Carlos J. Rodriguez has been working in the hotel business in Miami-Dade for 17 years, so he’s seen several boom-and-bust cycles.
He formed Cardel Hotels in Miami in 1996, a company that merged with North Palm Beach-based Driftwood Hospitality Management 10 years ago. As executive vice president and partner at Driftwood Hospitality Management, Rodriguez is now overseeing a new booming period.
Driftwood, a North Palm Beach business with an office in Coral Gables, designs, develops, staffs and manages hotels around the country and in Costa Rica. The company has plans to enter the Canadian market with a joint venture as well.
While the portfolio of nearly 40 hotels only includes one currently open in Miami-Dade, the Courtyard Miami West/FL Turnpike, and one in Broward, those numbers don’t reflect Driftwood’s history in Miami-Dade, which includes renovations of the Hotel Indigo Miami-Dadeland, the Hotel Urbano at Brickell and the former Radisson hotel at Omni, now a Hilton.
“We are more known as a company for fixing hotels in trouble,” Rodriguez said. “We’re basically the doctors that come in and fix them. And usually once we fix them, we sell them and move on to the next hotel.”
But Driftwood is also working on a Cambria Suites opening in the Blue Lagoon area near Miami International Airport later this year with a group of Venezuelan investors, another hotel in Kendall with the same group and a group developing a Homewood Suites at Dolphin Mall — as well as other possible projects elsewhere in the area.
Q. What have been the biggest changes in the Miami market since Driftwood opened an office here?
Miami is very hot right now. The hotel industry is very strong right now. So I feel very good about the market in general in Miami. And we’re looking to invest more. Right now we have, in addition to the projects that I’ve mentioned... I’m looking at a deal to assist a group in South Beach, I’m looking at a deal in Midtown with one of the hedge funds. We’re looking at another group, another friend of mine that wants to do a hotel by the airport.
When you add them all up, in potential deals in the pipeline just in Dade County alone, we’re talking around 1,000 rooms. Then I have another gentleman that has an issue with his hotel and his current management company and he wants to switch to us, so we’re discreetly working with him to help him out and hopefully they’ll be also coming online soon.
Q. What are the most important parts of a hotel turnaround?
So many things. There’s no single silver bullet to a hotel turnaround. In some cases, is it a bad flag or a flag that is not the appropriate flag for that particular market? In some cases, it’s a financial issue. In some cases, it’s top-heavy....Really, in some cases, the person doesn’t know anything about hotels and they don’t know how to market it properly. ...A lot of people don’t know how to work Internet marketing properly. They don’t know how to maximize the search engines. Those are key words that everybody says, but not everybody knows how to do.
Q: How does today’s hot Miami market compare to when Driftwood started expanding into Miami?
I’ve been in Miami for 17 years, so I’ve seen a few cycles. But obviously Miami got hurt bad during the great recession and you could buy a lot of things on the cheap and a lot of people made a lot of money being brave and investing during the downturn. Because the market has tuned around so quickly — I think much, much more quickly than people envisioned or ever thought possible — right now I see it as an amazing market that has reached pretty much the numbers that we were at the last peak. ...And I see only a brighter future. Except for if there’s thousands and thousands and thousands of rooms added, obviously that will hurt.