The Canopy West Palm Beach Downtown opened in May after a two-month delay because of the pandemic. Hear from GM Chris Steele on the challenges of opening and marketing a new brand during coronavirus.
WEST PALM BEACH, Florida—As COVID-19 has caused hotels around the world to rethink their operations, the pandemic has caused new hotels to delay opening their doors.
The Canopy West Palm Beach Downtown was scheduled to open in March, but a two-month delay pushed the Florida hotel’s grand opening to 21 May. The 150-room hotel is operated by Driftwood Hospitality Management and owned by Driftwood Hospitality and Driftwood Capital. It’s also Hilton’s first Canopy property in Florida.
In an email interview as part of Hotel News Now’s Q&A with a GM series, Chris Steele, GM of the Canopy West Palm Beach Downtown, shared how his property has adjusted to the pandemic, the current makeup of the hotel’s demand, and more.
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Q: What have been some of the challenges of preparing to open the Canopy by Hilton West Palm Beach Downtown amid COVID-19?
A: “The list of challenges is a long one! But the most heart-breaking is having selected and trained 100 of the best people in this market and not being able to bring them all aboard because the hotel could not open on schedule. We are opening in measured stages now, but letting go of all those team members who (were) ready to roll was the hardest thing to handle in my career. On the plus side, we have the best of the best serving our guests and daily visitors.”
Q: What types of precautions are the hotel and employees taking in light of the pandemic?
A: “All of our staff are wearing masks at all times and making sure our cleaning protocols are followed to the letter. We have reconfigured the lobby and restaurants to maximize safety and distancing measures. Throughout the hotel, we’re also rolling out Hilton’s CleanStay (program), which is its partnership with RB, makers of Lysol & Dettol, to deliver an even cleaner stay for our guests.”
Q: As the first Canopy by Hilton in the state of Florida, how has your team marketed this brand that’s completely new to this market?
A: “The Canopy brand is renowned for its authentic, local experiences and its social responsibility. Those are foundational characteristics that today’s guest looks for no matter where they travel. Both are the central focus of our marketing messaging. We serve local coffee, offer local products and showcase local artists and artisans in the hotel. The spectacular places and spaces that designer Malcolm Berg has created are rooted in natural materials, like our green wall created from a 165-year-old barn. Artists include the work of Chris Leidy, Lilly Pulitzer’s ultra-talented grandson; and Tia Margo, whose eclectic work is sprinkled throughout guest rooms and our restaurant and lounge. Another Canopy signature is to make the hotel as attractive to locals as it is to our guests. You’ll find as many locals at Treehouse—our hangout on the 13th floor pool deck—as you’ll find guests. That enhances the guest experience many-fold and gives them local insight and cultural color to their West Palm adventure.”
Q: What type of demand is the hotel targeting and bringing in, and is this strategy bound to change once COVID-19 restrictions lift?
A: “While the hotel is ideal for business travel—being so centrally located and just a couple of blocks from the convention center—the COVID context has shifted that emphasis to in-Florida staycation guests who want a break from the confines of their own homes.
“Once business travel resumes, and we expect its return to be incremental rather than a flipped switch, we’ll see more guests in the business travel sector but for now, leisure travelers are loving the unique Canopy experience.”
Q: What are some innovative ways your property is delivering a unique experience to guests?
A: “There are so many touches that make us totally different. Our food-and-beverage experience is a major draw. Our star executive chef—5-star resort veteran Eduardo Ruberte—has created a menu with Caribbean and Latin-influenced dishes inspired from his native Puerto Rico. It’s unlike anything else in West Palm Beach. Also, design, in every aspect of the hotel, is a high priority. Everywhere you look sparks a thrill of enchantment from our dramatic lobby to our hallways illuminated with lighting that makes you feel like you’re on a London bridge. Our use of natural materials, stone, metals and vintage wood create an ambiance like none other.
“Inherent in the Canopy experience is our environmental consciousness. For example, we don’t have plastic water bottles on our property. We provide guests with sanitized glass water bottles which they refill at filtered water stations on each floor. Soaps and shampoos which would otherwise be discarded get donated and recycled through the non-profit Clean the World.”
Q: As a property GM, how are you encouraging your team members in this uncertain time?
A: “We lead by example. We provide an ultra- safe workplace that gives both staff and guests a sense of confidence that we will always do the right thing. And it’s good for morale to see our staff growing, now that our occupancy rate is rising steadily. They’re as happy to be back as we are to have them back. We are both realists and optimists, and that’s a very good recipe for success.”