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Vinoy GM recognized by national hospitality group

David Krakow

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There is a popular T-shirt in town, from designer Chad Mize, that lists St. Pete – in large block letters – underneath urban heavyweights Paris, London and Tokyo. If Vanessa Williams wanted to fit the travelogue of her life and work on a shirt, she’d probably need to use a smaller font.

Williams, general manager of the Vinoy Resort & Golf Club since the summer of 2022, has made numerous high-profile stops during her three-decade hospitality career: Beverly Hills. Tokyo. Beijing. Seoul. And many others. 

It is not unusual for hotel executives to shuffle from one location to another and Williams, a native South African who has a degree in marketing said simply, “I fell in love with hospitality.” And the various hotel brands she has worked for in the industry clearly share her ardor – Williams has been the chosen partner to open six hotels and lead renovations in three others, including the Vinoy.

As to prior bosses, she said matter-of-factly, “if you find people that are great at opening hotels, you tend to latch onto them.”

The Vinoy Resort & Golf Club. Photo provided.

Earlier this month Williams was one of 25 recipients of the the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International (HSMAI) Top 25 Americas awards, which recognizes leaders in sales, marketing and revenue optimization over the previous 18 months. Williams and her fellow honorees will be feted at a ceremony Feb. 13 at the New York Marriott Marquis.

“It was pretty exciting to me,” she said. “To be acknowledged and recognized by an organization I was closely affiliated with underlines the fact that I found a career I loved and found something I’m really good at.” 

Built in 1925, the Vinoy is one of the oldest existing hotel structures in St. Petersburg. It has a rich and storied history, and has been remodeled numerous times over the decades.

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When Williams arrived at the Vinoy, she had never been to St. Pete and was confronted with, as she remembered, around 10 different construction sites at the hotel. “We didn’t even have a lobby,” she said. “But there was something magical about it.”

The first phase of the Marriott-managed hotel renovation was completed in April and included guestrooms, meeting space, the main lobby, the spa and outdoor pool area. Additions include “Lottie,” a ground floor patisserie, a poolside restaurant and an upscale dining outlet. Next, she said, is a 2024 re-opening of Marchand’s Bar & Grill, the in-house restaurant which closed in 2020. As to whether more renovations will follow, Williams could only say “the owners have so much they want to do.”

Prior to her arrival at the Vinoy, Williams spent six years opening the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills, first as Director of Sales and Marketing then General Manager.

But she has found a home on the west Florida coast and is excited to see what the future brings – both at the hotel (walking distance from her home) – and in the city.

“I think there is definite momentum (in St. Pete) and I feel like the Vinoy is an anchor.” Proudly noting that the hotel is now part of Marriott’s luxury Autograph Collection, she is excited to “bring a certain type of guest” to the Vinoy, extolling the hotel’s place as “true luxury in west coast Florida hospitality.”

Similarly, Williams says, she is looking forward to additions to the downtown’s upscale residential sector and how “it will bring more affluent residents into St. Pete.” She cited, among other benefits, the expansion of the city’s tax base.

But she also sounded a cautionary note. “We could lose a piece of ourselves,” she admitted about the specter of housing costs driving out the city’s lower- and middle-income residents. “I think we need to work really hard to maintain the personality of St. Pete. But I do think there’s a place for it all.”

For now, Williams is proud of where the Vinoy is – and will be.

“I have 500 employees and my number one priority was that I did not want to lose the legacy of the team that has worked so hard for so many years,” she explained. “It’s like a whole new hotel. It’s a phenomenal testament to the brick and mortar, but also to the people.”

 

 

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    Hugh Hazeltine

    December 28, 2023at8:37 am

    Vinoy Hotel is bedrock for St. Pete. Its renovation and reopening in the 1990’s spawned the growth we see today.

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