It’s a gorgeous day in Miami Beach and Katja Janzon sits at a small table on the patio of her family’s Miami Beach hotel sipping water with lemon. She almost looks like a vacationer, except that she’s wearing a white business suit and noticing every detail of whether the landscape is well kept and the wait staff quick enough. Janzon is the vice president and co-owner of the Palms Hotel & Spa and Circa 39 Hotel about nine blocks apart along Collins Avenue in Miami Beach.
While Circa has been a more recent acquisition, The Palms was purchased by Janzon’s father, Hans Joachim Krause, more than 20 years ago and running them has become a family business, with Janzon directing many key areas. Her father pops in regularly to give guidance. Her husband, Kent, handles the finances as the hotels’ chief financial officer and her sister, Nicola, oversees reservations and revenue management.
Janzon was born in Germany, went to college in Heidelberg (where she met her Swedish husband),got her master’s in Surrey, England, and then went on to live and work in London. She’s now raising her two children in Miami.
Her beachfront hotels survive and flourish as independents — drawing guests with a pool area that rivals a Caribbean resort, a terrace that attracts weddings and celebrations, a beachside organic garden that grows produce and herbs for the hotel’s restaurants and an Aveda Spa that provides her the opportunity to get hair cuts or manicures without leaving her workplace.
Competing for guests with the big brands and keeping a high occupancy level requires strategic marketing and top-notch service. Janzon says she works hard to keep up with the newest trends and draw new and returning guests to her hotel, along with locals who host events such as weddings or brunches.
In an interview at her hotel, she spoke about the critical issues facing South Florida tourism and her efforts to draw visitors.
Q. What’s your typical day like?
I get in between 8 and 9 a.m. and my office day ends at 3 p.m., but my working day never ends. I always respond to email. I wear lot of different hats. My main task is overseeing marketing. I have a team of three full time marketing managers that work for me handling PR, marketing and brand development. I also head up anything that has to do with design. Right now our Circa Hotel property is under renovation and I’m overseeing that. I also oversee our food and beverage and spa concepts. At The Palms Hotel & Spa we have a 150-seat farm-to-table restaurant that serves hotel guests and locals.
We also have a chic cocktail lounge. I am always keeping an eye on new trends and making sure I bring them to our guests. As owner, I’m also involved in anything that is strategic, that might be finding a new insurance plan or anything that running a business brings with it.
Q. What’s unique to marketing an independent hotel in an internationally known location like Miami Beach?
We have a large international component to our marketing strategy. We’re constantly exploring new markets. Right now we’re targeting the Latin American markets. It’s a small percentage of our business now but it’s a big focus going forward. We are sending our marketing managers into Brazil and Argentina in particular. Because we’re an independent hotel, we have to work harder at getting our name out and telling people about us. We don’t have corporate sales and marketing dollars behind us. We have to stretch our dollars more than the big guys.
Q. What’s the climate right now for tourism in South Florida — has it recovered from the recession? Are you busy year-round or is the market still seasonal?
Thankfully, Miami is a very strong destination year-round; only the clientele changes with the seasons. In the winter, we see mainly North American guests, including many corporate meetings and convention groups. In the summer, our focus changes to Europe and South America. Our wedding business is strong all year.
Q. The hotel business is demanding. So is being a mom. How do you arrange your life so the two fit together?
My daughter has a cellphone so when she needs me after school she can get in touch with me. Most of the time, I pick my kids up after school and take them to activities. Things always change. I don’t have a fixed day. One activity might get canceled or rescheduled. Since I’m my own boss, I don’t have to ask anyone about coming and going. I can make my own schedule. It’s a big benefit. I may have to work on weekends, especially if there’s an event that has a marketing focus and needs my representation.
I don’t do community events as much anymore; my general manager or marketing managers handle that. I like the creativity of the job, there’s something new to reinvent every day and a constant need to stay ahead of the pack.
Q. You and your family are from Germany. How did you get interested in buying and running a hotel in Miami Beach?
My family always had investments in tourism. In the 1980s, my father had a tour operating business. Miami started becoming a popular destination and he would bring people here. There were either big chains that were too corporate or small flea bag hotels. He saw an opportunity to do something here and he dove into it. I worked as a hotel consultant and lived in England before I decided to join the family business. Shortly after, my husband joined too as CFO. We don’t see a lot of each other during the workday. From time to time, we will eat together in the restaurant but not more than once a week.
Q. How many people do the two hotels employ?
Between the two hotels we have about 400 employees. Right now, I’m overseeing renovation and repositioning of our boutique sister hotel, Circa 39, down the street and I go back and forth often. It will be completely different when it’s done, but I am not ready to talk about the new design yet. It should be ready at the beginning of next year.
Q. Did you have work experience before you came here to work at the Miami Beach hotels?
I studied marketing and international business at an American university in Germany and then went for a master’s in hospitality management in England. After that, I worked in hotel consultancy for KPMG in London. That job was much more theoretical. I grew tired of telling people what to do and not seeing it implemented. I came here to Miami in 1997 to run the hotel. My parents are still involved. My dad comes by almost every day to check in and goes through whatever larger issues there are, but he has other businesses, too.
Q. Where do you find that most of your guests are traveling to South Florida from — and are they here on business or pleasure?
Our biggest market is the northeast, followed by Florida and California. Internationally, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Brazil and Argentina are very strong. Most individual travelers are vacationers, but we also have a strong corporate group base.
Q. What have been the most effective tweaks you have made to the hotels over the last few years?
The Palms was completely renovated and re-positioned in 2010/11. At that time, we not only upgraded all the guest rooms and public areas, but made a conscious effort of repositioning us as an environmental-friendly and wellness-oriented destination, from sourcing all–natural, local ingredients for our Essensia Restaurant to using AVEDA at the Spa. We have won many awards for our green initiatives and involvement in community education programs.
This has given the hotel a whole new focus and competitive edge.
At Circa, our big tweaks are yet to come, but I can say that we will be remain somewhat eclectic, value-oriented, down-to-earth and youthful.