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Renaissance Tampa International Plaza Hotel

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A hotel is just a building until you step inside to experience its individual personality. At Renaissance Tampa International Plaza Hotel, operating under the Marriott umbrella, guests experience a beautiful hotel located just steps from dining, entertainment and more that combine to create a distinctive identity for this AAA Four Diamond-rated property. 

The hotel was originally designed to resemble a “costa del sol” mansion featuring Mediterranean influences in the architecture, furnishings and colors. The building wraps around a courtyard highlighted by a large fountain surrounded by outdoor seating. But after 11 years, General Manager Jim Bartholomay, in partnership with Ashford Hospitality Prime, decided it was time for a fresh look that would update and upgrade the hotel. The colors are no longer “in your face,” but greyer tones incorporated throughout the interior paint and décor to give guests a more relaxed feel.

“I was really struggling with ways to integrate the new, signature look of our brand with the lifestyle feel,” Bartholomay explains. “It’s so soothing now. As we started transforming the hotel, and you go back into the old areas, you need to put sunglasses on because it’s just too busy. In the renovated areas, we’ve got this cool, modern feeling highlighted with unique furniture.”

Renaissance Tampa spent an estimated $10 million on renovating the guest spaces, bar, outdoor patio, pool and interior throughout the hotel. Further plans include piping music into elevator cabs and adding a tap system in the bar so the hotel can partner with local craft beers. “We’re bringing the best of what Tampa offers to the hotel guests. What they experience here helps to showcase this area,” Bartholomay says.

Bartholomay has a passion for the culinary side of the business, having grown up in a family where cooking was a way to unwind, especially for his father. Bartholomay honed his cooking skills and began working in Marriott hotels in a variety of positions. He assisted in opening the Marriott Marquis in New York City, and, after 10 years in Atlanta, he opened the Renaissance Tampa in 2004. 

“When I arrived at this hotel, it was just a little pile of dirt, so it’s my baby,” Bartholomay says. “The Renaissance brand is a very beverage-focused and food-forward brand. That really honored my background and love of food. I get to dabble with that side of the business while also doing what I love, which is running hotels.”

Guest Experience

The Renaissance Tampa is not just a hotel, but a destination; whether a corporate traveler having meetings during the week or a family looking for fun on the weekend, the hotel strives to tailor the experience to each customer. Regardless of the reason for a visit, Renaissance Tampa tries to exceed guests’ expectations. “We watch for cues and our staff is trained to look for clues,” Bartholomay explains. “If we see kids, we anticipate they want some family friendly activities. Rather than waiting for the guest to ask, we dialogue with them and start a conversation that helps to guide them to something fun like Busch Gardens or even something off the beaten path.”

Bartholomay emphasizes that coming to Tampa is all about discovering the indigenous experiences in the city, not just staying in a nice hotel. From learning about cigar rolling in Ybor City to feeding and washing elephants at the Lowry Park Zoo and craft beer tasting at local breweries, the hotel helps guests identify great experiences. 

“We’ve made a transition from an upper-upscale hotel to a lifestyle brand hotel,” Bartholomay adds. “We still have the corporate travelers, but we also have discoverers – people looking for something special, local, indigenous.”

But Renaissance Tampa is constantly seeking ways to fill its rooms. During the middle of the week, it’s hard to get a room because the hotel is full of business travelers in town for meetings and conferences. But filling rooms on weekends is more of a challenge. To combat this, the hotel creates events through local partnerships with art organizations and social media strategies, while offering live bands, an evening beverage ritual hour to sample the local spirits, art exhibits and tours of the rooftop garden.  

“For a discoverer, for someone interested in that experience, all of these activities give them stories to tell,” Bartholomay says. “And what’s the best way to promote your business? It’s when someone posts a photo or shares a status about our hotel on social media; it’s telling the story over and over again.”

While Renaissance Tampa is Bartholomay’s baby, he credits much of its success to the bigger family of Marriott hotels. He believes the family owned and operated culture of more than 87 years trickles down and affects how his hotel takes care of employees and guests. “It’s crazy to think you have this multibillion-dollar organization that still lives and breathes by this culture,” he says. “The Marriott family has continued to do that while we bring it to life.”

Ultimately, Bartholomay is proud of his team and that Renaissance Tampa is still on top after 11 years and continues to find ways to reinvent itself. “At the end of the day, you’re measured in results,” he says. “And our results speak volumes about the success we have year after year. This is my baby and I feel like I don’t work a day in my life. It’s a big family here. We train them well and give them the tools to do what they need to do and they kill it everyday.”  

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