Alan Villaverde’s hospitality career officially began in 1971, but he was becoming familiar with the hotel way before that year. Like a lot of hoteliers, Villaverde got his introduction to the industry as a young boy. “My dad was in the hotel business almost entirely in New York City,” he recalls. “So, I grew up in the hotel business. I lived in hotels part of the time.”
That early introduction to the industry included working as a part-time bellman at his father’s hotels. He worked off and on in the hotels while studying for a fine arts degree during college, and upon graduation, found himself at the Rye Town Hilton in the New York suburb of Rye Brook, N.Y., where he began his official training as an entry-level sales manager. “I started my career from that point on,” he says.
And what a career it’s been. Spanning 40 years, Villaverde has worked in hotels in the Northeast, the Midwest, and now one of the Meccas of tourism in the United States, Orlando, Fla. Currently, he serves as general manager of The Peabody Orlando, a centerpiece of the city’s famed International Drive. Recently, his work at the notable hotel earned him the distinction of 2011 Hotelier of the Year for Preferred Hotel Group. He was awarded the honor, to his surprise, during the group’s annual conference at Secrets Maroma Beach Riviera Cancun last month.
“I didn’t know about it in advance. When they announced it, I was overwhelmed,” he says. “It’s quite an honor, particularly when you realize that Preferred Hotels has some of the best hotels around the world.”
Getting to this point has been a long road. From his first sales position he moved to the Tarrytown Hilton in Tarrytown, N.Y., when he was promoted to director of sales and marketing. A few years later, he ended up leaving Hilton and moving to Stouffer Hotels, where he got a chance to work on his first hotel opening. He became the director of sales and marketing of the Stouffer Westchester Hotels, also in upstate New York. “I was there and eventually promoted to general manager,” Villaverde says. “It was 1980 when I was given my first GM job in suburban Boston with Stouffer. It was a 270 boutique hotel. It was quite nice for its time.”
He performed admirably enough in his new role that the company decided to send him to the nation’s capital to help straighten out a problem hotel there. “They were changing owners and had a tough time with the competition, so I had to go in there and straighten that out,” he says.
His career then moved into the corporate world working in Stouffer’s headquarters as a vice president. “I didn’t really like the corporate life. I missed the hotel operation,” he admits. “I’d spent most of my career in operations so I got back into it, working in Baltimore.”
Another transfer brought him to his current home in Orlando, working at Stouffer’s Sea World Resort. But when Stouffer’s was sold to another developer, the new developer rebranded the entire portfolio. That left Villaverde searching for his next move. “It was a bad fit for me personally,” he says.
Eventually, he ended up at The Peabody in 1993 and has been the general manager ever since. During his tenure he’s seen the hotel through the perils of the post-9/11 environment and the long-awaited expansion of the hotel.
“We began talking about expansion in 1994,” Villaverde says. However, obstacles got in the way. One was the hotel’s partner, which didn’t want to spend the money on expansion. “Marty Belz, our owner, bought them out,” Villaverde continues.
That started the planning for expansion rolling again, which went until 2001. “We were about to break ground and 9/11 hit,” he recalls. “That put the brakes on a lot projects, including ours.”
Eventually, the hotel dusted off the plans and finally opened the expansion last year, making it one of the most recognizable and central hotels in International Drive. And the famed strip of tourism is an area which Villaverde holds dear to his heart. He serves as chairman of the International Drive Improvement District, which helps promote development in the area. He also sits on the board of Visit Orlando, the city’s convention and visitor’s bureau.