Q&A with Robert Hill of the InterContinental Miami

On the future of transportation in Miami, celebrity branding and repositioning the hotel

Mar.March 25, 2015 12:00 PM

Robert Hill, general manager of the InterContinental Miami, oversaw the hotel’s $30 million renovation in 2012, which included Venus Williams-designed suites, a 19-story digital canvas on the building’s exterior and the launch of Toro Toro.

Hill sat down with The Real Deal to discuss how the hotel has been repositioned and hotel development in downtown Miami.

What does celebrity branding add to a development?

Partnering with the right chef that has a celebrity status is the right way to go. This is one of three Toro Toro restaurants — Dubai, Miami and Washington, D.C. And probably soon to come, New York, Las Vegas. What Chef Sandoval brings to this is the entrepreneurial [spirit] that complements what we do in the hotel business.

There’s been a perception that a restaurant in a hotel would not be successful, and that people prefer to go to freestanding restaurants. Toro Toro has proven that if you get the right concept, and your food is good and you create that buzz in the space, then you can create a successful restaurant within a hotel. About 60 percent of Toro Toro’s business is local Miami.

Is there enough room in the market for the proposed hotels?

We’ve seen a number of new hotels opening on the beach during the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015. Based on the occupancies that we continue to see, there appears to be enough demand for Miami to continue to absorb that new supply.

Some of that will come into the downtown Miami market over the next 12 to 18 months — a lot of it is more boutique or smaller sized hotels. With Brickell City Centre and other demand generators like the opening of the Perez Art Museum Miami last year and the [upcoming] Frost Museum of Science, these demand generators will continue to see growth.

When you look back at the last peak of occupancy in downtown Miami in 2007, we were in the mid- to-  high-70 percent range at that time. When we had the downturn in the economy, we had the openings of the EPIC hotel, the Viceroy and the JW Marriott Marquis. Now the occupancy, with that additional inventory, is in the low to mid 80 percent.

With Miami Worldcenter, you’re talking about 1,800 rooms, large convention space, a lot of retail and commercial components. I don’t think that’s necessarily going to take away from the existing hotels. It’ll help grow our overall downtown Miami market. That hotel will compete more with the Las Vegas hotels, the larger hotels in Orlando, to bring more of a convention hotel market to Miami.

How have the renovations affected the hotel’s overall performance?

We were able to keep the best of the best of the hotel that was built 30 years ago — the travertine marble from Italy. How do we take the building and modernize and bring it up to the current era and Miami? We were able to achieve that by adding lighting that changes the whole mood and feel of the space. When you walk into the lobby at night, and the restaurant and bar are busy, you get this energy and vibe in the space that draws you in.

For somebody who’s here for a meeting, they get back here at 9 or 10, they’re drawn to the bar. When you look at the numbers, the hotel has had phenomenal growth and outperformed the market by about nine percentage points — which can be attributed to that $30 million renovation.

By repositioning the hotel as this great iconic building on the skyline of Miami that it was before,  and by adding the two digital canvasses on the outside of the building, as you start to look across the skyline, you see more and more buildings that are lit up. We were at the forefront of what was developing as the arts and culture urban core in downtown Miami.

Who does the InterContinental target?

We attract groups, conventions, corporate meetings, leisure travelers. Over the last 12 to 18 months, the downtown Miami market has seen a steady growth in the leisure market for people looking for an alternative to the beach experience.

For groups and conventions, it offers an alternative where you’re part of the attractions without distractions [crowd]. Here, people will be focused on their meetings during the day, but if they want to go to other destinations, that option is available to them. Everything here is very accessible — the Seaquarium, the Everglades, the museums.

When I was here 15 years ago, at 6 o’clock at night, there was nobody left downtown. Now, you’ve got people walking around downtown, and great restaurants like Zuma, Daniel Boulud’s DB Bistro, hidden gems like Ceviche 105.

Is there enough room in the market for additional transportation options like Uber?

A lot of our guests are traveling by taxi. for the most part, it’s a positive experience. Yes, there’s a growing move to increase the use of Uber and alternatives to that. I very much support the Miami-Dade County Taxi Ambassador Cabs because I think that’s where our biggest shortfall was — the condition of the cabs, working air conditioning in this climate is a must, and technology where most people travel with a credit card. For all the taxis servicing the Port of Miami and the airport to have equipment and age requirements was a great step forward in the last 12 months.

To some degree, they all service different [travelers]. All Aboard connects Miami to Orlando. I think there is room for both Uber and the taxis. We also need to continue to work on public transport and how we connect to our highways.

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