Taking the American-Style Conference Center Global

In 2007, Dolce International added a conference center hotel in Belgium, Dolce La Hulpe Brussels, to its portfolio; it also began a partnership with Palo Alto-based private equity real estate firm Broadreach Capital Partners to grow its business globally. Successful Meetings spoke with Andy Dolce, the company's chairman and managing director, on the expansion and on the difference between U.S. and international conference centers.

Successful Meetings: How has the recapitalization impacted your business?

Andy Dolce: We've been with our new partners, Broadreach Capital Partners, since June. It's going extremely well; they're anxious to deploy capital, and they've already purchased two assets: Norwalk, CT, from our existing shareholders, and Basking Ridge, NJ, from Pfizer.

Broadreach is looking at several assets with us in North America and Europe. We're looking at Asia, particularly China. We hope to be able to announce something pretty substantial going on in that part of the world. We have 26 properties now and I would suspect that by the end of this year, we would have four more in the pipeline. In order to have brand recognition, you really have to have global distribution. We'll have to be at 50 or 60 centers to do that. In the next three years, we want to get to 40—that's our short term goal. Once we get to 40, we go into Asia. If we're on that continent then the numbers can grow pretty rapidly.

SM: Why the focus on international?

Dolce: Our customers meet and travel all over the world, and they just love the fact that there is an American-style conference center product in these cities in which we're operating.

SM: How do conference centers abroad differ from those in the U.S.?

Dolce: We do not Americanize our properties—we deal with the local customs and traditions, whether it's in the F&B or service areas. But we've brought over our conference and meeting experience, we do a lot of training, and we've integrated our technology. We've found that the staffs abroad are very adaptable. It's a wonderful experience for us, dealing with the people over there.

In Europe, if you work in a hotel, it's your vocation, your ambition. You've been to school for it, you're trained for it, and that's what you want to do. In the U.S., a lot of hourly staff is part time. They're going to school or retired—or, it wasn't what they set out in life to do. But in Europe, pretty much 80 to 90 percent of people there have been trained, have gone to school for it. It's what they want to do and they're very, very dedicated.

SM: What's Dolce's long-term goal?

Dolce: Our vision is to be prominent in our niche, which is a meetings niche, and be the leader in that niche; very much like Four Seasons is the leader in the luxury hotel segment. At Broadreach, the main contact for us is Flip Maritz, of Maritz world fame. Flip's experience is with Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, and Rosewood, and he is challenging us to raise our standards and offer better service than anyone in our competitive set. We've staked a claim, and we're making good progress.

Originally published May 01, 2008

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