Dolce Hotels Beefs Up

Steve Rudnitsky is a brand builder. His latest project is Dolce Hotels and Resorts, the highly regarded but not-very-well-known New Jersey-based operator of conference centers and other lodging properties. Rudnitsky joined the firm late last year as president and CEO after a stint in the same job with Wyndham Hotel Group and before that executive positions with Kraft, Nabisco and other consumer marketing companies.

“Dolce is a company with a lot of strengths,” says Rudnitsky. “We lead the meetings industry by every measurement. We pioneered the conference center concept and set standards that have been adopted worldwide. Now, our plan is to accelerate our property and room growth and our brand presence.”

Dolce’s current portfolio is about one-third meeting properties certified by the International Association of Conference Centers, one-third hotels and resorts in the U.S and Canada and the rest properties in Europe. Under the leadership of Rudnitsky and Dolce Chairman and founder Andy Dolce, the firm aims to expand in similar directions.

Last week, the company signed a deal to manage the Seaview, an historic 297-room hotel, conference center and golf resort near Atlantic City. Dolce assumes management on Friday following a 25-year tenure by Marriott.

“The property has more than 27,000 square feet of meeting space, which puts it in our sweet spot of being able to drive group business to a destination asset,” says Rudnitsky of the property, which will be renamed the Dolce Seaview Resort & Spa once improvements are made. LaSalle Hotel Properties owns the 97-year-old resort, and Troon Golf will manage its two 18-hole golf courses. “The addition of this property helps round out our already substantial portfolio in the Northeast corridor.”

Expansion plans call for additional properties in Europe, particularly Italy and Germany, and near its central core of properties in the Northeast U.S. “While we’re very focused on the brand and on management, we’re also testing the notion of very selectively franchising our name but only with very sound partners,” he says. “Also, there are a number of distressed assets in the marketplace that provide significant opportunities for a brand and management company like Dolce.”

And Dolce’s primary owner, Broadreach Capital Partners, owns several of the properties through a separate fund, which Rudnitsky says is also looking for possible acquisition targets.

Rudnitsky spent the first couple months in his new job assessing the strengths and challenges for the company, as well as its competitors, to determine other strategies beyond growth. His plans span both the marketing and operational realms of the business.

“We have great opportunities to enhance our value proposition and reservations contribution, whether through the Internet, our central reservations capabilities or our group sales function, which is really our core competency,” he says. He adds that the company is more closely applying the rigorous standards of conference centers to its other properties, both here and in Europe. “We’re doing a better job of crystallizing these standards and executing them in all properties.”

Dolce has focused its marketing efforts to blunt the effects of the economic downturn on its business. Along with aggressive packaging and discounts for booking early, it recently introduced the Dolce Results-Oriented Approach to Meetings, a campaign that stresses the efficiency and value a certified conference center can provide to groups. The marketing effort also emphasizes that a number of properties are near large metropolitan areas, which enables many attendees to drive to the meetings.

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