“It’s been a long summer, a very rewarding summer, but a long summer. Our team is thrilled to get the hotel opened again.” That’s one of the comments David Kloeppel, president and CEO of Gaylord Entertainment, said to me in a phone conversation just a few weeks ago.
Indeed, it’s been a trying summer for Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, Tenn. As you’ll recall, the property was forced to close its doors last spring after sustaining extensive damage during the flooding in Nashville. As has been extensively reported, the Gaylord Opryland was forced cancel or move several conferences booked at the resort, and, in effect, set out to rebuild much of the property. The property took on water in virtually all of the public spaces, about 100 guestrooms, an virtually all of the back of the house, Kloeppel said.
Yesterday, Gaylord Opryland held its official Grand Reopening. The three-day event features a star-studded concert and other notable celebrations. And, it’s all right on schedule. That’s a pretty impressive feat considering the extent of the damage. But what’s equally as impressive is that Gaylord was able to salvage a sense of opportunity while surrounded by such damage.
As Kloeppel told me, “After we got over the initial shock, we said to ourselves, ‘We knew we’re going to be closed for a period of time. How do we come back from this and be a substantially better hotel than we were before?’”
“We took the opportunity to really look at how guests interact at the hotel, and at processes to make the hotel more efficient from the guest’s perspective,” he continued.
In fact, Gaylord didn’t stop with the damaged areas. It decided to turn the flood into an opportunity to look at areas of the hotel that hadn’t even been damaged. “We looked at areas that hadn’t been renovated for six or seven years and took the opportunity to upgrade rooms,” Kloeppel said. “We ended up upgrading about 600 guestrooms.”
Of the renovations, Kloeppel says some are very simple, such as the organization of the lobby area. “We just wanted to make the lobby more comfortable and serviceable for guests,” he said. The property also re-examined its check-in process and the number of check-in stations available to help better service the large convention groups that arrive in compressed periods of time.
The property also re-examined its food and beverage options. “We knew we wanted to add a greater variety of cuisine, so we added a Mexican restaurant and re-concepted our Italian restaurant to a coastal Italian concept,” Kloeppel said. “We also redesigned the bar that opens up the waterfall.”
One of the areas where Gaylord needed to rethink, of course, was protecting itself from something of such a magnitude again. “We’re working with our local authorities as well as the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to look at alternatives,” he said. “We’ll have some news on alternatives in the coming months.”
Kloeppel says that the resort had to relocate about 300,000 room nights during the reconstruction, but the property was able to retain a number of the customers while it was forced to move them around during the summer. “We have tremendous loyalty from our customers,” he said.
He also said that the property was able to rehire 80 percent of the 1,700 employees it had to layoff as a result of the flood.
With the property ready to get back on track, the three-day celebration event, including the concert, benefits three not-for-profit organizations that were instrumental in helping Nashville get through the flood. Kloeppel says that the property is also honoring all of the first responders in the city.