Trouble For Local Kissimmee Hotel – Travel Channel’s Anthony Melchiorri Visits

Filed under: Orlando News |

Last night I watched “Hotel Impossible” with added interest as it featured one of the hotels close to our office on the tourist corridor of Osceola County. The hotel that was featured was the Sevilla Inn that is located on US 192 on the eastern side of the county.

In theory, the hotel should be doing fine as it is located near to Walt Disney World but anyone who lives in this area will tell you that for several years the area has really struggled to attract the guests it should. At this point, I should make it clear that although I live, breathe, work and play in the vacation home industry, which some may see as a competitor of the hotels, it really saddens me to see hard working people and the hotel business in general struggle.

The program featured hotel owner Rene Sandoval and his daughter Peggy Choudhry. Peggy is someone I have got to know a little because she has been involved in various local government issues over the last two years. She has been heavily involved in trying to improve things and has fought hard for the small hotel owners industry.

Travel Channel’s Anthony Melchiorri (pictured below) hosts the program and it’s a show where he delves into the deepest part of the hotel operation and makes recommendations on how to improve things. It’s an interesting show as usually the show revolves around hotel owners who are struggling to make ends meet and who have usually lost their love for the business.

In theory, with over 54 million people visiting Orlando per year, none of the hotels along US192 should be struggling but the reality is that it is a very competitive market and guests have so much choice of where to stay when visiting Central Florida. Unfortunately, most small hotel owners believe that the only way they can compete is based on having the lowest possible price. To that end, you’ll find the whole hotel industry lining up to be on websites like / / /  etc to compete with each other based on the lowest common denominator…price. It’s really no wonder the vast majority of hotels are struggling to make ends meet and why the Sevilla Inn story is now a commonplace feature on US192.

The program begins with Melchiorri walking into the hotel lobby and finding a grocery store at the front desk. The logic being that guests buy provisions at the hotel even though there are at least three supermarkets in close proximity. Melchiorri then delves further into the hotels problems and examines the relationship between father and daughter as they try to run the hotel together. The worst problem comes when he finds bed bugs and then calls in a pest extermination team who then find eleven rooms from fifty with the problem.

The other huge issue and one that isn’t exclusive to the Sevilla Inn, is when he discovers the hotel also has a high percentage of guests who have actually become residents in the hotel. This is a common problem in Osceola County as we do have a homeless and low income issue.  Unfortunately, these long term residents have now become part of the hotels problem and that has led to a nightly rate of just $39 + tax being charged. As Melchiorro said “The average hotel rate in this area is $97 for all hotels but when I hear $39 it translates as cheap…but not in a good way.”

Unfortunately, the story is one of a big long vicious cycle as the owners struggle to make good on their $1.5 million debt and ultimately it’s the guest who pays the price when the hotel can no longer maintain their property in a proper fashion. It then turns out that Rene has been acting as the hotel exterminator by buying various dangerous chemicals from Home Depot to spray rooms and that he’s been cleaning the pool himself. Unfortunately, both of these issues require licensed professionals to carry these tasks out but given the hotel isn’t making enough money to pay them, he’s caught in a real dilemma as he tries to survive.

Rene is a good man though, and he’s doing the best he can with not only his financial troubles but also his health problems. Unfortunately, his story is not an uncommon one as many travelers have witnessed themselves as they check into struggling hotels, including  brand names, and been nothing but utterly disappointed in the establishment. The situation has been going on for many years across America and it’s one reason I started a few years ago. It really was the story of my travels staying in hotels across the country and why the hotel industry is failing in the most basic ways.

During those trips I stayed in everything from the high end supposedly luxury brands through to the small Mom & Pop’s hotels and the consistent trend was a whole industry that seemed to have lost focus on the most important thing… the guest.

So, while I’m on, let me tell you how important that is to me. Every week our company is approached by homeowners who would like us to manage their homes. Their story is usually the same. Homeowners who want someone to care for their home like they do and someone who will get them more guest bookings and reservations.

Most of the time, we turn them down. In fact, around 95% of homeowners fail our initiation tests as they simply don’t understand our philosophy that the guest experience is the most important thing we do. Yes, it’s even more important than the homeowner experience! Unfortunately, most homeowners just don’t understand that as they believe they are the most important folks in the equation.

Yes, I get that homeowners invest a lot of money in their vacation home but if they truly want to rent it out to other people, then they need to understand that this changes the dynamic and that the guest becomes the most important person there is! Sure, it’s a philosophy that may have cost us some business but on the other hand, we still are in business after 20 years while a lot of our so called competitors have disappeared.  Further, it’s also a fact that most homeowners manage less than five years in the vacation rental business because they don’t understand that there is no short term gain to be had. Success is built by giving guests a great time and making sure they want to return over and over again… that takes time and it’s taken us over 20 years to get to the point where over 70% of our guests return again and again and again.

The one aspect of the show I didn’t like after Peggy, Rene and Anthony had taken care of the bed bug and long term rental problems was the plan to change the rate they charge by just $10 per day. Anthony suggested the new price should be $49 per night in the belief that vacation travelers wouldn’t pay less than that but for me, that rate is still far too low. It seems that Peggy has gone with Anthony’s suggestion though as that is reflected at her web site but I am pleased to see that she has other superior rooms available at slightly higher rates.

There is good news for the Sevilla Inn though. It is in capable hands and the owners have had their wake up call. Rene has agreed to step aside for now and allow Peggy to run things her way and with the Melchiorri blueprint they are now in a better position than they were previously. Only time will tell if they can prosper but I can say that that we, in the vacation home industry, will do everything we can to help Sevilla Inn and our whole area prosper. We have a desire to make our whole area an even better place to vacation.

Good luck to Peggy, Rene and the whole family. Thanks also to Anthony, designer Casey Noble and the rest of the Travel Channel team for visiting our area and at least giving one of our hoteliers a chance at a brighter future.

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