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The vaunted oceanfront Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood — the largest hotel in Broward County with 1,000 rooms — is setting the stage for reopening Tuesday after COVID-19 forced it shut more than a year ago.
The return to business is a sign that South Florida’s battered conference and convention business may soon be on the rebound, mending a major wound in the area’s tourism industry.
“It will be a bit of a soft opening,” Laurens Ziernan, the general manager, told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “We’re guaranteeing all ocean-facing rooms at the start. That gives you an idea as to how soft the opening is.”
“We’re opening the absolute essential ones first,” he said. That includes the Playa, which is located next to the pools and ocean. The Counter Point coffee shop also will be operating as well as The Hotel Bar.
Conventions and conferences, the hotel’s bread-and-butter business, are slowly returning, he said, which explains why the hotel was closed for so long and why it still isn’t reopening all of its rooms and facilities.
“We’re not your 200-bedroom hotel in Fort Lauderdale,” he said. “We deal with large groups. We deal with conventions. Obviously, that business isn’t fully back yet. It definitely wasn’t back two months ago. But we can see it grow. Every week there is more group business coming to the area.”
Room reservations are “definitely picking up nicely,” he said.
For this Tuesday night, the hotel website shows a single overnight stay for one adult going for $370 plus a $35-per-night resort fee, which covers Wi-Fi access for up to five devices, one fitness class per day, a 10% spa discount, non-motorized water sports for an hour per day and toll-fee phone calls.
A corner suite is listed for $651. Other rooms carrying various package deals fall in between those prices during the week.
“There are a lot of people out there who just want to get out,” Ziernan said. “We provide a product for families that want to get away for a weekend or a long week.”
“The international business is not necessarily back yet,” he added. “But the drive-in business where folks drive 4 or 5 or 6 hours to get to the beach we most certainly see coming here.”
“When you open up a 1,000-room hotel, you want to do it right,” he said. “Trying to rush an opening during a major holiday was certainly not ideal.”
Leisure travel by car is rebounding from the pandemic, according to AAA.
The travel assistance organization’s annual Memorial Day weekend outlook shows an increase of more than 60% over 2020. But the hike will be “nearly 6 million fewer than pre-pandemic,” AAA said.
Branded as a Curio by Hilton, the hotel is owned by Brookfield Properties in New York. Ambridge, a hotel management firm based in Dallas, employs the workers and runs the Diplomat’s day-to-day operations.
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It remains unclear when all of the furloughed employees — most of whom are members of the UniteHere! Local 355 — will return. Earlier this spring, several dozen unionized employees demonstrated in front of the hotel on South Ocean Boulevard, demanding that their jobs be preserved after a year without work.
On Wednesday, the union said it had reached an agreement with Ambridge to gradually recall the workers as business picks up.
“The workers are in orientations,” said Wendi Walsh, secretary-treasurer of the union.
“We came to an agreement with the company to recall the workers at the wages and benefits they had previously,” she said. “We understand the hotel is going to have to ramp up its business and get back on the radars of travelers after closing for 14 months. We expect that the hotel will get a large number reservations for leisure travel while it takes a bit longer to see the group business to come back. That’s what we’re experiencing all across the country.”
Ziernan said the relations with the workers are good, despite the protests.
“It’s a give and take and a good relationship,” he said. “They are loyal to their jobs and loyal to the Diplomat and truly excited to open up the resort at this time.”