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In depth

Theme Parks – Marketing the Universal Orlando Resort: Vince LaRuffa

By Chad Emerson

Related:   Universal Orlando: Interview with Alice Norsworthy   /   Universal Orlando: Interview with Michael Roddy   /   Universal Orlando: Interview with John McReynolds   /  Black Lagoon returnsTracy’s Stats – Universal Orlando Parks, FY 2008

“Because our hotels were designed to be integrated into the entertainment backdrop at Universal, there are themed elements to our properties that really do enhance guest experience.”

Chad Emerson (left):  Share with us how you got started in the industry and at the Universal Orlando Resort in particular, working your way to VP, resort sales and marketing.

Vince LaRuffa (right):  It was quite by accident actually.  I was working as a sales rep in downtown Philadelphia for an office equipment company, and I happened to bump into an old friend on the sidewalk who was working as a catering manager at the Franklin Plaza Hotel.  She mentioned an opening on the sales team as a small groups manager.  I ended up with that job, and that was the start of a 27-year hotel career (and counting!)

Emerson:  Operating a hotel in a theme park resort presents several unique opportunities.  Describe for us the relationship between Universal Orlando and Loews.

LaRuffa:  Our structure here at Universal Orlando is unique in several ways.  It is a true “partnership” in that Loews manages the three hotels, and Universal markets them, and takes primary responsibility for revenue generation.  We also drive the group and travel industry sales and marketing effort, as well as the reservations function and the pricing strategy.  But just about everything we do we approach as partners, which creates an effective checks and balances dynamic that makes us all better.

Emerson:  What are two of the biggest benefits you’ve realized in the context of operating hotels in a theme park environment?

LaRuffa:  Well, the most obvious benefit is the built-in leisure guest demand that it creates.  Because our hotels were designed to be integrated into the entertainment backdrop at Universal, there are themed elements to our properties that really do enhance guest experience.  The experience is further enhanced by our very special front of line benefit at select attractions, along with complimentary water taxi service.  When you put it all together, it amounts to a very compelling value proposition that is impossible to beat at any hotel in town.

Emerson:  On the flip side, what are the unique challenges for this type arrangement?

LaRuffa:  I honestly don’t see any particular challenges that would be specific to our arrangement.   The demand issues that are facing our industry are certainly felt by the market in general, and we are all hoping for a quick recovery and the return of more normalized demand patterns.

Emerson:  Let’s say that it’s a beautiful summer afternoon in Central Florida.  How would you spend your ideal theme park day?

LaRuffa:  I would get an early start to the day to maximize my time.  I would head out to the theme parks as soon as they open at 9:00 am.  I would start at Islands of Adventure because the thrill rides are amazing.  The Incredible Hulk Coaster rockets you from 0-60 miles an hour in two seconds and is exhilarating.  Then I would continue to Marvel Superhero Island and hit Dr. Dooms Fearfall and The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man.  With my hotel room key card, my family and I get to bypass the regular lines free all day!  This means we can go on all of our favorite rides – Jurassic Park River Adventure, Dueling Dragons (soon to become Dragon Challenge) and Cat in the Hat – in less time. I would then take the water taxi back to my onsite hotel in the afternoon to relax by the pool for a few hours with my family.  Staying at one of the three on-site hotels gives us the ability to have some downtime before we head back into the theme parks. 

When we return, we head for Universal Studios, and hit all of our favorites there – The Simpsons Ride, The new Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit rollercoaster, The Mummy, Disaster and Jaws. As the day winds down, we head over to Loews Portofino Bay Hotel and Mama Della’s for a family style Italian dinner. (Makes me feel right at home!)  Strolling musicians serenade us, my wife and daughters are delighted and I’m reminded of what an amazing resort we have created here.  What a day, huh?

Image: Loews Royal Pacific Resort, kind courtesy Universal Orlando Resort.

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