Eau Palm Beach committed to building on its luxury brand, execs say

The Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa is operating under a new name and affiliation, but management is spreading the word that it's as ritzy as ever.

The luxury property parted ways with the Ritz-Carlton Co. in July. The ownership of the landmark in Manalapan severed ties to Ritz-Carlton and Marriott International Inc. after a two-year legal battle over management fees.

Since the split, the five-star/five-diamond resort has affiliated with Chicago-based Preferred Hotels & Resorts' group of more than 250 independent upscale hotels and resorts.

Through the partnership, the 309-room Eau Palm can maintain a global profile and tap into Preferred's sales, marketing, branding and technology tools to help drive revenue and attract new customers, executives said.

"Preferred is a great partner for us," said director of marketing John Bradway, who joined the property in August following the change in affiliation. Bradway, who spent 14 years at The Breakers Palm Beach, most recently worked with a New York-based hospitality management company.

The Palm Beach resort is owned by a family-run U.K. trust whose U.S. portfolio is managed by Sacramento, Calif-based Britannia Pacific Properties, Bradway said.

Eau Palm guests can now tap into iPrefer, a loyalty program that awards points redeemable for services at other Preferred properties, he said. Bradway acknowledged that the split had cost it some participants in Marriott's rewards program.

Miami-based lodging industry consultant Scott Brush said while Preferred may not have the name recognition as Ritz-Carlton, fees and royalties it pays to be part of Preferred Hotels are much less, so the savings can be diverted to marketing Eau Palm as an independent brand.

"If the re-branding is done properly, it can be as successful as a major brand, but it takes time and real marketing expertise to make it work," Brush said. "Targeting the right market segments through the right channels is going to be necessary."

After 22 years as the Ritz-Carlton Palm Beach, the resort is settling into its Eau moniker, a name familiar to frequent guests since it had been associated since 2009 with the property's spa, executives said.

"Obviously we have to continue to get the word out there, but so far the transition has been pretty smooth," said managing director Michael King, who's been at the resort for nearly four years.

As part of the re-branding, executives also want to give the resort a bit of an image makeover to attract customers looking for a more modern and customized luxury vacation.

"It's about new-fashioned Palm Beach luxury, which is a little more fun, whimsical, stylish, while still maintaining our very high quality standards," Bradway said.

That revamped brand message will soon appear in the December issues of magazines such as Conde Nast Traveler and Departures, he added.

Other marketing and guest service initiatives are also planned, including a new website.

Some early tweaks include a champagne and cold-towel welcome for arriving guests and retooling a restaurant's breakfast buffet menu to offer a Mediterranean flare. A new entrance to the resort is to be completed by early December.

"We want to be constantly evolving, as the luxury market has changed today," King said. "You have to be able to create customized experiences. One size does not fit all."

Tourism officials are also optimistic after meeting with the resort's management and hearing their plans to maintain the property's status as one of the county's premier resort properties.

“Palm Beach County is perceived as the best of everything in our affluent markets, and the Eau Palm Beach Resort will continue to be a key partner as we grow market share and deliver a fresh tourism identity,” said Jorge Pesquera, president and CEO of the Palm Beach County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

asatchell@tribune.com, 954-356-4209 or Twitter@TheSatchreport.

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