Few industries took more of a beating from this easing pandemic than tourism and travel. Even in Orlando, Fla., one of the tourism capitals in the world, the impacts were real and lasting, and even some of the titans of the industry felt the crowd losses.
And yet, the third largest hotelier (owner/operator) in that market, a name well-known in Central Florida, and for regular Orlando visitors, didn’t just survive, he and his several thousand employees have thrived, with their group enterprise smelling like a rose. Rosen Hotels & Resorts is in fact the largest privately-owned hotel operator in Florida, with more than 6,500 hotel rooms, two convention centers, and other facilities, primarily along the I-4 and the International Boulevard tourism and convention corridor of Orlando.
Just returning with my youngest, Olivia, from another extensive Orlando parks tour, I am happy to report that pent-up demand is high and that American consumers are there in force and spending in droves.
Disney World offers more than 40,000 hotel rooms and vacation timeshares, and Universal just completed three new resorts which opened nearly two years into the pandemic. Disney chose to rebuild its revenue model, charging more for many amenities and park add-ons that were previously low-cost or free. Universal added other offerings, with an entirely new park also in development. But with players this large and the stakes this high, it’s hard to understand how a local owner can compete.
Harris Rosen spent several earlier years in his hospitality career with Disney before leaving the company and starting out modestly on his own. Rosen has long had an aversion to debt and funds his new expansions and property renovations out of cash flow, while also understanding that many Disney and Universal guests may spend the bulk of their vacation budget on park tickets and related attractions and need to realize some savings with their accommodations. Rosen also built early and long relationships with bus tour operators, who bring in his guests literally by the busload each year, primarily from the northeast.
And having stayed in several of the Rosen hotels and resorts during prior Orlando visits, I can also attest to the apparent happiness of Rosen associates. “The Happiest Place on Earth (Disney),” reportedly has several thousand of its employees receiving various forms of government assistance, due to their inability to make sufficient income to support their families with their theme park employment. Universal has improved its employee satisfaction ratings but is still known for high rates of employee turnover.
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Conversely, at a Rosen Hotel, it is quite typical to meet and be greeted by an associate with a decade or more of service with the company. What’s the differentiator? There can’t be that much difference in running one hotel versus another… In 1989, CEO Rosen formed his own health insurance company, now called ProvInsure, to administer a fully self-funded in-network insurance plan. Full and part-time employees are eligible for coverage, and in the fall of 1991, Rosen opened the Rosen Medical Center adjacent to the Rosen Inn International Hotel. This full-service health care clinic offers onsite doctor visits, diagnostic and treatment facilities and equipment, as well as dozens of the most frequently prescribed pharmaceuticals at low or no cost to employees.
Also having seen and experienced the benefits of non-traditional medical care, the clinic also offers chiropractic care, physical therapy and an onsite wellness center and gym. Employees are in and out of all facilities of the clinic throughout each shift of each day.
Rosen isn’t alone in the hospitality industry noting the benefits of self-insurance. Chick-fil-A self-insures all of its locations and real estate, as well as its employee health care and benefit plans. Waffle House offers low-cost health insurance coverage to its store employees only 90 days into the job, but Rosen was the hotel industry pioneer, and his work in improving health care access for lower-income hospitality workers has won national recognition, awards and honors.
Rosen is also a philanthropist to numerous other causes and acknowledges that fears of the complexities of health care regulation as well as potential malpractice lawsuits cause many employers to hesitate to make the leap to self-insurance, but he remains hopeful that the cost savings and improved employee retention and morale, further supported by overall employee wellness, will continue to cause many to rethink their current choices.
“It’s like me getting fired from Disney while I was buying my first hotel. What a blessing that turned out to be,” says Rosen with a smile.