This article originally appeared in the Orlando Sentinel
With more than 120,000 hotel rooms in the region, many hotels seeking a competitive edge are remodeling — adding everything from water parks to meeting rooms, while overhauling restaurants and buying new furniture.
One reason for the renovations is the more public nature of a guest's praise or criticism.
"There's so many social-media reviews," said Gary Gotling, director of sales and marketing for the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, which is in its sixth year of renovations. "Word will get out quick if your product has lumpy beds, things are dirty or if the furniture is cracked."
Gotling said review sites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp offer easy platforms for guests to share their personal experiences. Hyatt officials at his hotel monitor both sites daily for positive and negative reviews, he said.
"We take both of those very seriously," he said. "If something needs our attention, we address those things and respond back to whoever wrote it."
In good news for hoteliers, high-priced renovations might soon qualify for tax incentives. Florida legislators are considering a bill that will offer property owners and incentive to rehab their buildings. House Bill 739, which is in the Economic Development & Tourism Subcommittee, would allow hoteliers or restaurant owners to apply for a tax refund for renovations of at least $2 million or $100,000, respectively.
"Here in Florida, the hospitality and tourism industry represents 23 percent of the state's economy and it is imperative we continue to spark development that will allow the industry to thrive," said Rep. Shawn Harrison, R-Tampa, who filed the bill.
Orlando-headquartered Westgate Resorts, which sells timeshares and offers available rooms for hotel bookings, has plans to update four local properties this year.
Westgate Vacation Villas Resort & Spa and Westgate Town Center Resort & Spa, which share a space off U.S. 192 near S.R. 429 in Kissimmee, are getting the same face-lift, Westgate officials said.
A 39,000-square-foot water park will feature a pirate ship, water slides, a lazy river, a children's play area and 16 private cabanas. Plans also call for new restaurants, including Edge Steakhouse. Those upgrades are scheduled to open near the middle of 2015.
Westgate officials are also spending money at Westgate Towers Resort on a new water park, similar to the one at the other Kissimmee resorts. That, too, will open midyear.
Westgate Lakes Resort & Spa off Turkey Lake Road in Orlando will have a new retail village that will also include restaurants, a 32,000-square-foot banquet and meeting space, and a parking garage.
The first phase of construction for the Westgate Lakes project is scheduled to finish next month.
"We're excited about bringing high-quality entertainment, dining and meeting options to our Westgate guests and Central Florida visitors," Westgate Chief Executive Officer David Siegel said.
Along International Drive, Hilton Orlando Convention Center Hotel filed paperwork in October to add eight new meeting rooms totaling more than 13,000 square feet of meeting space to be completed by spring 2016, according to a Hilton spokeswoman.
The hotel was previously updated with 26 new one-bedroom suites and increased Wi-Fi capacity.
At the Grand Cypress, more than $70 million has been pumped into the 815-room property. Most recently, a 5,200-square-foot Marilyn Monroe Spa opened last month, bringing the glamour of the blonde bombshell to the hotel.
Renovations at the hotel also include the overhaul of Cascade American Bistro and the Palm Café, which will be merged into one modernized eatery under the Cascade name.
That project alone costs about $2.4 million, Gotling said.
Other big changes at the hotel include upgrades in the lobby, renovated guest rooms, new balconies and updated recreation facilities including a splash pad and climbing walls.
"It's brand-new again," Gotling said.
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