Meeting Mentor Magazine

July 2024

Exclusive: Q&A with Rosen Hotels Founder Harris Rosen

To mark the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Rosen Hotels & Resorts, MeetingMentor caught up with Founder Harris Rosen to learn more about his company’s journey — and his unique perspective on what makes a hotel company successful over time.

Rosen Hotels & Resorts, which consistently lands on the ConferenceDirect Top 100 Hotels & Resorts list, turns 50 years old this year. The Orlando hospitality powerhouse includes three convention hotels with more than 730,000 square feet of dedicated meeting space and 3,635 guest rooms.

MeetingMentor recently had the opportunity to talk with the founder of the independently owned and operated hotel company, Harris Rosen, to learn more about his 50-year journey in the hospitality business.

MeetingMentor: Congratulations on your 50-year anniversary! How did the idea to start Rosen Hotels & Resorts come about, and what was your vision for the company at its outset?

Rosen: Thank you! Well, I must admit when I look at where I started, to where we are today, sometimes I think this must all be a dream. Never, ever did I imagine the success we have had over the course of what is now 50 years.

In 1974, I had just been let go from another big company many people think of when they come to Orlando. I thought to myself, “Now is the time for me to own something and be my own boss.” I saw this little motel, off of I-4 with frontage on International Drive, I remember walking in and asking to speak with the owner.

When I met him and indicated that I was interested in buying his motel, which is now Rosen Inn International, he hugged me and said that I had been sent by God. You see, in 1974, with the country still reeling from an oil embargo, not many people were traveling because gas was not readily available. In return, business was not good. So, with my last $20,000, I was able to purchase this motel and I assumed the mortgage already on the property. And that was the start of it all!

I would later hitchhike up to the northeast (New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts) and meet with tour bus operators to ask for their business. At the time, tour buses were getting gas, and they were traveling. I told them if they came to my motel at a price, they thought to be fair, then I would honor it for three years. So they wrote a room price on my card and soon after, the buses started rolling into my little motel and I was off and running. I did everything on the property from cooking, to housekeeping to landscaping. I was very busy, but it was mine.

MeetingMentor: What is the “Rosen Difference”?

Rosen: The “Rosen Difference” really stems from my belief in doing things not because they are easy or difficult, but because they are the right thing to do. Taking care of our guests is what we do. Being an independent hotelier, we are different. There is no red tape or need to seek approval from a board. Making the guest happy, that’s what I care about most. I empower our associates to always do the right thing, deliver amazing guest service and just treat people how we would like to be treated. It’s simple really.

MeetingMentor: A lot has changed over the past 50 years — how has Rosen Hotels & Resorts evolved with the changing environment, and what core values have guided the company’s evolution into one of the largest independently owned hotel groups in the Southeastern U.S.?

Rosen: I’ll start with our core values. Again, I must talk about the “Rosen Difference” and our ability to make our guest’s stay, their meeting or special event the very best it can be. We are different. By focusing on taking care of our guests, putting our best foot forward, we know they will enjoy their stay and return. We see it all the time, guests returning year after year, dining with us, bringing their families, it really is quite an amazing feeling to know we have touched their lives in some small way and that they trust us to deliver every time.

There have been many exciting innovations in the hospitality industry over the last 50 years. Unequivocally, the major driver in this regard has been the vast array of technological advances that have been made. Examples being something as simple as telephones. Fifty years ago, we were dealing with what was then referred to as rotary telephones. Today, smart phones and highspeed internet rule the airwaves.

Computer technology, with regard to reservations systems, registration and food and beverage have all dramatically impacted our industry. One can now check-in on their smartphone, order dinner online and reserve their room from the lobby of their hotel of choice based upon the wide variety of options available with the online travel feature (OTA). Our industry has also seen a significant increase in the variety of offerings that are available to our guests. Brands ranging from micro hotels to mega convention properties have significantly changed the landscape of our industry.

MeetingMentor: Looking back over the past 50 years, what are some of the things about the meetings and events end of the business you are most proud of? What factors have been integral to your success over the years?

Rosen: The history of our company is deeply rooted in the leisure segment and our travel and tourism portfolio provided the resources to enter into the convention segment in 1991 with the arrival of what is now the 800-room Rosen Plaza. Rosen Centre debuted in 1995 with 1,334 guest rooms and hotel features were tiered above the Rosen Plaza, most notably because of the quantity of meetings space, 150,000 square feet. In 2006, we launched the Rosen Shingle Creek hotel, featuring 1,501 guest rooms and 524,000 square feet of dedicated event space. Our first two convention hotels bookend the West Building of the Orange County Convention Center, and both feature covered walking skybridges that connect it directly to the Orange County Convention Center and provide ease of access for our guests to and from their respective hotels.

Our edge in the marketplace is that we have no debt. This single factor provides a tremendous boost in our effort to achieve success.

Another factor integral to our success is our associates. Our tenure is, without a doubt, among the best in the industry and we take great pride in the fact that many of our associates have been with us for 20 or 30 years or more. We have worked hard to design an extraordinary and desirable benefit package that promotes wellness and rates that are very affordable. We are also proud of our associate tuition reimbursement program.

In addition, upon three years of service to Rosen Hotels, we provide a gateway for our associates’ children to attend a public college, university or vocational school here in Florida, at no cost. Our success has been driven by our associates’ loyalty and interest in providing genuine guest service. We love them very much and work hard in an effort to make sure they are valued and understand how important their contribution is to our continued success.

Harris Rosen visiting one of the Tangelo Park homes. (Photo courtesy of Rosen Gives Back)

MeetingMentor: How did your dedication to philanthropy come about, and how is it manifested today in terms of giving back to both your hotel family and the greater community?

Rosen: I have been blessed beyond imagination, beyond my wildest dreams. In fact, sometimes I still think that it is a dream, and I will wake up. If someone told me, that a kid from New York’s Lower East Side would one day go to Cornell, join the Army and serve as an officer, and then embark on such an amazing career as a businessman with seven hotels and subsidiary companies, I would not have believed them. I was sitting in my office one day, some 30-plus years ago and I heard a voice. It told me, “Harris, you have been blessed beyond belief, now it is time for you to give back.” That was really the start of my dedication to philanthropy.

This may surprise you, but aside from being a father and grandfather, some of my most proud moments are the ones I share with the people in two of Orlando’s underserved communities, Tangelo Park and Parramore. There, we have started free preschool programs for children ages two, three and four.  We built the two preschools and have given these children a head start toward a life of learning and success. Once they graduate from high school, we give them college or vocational school scholarships covering tuition, room and board and books. The goal is for them to graduate debt-free.

Since we started the Tangelo Park Preschool program some 30 years ago, crime in that community has dropped to next to nothing. High school graduation rates soared from about 40-percent then to 100-percent now. The longtime sheriff, who is now mayor of Orange County, calls that neighborhood a quiet oasis. I firmly believe if every community had a preschool program modeled after ours, we would not recognize this country. Every year, I attend the preschoolers’ graduations. I get to see them in their caps and gowns and watch the smiles on their parents’ faces as I turn the little ones’ tassels. That, for me, is my favorite day of the year hands down.

MeetingMentor: If you had to start all over again in 2024, would you do anything differently?

Rosen: I think maybe at this juncture in my life, I would say that things have gone pretty well for me and without the hard work and tenacity that I applied in my early years, quite possibly none of what I have accomplished, would have been possible. So, the short answer is, as Frank Sinatra sang, “I did it my way.”

MeetingMentor: How would you characterize the hotel meeting and event business today, both the upsides and the downsides? Are there still untapped opportunities to explore as the company continues to move forward into the future?

Rosen: The hotel industry today is fiercely competitive and one’s ability to operate a successful property begins with the provision of a high-quality product combined with exemplary service. Depending upon the market segment, amenities play a major role. Golf, spa, pools, dining options and other recreational activities drive visitation. Value is also a key component to a successful hotel. Many visitors shop price, and this as well can contribute to healthy occupancy. Our edge in the marketplace is that we have no debt. This single factor provides a tremendous boost in our effort to achieve success.

Over the next 50 years, our industry will undoubtedly continue with its technological advancements. My sense is that automation (i.e., robotics and the like) will play a major role from an efficiency perspective and, with breakthroughs in areas like AI, visiting a hotel will be very different than what it is today. One thing you can be assured of… service will remain of paramount importance. Service, service, service.

 

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ConferenceDirect is a global meetings solutions company offering site selection/contract negotiation, conference management, housing & registration services, mobile app technology and strategic meetings management solutions. It provides expertise to 4,400+ associations, corporations, and sporting authorities through our 400+ global associates. www.conferencedirect.com

About MeetingMentor
MeetingMentor, is a business journal for senior meeting planners that is distributed in print and digital editions to the clients, prospects, and associates of ConferenceDirect, which handles over 13,000 worldwide meetings, conventions, and incentives annually. www.meetingmentormag.com

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