels), and in October the hotel announced it is adding a 50K SF event hall to the expansion as well. In total, the hotel is spending $180M on the upgrades, Fisher said.

“You know, if you want to play at the top end, you've got to continue to reinvest in the property,” Fisher said. "It's fierce competition higher than ever.”

The Dream Hotel Group, which already has a location on South Beach, is one of the entities heightening the competition. A new Dream is planned at a mixed-use development along the Miami River from developers MV Real Estate Holdings, Driftwood Capital and Nitin Motwani called Riverside Wharf. 

Dream's 165-room hotel starts construction next year with plans to set a new standard for Miami opulence. Christian Glauser-Benz, the senior vice president of development and acquisitions at Dream Hotel Group, said the hotel plans to offer yacht drop-off services. 

“We wanted to have the first hotel probably in the country that has a yacht service directly to your room,” Glauser-Benz said. “You can check in from the water. Or if you're Martin Garrix, you play at Ultra, you finish, you get on your yacht, go around the bay, go through the hotel back to your room, and then you do a VIP set on our rooftop."

BMO Harris Bank’s Shawn Oden, Peachtree Hotel Group’s Will Woodworth and Kolter Hospitality’s Scott Webb.

Business travelers today seek community and cultural experiences beyond their meeting events and a deep sense of belonging, according to industry experts who say the “bleisure” traveler is redefining how hoteliers build, expand and reinvest in their properties.

“Hoteliers and developers really have to understand, it's not a one-size-fits-all," said Diana Farmer-Gonzalez, Gensler principal and co-managing director, at the event. “Flexibility is key, particularly between the digital and the analog ...  Business travelers, for instance, are going to travel intentionally and they'll tack on a couple of days in Miami to go to [Art] Basel or to go to some sort of event and experience something else while with their family. So we're seeing that design is key.”

Design and technology were persistent themes from the event. Glauser-Benz said beyond music and high-tech lighting, the company has added an even bolder technological innovation: a robot concierge, which was introduced during the pandemic to reduce person-to-person contact at the Dream Hollywood hotel. 

"If you needed a towel in your room or room service, they can actually deliver that to your room," Glauser-Benz said. "And it was actually very well received, and we kept them. So this particular one, his name is Alfred, and he's still there. It became an experiential thing as well."

GlobalPro Senior Vice President Matthew Sengsourinh said this was the first year where bleisure travel started having a greater on influence on decisions of which hotels to choose for a work trip.

“If we're traveling for business, it's not just find the cheapest hotel and then go do stuff," Sengsourinh said. "We're looking for the nicest hotels at the right price that has whatever we need on-site."