FaceOff: Julissa Kepner, Winfred van Workum and elevating Miami’s hotel scene

FaceOff: Julissa Kepner, Winfred van Workum and elevating Miami’s hotel scene

2023-05-03T10:27:06-04:00May 3rd, 2023|Face Off, Miami, Tourism & Hospitality|

Writer: Jerrica DuBois 

2 min read May 2023 — The Miami tourism and hospitality industry this year is enjoying a revival that is rubbing off on the hotel sector. The first three months of 2023 saw Miami-Dade room occupancy climb almost 2% compared to the same period the year before, according to data from the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, a strong sign that tourists are back.

“Miami and Phoenix are two great examples of growing markets where year-end 2022 RevPAR has far exceeded 2019 performance by 24% and 19%, respectively,” Melvin Chu, executive vice president of JLL Hotels & Hospitality Group said in a statement. “Other top 25 markets that we are seeing similar performance and transaction trends include Tampa, San Diego, Orlando, and Orange County.”

Winfred van Workus, general manager of St. Regis Bal Harbour and the W Hotel Miami, and Julissa Kepner, general manager of Miami Marriott Biscayne Bay, shared their renovation updates with Invest: as well as their thoughts on investment opportunities, destination fees and guest experience.

What renovations are underway at the hotel?

Winfred van Workum: The W did a lot of soft-boot renovations to the hotel rooms, so new furniture and upgraded fittings. At the St. Regis, we are focusing a lot of our efforts on pool and beach experiences and upgrading some of those facilities. We’ve done a lot of repositioning as well as upgrading our spa facilities and adding to the experiences and treatments on offer, including a couples room. The food and beverage experience is really important, so we are working on enhancing our catering by enhancing some of our outlets. 

Julissa Kepner: I’m very proud and excited that we just completed a multimillion-dollar investment to transform our property. Every certain number of years, you have to do a renovation but in this particular case, it’s not a normal renovation. It’s actually a transformation of the Miami Marriott Biscayne Bay. We have a new restaurant, Gold Coast Kitchen  + Cocktails, and our new M Club, which is the first M Club in Downtown Miami from the Marriott brand. It’s a more sophisticated lounge for our most loyal, elite members. We completed a 607-room renovation that completely changed the dynamic of the previous product. We went from a carpet floor to a more modern, residential style, which is the new trend. Millennials and Gen Zs want to feel at home but with a more sophisticated approach. We also did a public space renovation of the entire lobby and all the public areas. We couldn’t forget what really brings people to our destination: the pool area. In this particular case, we invested a significant amount of capital to transform that area. Our location is just steps away from Wynwood, so instead of just having painted walls in that area, we are incorporating murals to really feature art for our guests. That is in the works right now.   

What development and investment opportunities are there in the Miami hospitality industry at this time?

Van Workum: As a market, we have relied on the Northeast. In the winter, our clients tend to be domestic (Chicago, New York, Boston), while in the summer we attract a lot of business from Latin America and Russia. There is an untapped market in positioning Florida, especially Miami, as more of a fully international destination, the same way New York has positioned itself to attract international travelers. Miami is ready to be a destination like that. Other than just being known for the sun and the beach, Miami needs to market itself as a cultural destination too, including its colorful neighborhoods, great art museums and shopping, instead of just being a business or beach destination. We are increasingly seeing leisure guests — guests who travel for business but then tag on a couple of days to see the sights. People are coming to Miami to also see the Design District and the city’s famous restaurants, which gives Miami an interesting mix of draws.

What does the destination fee provide customers?

Kepner: Most of the hotels on the beach charge a destination fee or a resort fee. It allows you to provide an elevated experience for the guests. For my hotel, that deal includes two tickets to Big Bus and a local tour. If you’re here for business or pleasure, it is not only about walking the streets of Miami but also the people in our neighborhoods and getting to know what we have to offer. We’re a very young city compared to New York, Chicago or LA. A lot of tourists don’t know that. For $30 a day, you get two tickets to a tour that will allow you to really explore beyond the hotel to the destination’s offerings. With this fee, you also get welcome cocktails in our bar, so that’s fantastic to start your stay. In addition to that, we provide daily yoga classes in the mornings. The trend among our guests, especially when we talk about millennials and Gen Z, is that they’re looking for a work-life balance. 

How has the guest experience changed over the past five years or so?

Van Workum: The luxury landscape has changed, especially since the pandemic, and people increasingly are looking for a full experience, including seeing more of the local surroundings and highlights of Miami. This has been in line with trends in luxury travel, which is now more about personalizing the experience than the quality of the offering. 

How do you incorporate local businesses into the hotel?

Kepner: As we were working on our transformation and opening our new restaurant, Gold Coast, our chef worked on the menus for many months. We decided to create a partnership with local small-business owners. For example, we feature tacos on our menu. The tortillas are made by a Salvadorian business a few blocks from here. They’re freshly made every day and delivered by the owner. That’s another way to give back to our community: freely supporting the local businesses. We tell the stories as we’re serving those products to our guests.   

For more information, visit: 

St. Regis Bal Harbour 

W Hotel Miami

Miami Marriott Biscayne Bay