hT chats with Eduardo Fernandez, general manager at Sonesta Fort Lauderdale Beach
A seasoned hospitality industry professional with more than 30 years of diverse hospitality experience, Eduardo Fernandez began his career at Le Centre Sheraton Hotel and Towers in Montreal and went on to manage numerous properties for Sheraton Hotels and Resorts in Boston, New York, Delaware, and Miami. He then went on to work with Starwood Hotels & Resorts, where he served in various roles including senior director of operations for new builds and transitions and managed various properties for W Hotels.
Most recently, Fernandez spent two years serving as general manager of B Ocean Fort Lauderdale, where he played a key role in the successful turnaround of B Hotels & Resorts’ flagship hotel. Upon the 2014 sale of B Ocean, Fernandez was retained as general manager, and has since helped seamlessly transition the property into a successful new addition to the Sonesta Hotel & Resorts portfolio.
Q. Tell me about Sonesta Fort Lauderdale Beach and what you consider to be unique to your property and staff.
Sonesta Fort Lauderdale Beach occupies a fantastic location right on the beach, nestled between Hugh Taylor Birch State Park and Bonnet House Museum and Gardens. All our rooms have breathtaking ocean views, and most importantly we have a great culture of caring throughout our hotel and company.
Q. How did you first get into the hospitality industry?
A family friend was a pastry chef and taught at the hotel school in Montreal. He gave me the initial idea to pursue a hospitality career. Lucky for me, I was fortunate to be selected as a management trainee with ITT Sheraton Corporation right out of school.
Q. I read that you once aspired to be a DJ. Was that like a radio DJ or a club DJ? Did you ever actually spin any records?
LOL. Yes, in my teens, I loved buying records [vinyl] and spinning at parties for my friends. Back in the day, there were very few celebrity DJs. Now it’s a lucrative career, so I guess I should have taken it more seriously!
We have a great culture of caring throughout our hotel and company.
Q. Tell me about your new restaurant and bar.
Steelpan, a kitchen & bar, will be an indoor/outdoor oceanfront restaurant offering Continental Caribbean cuisine that showcases the multicultural island-inspired flavors of our South Florida location. The menu will include local seafood and produce, island bowls, and inventive spins on shared and large plates, plus much more. We will also have a mixology team on board that will be serving up handcrafted cocktails in a fun and unexpected presentation.
Q. In your interview with TravelHost, you talk of a “completely reimagined Sonesta.” How big a role do you play in the “reimagination?” What are you most excited about with this? What challenges will it bring?
This is one of the many advantages with our company: Sonesta as a brand relies heavily on their hotel leaders to assist and support many of the company’s initiatives. So not only have I been involved in all aspects of our renovation planning, but I am also working closely with project management, the designer, and the general contractor to ensure everything we have planned becomes reality. Our team is looking forward to introducing a completely new experience to our guests, and our new Steelpan, a kitchen & bar, has us super excited. Rolling out this new concept is a lot of work but so rewarding when everything comes together. The typical challenge one faces during a large scale renovation is continuing to take care of our guests and provide a great experience while upgrading the facilities.
Q. What is the most important thing you have learned about managing a staff?
Listen, listen, and listen more. Don’t assume that, as the leader, you know everything that is going on in your business. They are your eyes and ears, and the first and last person to connect with our guests. Be a facilitator.
Q. What is your number one most essential thing when it comes to your guests?
The consistency in providing our services. If one cannot deliver the same experience time and again, you won’t be successful.
Q. Do you have any advice you would give someone just starting to work their way up in the industry? Alternately, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
It’s going to sound cliché, but here you go: work hard, show up on time, be respectful, be open to criticism, and have a thirst to learn. There is such opportunity in our industry to have a great career. The best piece of advice I received from one of my GMs was to always apply the Golden Rule, even with vendors. You will always get more out of a service provider if you actually do treat them like a partner.
Q. Tell me about your community involvement and why it’s important to you.
In the past six years, I have gradually increased my involvement in our business community. I sit on the board of the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association – Broward Chapter, I am the chair of the Beach Business Improvement District for the City of Fort Lauderdale, and I chair the Beach Council and sit on the board of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce. Being engaged in the community does two things: one, you are always promoting your business and making sure that people know about Sonesta Fort Lauderdale Beach and the services we offer. Second, it’s a way to support the number one industry in Broward and make sure our local, county, and state legislators understand the importance of tourism in the financial success of our community.
Work hard, show up on time, be espectful, be open to criticism, and have a thirst to learn.
Q. What are your expectations for the market?
We are fortunate that Fort Lauderdale continues to grow as a domestic and international destination. Inbound traffic at both our cruise port and airport continues to see growth year over year. On the flip side, we are seeing a large influx of new room supply in the county, so I don’t expect much in occupancy growth and minor rate growth over the next few years. Additionally, as we continue to push for our Convention Center expansion to become a reality, the uncertainty currently perceived by our convention market has caused a material drop in our group business booked for the next three years. The hotel community is working closely with the Convention & Visitors Bureau’s leadership to outline an aggressive plan to regain our fair share of the convention market once we can begin to promote our new facilities with confidence.
Q. Party playlist: top five songs?
I’m going to age myself:
- Simple Minds, “Don’t You Forget About Me”
- Frankie goes to Hollywood, “Relax”
- The Cult, “She Sells Sanctuary”
- Garry Numan, “Cars”
- and on the more recent side, Swedish House Mafia, “Don’t You Worry Child”
Q. Any parting thoughts?
The labor market continues to be a challenge, with the lowest unemployment on record in our county. As an industry, we need to work closely with learning institutions to ensure we have adequate supply of new and well trained personnel that want to make a career in the hospitality industry.
By Ashley Atkins