NEW WESTIN GM LIKES WHAT HILTON HEAD OFFERS AND COURTS MORE GROUP BUSINESS
When hotelier Michael Scioscia eyes his competition, he is not looking around Hilton Head Island, or even toward Savannah or Charleston. He’s focused on Florida and the huge number of conferences held in resorts in the Sunshine State.
Finding an “optimal mix” between business and group travelers and vacationers is a priority for Scioscia, who became general manager of The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa in May. He wants to attract more groups to the island, especially in the off-season months.
“We need to convince people that the island is not just about Memorial Day to Labor Day on the transient side,” said Scioscia, who came to Hilton Head from South Florida. “Even on the group side, it is a great place to hold a meeting.”
The recent expansion at Hilton Head Island Airport, which allows larger regional jets to come to the island, is a great step, Scioscia said. American Airlines started flying between the island and Charlotte in July; United Airlines announced last month that starting this spring, it will offer flights from Hilton Head to Washington Dulles, Chicago and Newark. This added “airlift,” as Scioscia calls it, could make Hilton Head more attractive to groups that tend to favor luxury resorts in other areas.
More than 1.9 million people visited Hilton Head between January and August this year, nearly equal to that time last year, according to the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce. The Visitor and Convention Bureau lists increasing off-season group business among its 2019 goals.
“To get the bigger groups that have the higher spend, we have to go after Florida,” said the 53-year-old Scioscia.
He came to The Westin as part of the hotel’s move to Marriott International, which acquired Westin’s parent, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, in 2016. Marriott, which Scioscia joined 33 years ago, now includes in 30 hotel chains, including Ritz-Carlton, Sheraton, W and St. Regis.
Having a large roster of luxury brands doesn’t shield Marriott from changes in tourism and travel trends — especially those caused by millennials, who are disrupting the industry. This means investing in new technology, revamping menus and redoing guest spaces. For example, Westin is introducing a web-based television platform that allows guests to connect to Internet-based entertainment networks on their room TVs or wirelessly on their laptops or tablets.
Guests also want compelling food and beverage offerings with an artisan touch, Scioscia said. Menus are less generic, have fewer choices and feature locally sourced food, he added.
“One of our high focus areas here is how do we stay hyper-local and have an artisan approach, because the guest is really looking for that, not just in hotel food and beverage, but in food and beverage experiences in general.”
Westin guests are looking for a luxurious, but approachable and comfortable, experience, Scioscia said.
“They want to feel like they are getting the luxury experience, but they don’t want all the pretense of having to be overdressed for it or have it be formalized,” he said.
Westin is benefitting from its revamped Grand Ocean Terrace Venue, which Scioscia calls one of the hotel’s biggest competitive advantages in the market. It is on track to host 50 weddings by year's end, he said.
Scioscia, who lives with his wife in Shelter Cove, describes Hilton Head as a “beautiful seaside community” with a unique niche in the East Coast resort market.
“I think this has almost a small-town beach resort feel,” he said. “But I think there is sort of an elevated sense of place that you get here. I think the perception of folks coming (to Hilton Head) is that this is a higher-end destination. This is certainly not a college beach town.”