When Walt Disney World sets out to build something, location and timing are everything. In 2020, the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., will open a new tower and event space designed to attract more group business amid growing competition for the segment, and just in time for Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary in 2021.
The tower, which is owned by Tishman Hotels and Metlife and managed by Marriott International, is set to begin construction this fall and open officially in fall of 2020, but won’t begin accepting groups until 2021. The 349-room property will include 151 suites designed to accommodate up to 12 people. According to Gino Marasco, director of sales and marketing for the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort, each of these rooms can be transformed into meeting space, which is the key behind the property’s group-focused play.
“A lot of companies out there are investing in smaller meetings,” Marasco said. “This allows us to provide 151 breakout rooms, essentially.”
That is a lot of space, to be sure, but Marasco said the hotel is bullish on attracting not only events, but multiple events at once. Each suite comes equipped with a built-in audiovisual system, large conference table and more. Guest feedback helped determine the makeup of these rooms and the amenities they offer, he said.
“For years we gathered feedback from our group customers, and we felt it was time to move forward on the project,” Marasco said. “This project is about understanding who our guest of the future will be.”
A full price tag on the development has yet to be disclosed—as has the name for the new tower—but the expansion comes after the completion of a $150 million renovation of the resort’s guestrooms, lobby areas and meeting space. Once the new tower is completed, the resort will offer more than 2,600 total guestrooms and more than 350,000 square feet of meeting space.
This meeting space includes the more than 22,000 square feet of additional event space the new tower brings to the equation—not including any suites pulling double duty. The new event space will be spread across two ballrooms, 12 meeting rooms and a rooftop reception area. The tower will also add a 16,800-square-foot deck to the premises, which will include a fire pit and pool.
With so much event space on hand already, Marasco said the decision to include suites that can transform into breakout rooms was also made with flexibility in mind.
“We are a group-focused hotel, and the tower’s suites can be set for meetings, but at the end of the day these are hotel rooms,” Marasco said. “Sure, they can be used as meeting rooms. But they will also be comfortable and functional for a family or group of guests.”
While the tower is considered part of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort, it will not share a lobby with the other two buildings and will offer its own suite of amenities. These include a 90-seat restaurant, a 50-seat lounge, a health club, a business center, a grab-and-go market and a craft cocktail lobby bar.
The launch also closely coincides with Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary, taking place Oct. 1, 2021. Additionally, Universal Studios and Epcot are set to receive updates in 2023, with Disney World scheduled for its own update in 2024. Marasco said these events, along with organic traffic to the region, necessitated the development of more event space.
“We were looking and analyzing data and our business model for the next few years, and looking at it we felt that the strength of the Orlando market and current demand drivers were strong enough for more supply,” Marasco said. “We stay abreast of the new attractions, and we know this will be something the area can use.”
In terms of challenges, Marasco said the current development climate can sometimes complicate new construction, but he is confident in the project’s ability to succeed. Additionally, Marasco said it can be difficult to ensure all parties are communicating and remain on the same page during a project of this size, but he was enthusiastic about Disney’s capabilities as a partner.
One thing Marasco wanted to be clear on was the new tower’s association with the existing property. It may be a new building offering a new group-focused experience, but it is still part of the resort.
“Even though this will be a new a tower and will act as a standalone experience, to will work as part of the entire complex,” Marasco said. “We expect to have groups who come in and book all three buildings, but some may use two or just one. It’s all about flexibility.”