In the heart of Miami’s South Beach lies the award-winning hotel the Setai Miami Beach. Renowned for its personalized service and luxurious suites, it also has a unique design: Part of the hotel is housed in a restored landmark Art Deco building from 1936. The Art Deco interiors have been combined with aesthetics from the Far East to complement the way Art Deco influenced designs in Asia and as a touchpoint for the cultural diversity of South Beach.
Alex Furrer, general manager of the Setai Miami Beach, has recently celebrated his tenth year at the hotel. As a very hands-on and detail-orientated manager, Furrer has seen the Setai evolve during his tenure, implementing schemes such as the Quality and Training program that helped the hotel achieve the 2015 Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Award.
As one of Miami’s most luxurious hotels, the Setai has also featured a few times on Elite Traveler, including in our Miami Travel Guide.
We spoke to Furrer to find out more about his achievements and how the Setai Miami Beach has changed over the years.
Tell us more about your position and how you came to work at Setai Miami Beach.
Back in 2009, I decided to move to the US to expand my hospitality background; I did a good amount of research and evaluated hotels in my favorite cities, New York and Miami. The Setai, Miami Beach really stood out to me thanks to its unique clientele, fantastic design, top location, very interesting footprint, impressive management and service culture.
It also had a very special setup as a luxury condominium with private residences and a hotel program, which added a lot of flavor to the opportunity. I started as a senior guest relation manager and was able to work my way up to the helm in five years. My team and I have weathered not only several hurricanes but also the challenges of two management company changes and an ownership change. Since 2015, we are self-managed, and as general manager, I’m reporting directly to ownership, a private family out of New York.
Tell us more about the hotel.
The Setai is a small boutique luxury hotel with 90 Studio Suites in our Art Deco building; this is connected to a 42-story beachfront glass tower with 55 larger Ocean Suites, including our 10,000-sq-ft penthouse. The hotel has two restaurants – a vibrant Asian restaurant, Jaya, with a unique outdoor dining area and dinner shows on weekends, and the Ocean Grill, a “St. Tropez-feel” Mediterranean restaurant located beachfront between our three unique discreet pools and the beach setup. Meanwhile, the boutique Spa at Setai Miami Beach works in collaboration with Switzerland-based Valmont, offering high-quality body treatments such as massages and facials.
What do you think makes Setai Miami Beach so distinctive?
Certainly the mix of our location, the very special design and “feel-good atmosphere” of understated luxury – but also the genuine personalized service and our mix of international clientele.
What has been your biggest achievement in your role to date?
That’s a difficult question, but probably maintaining the high level of service and best reputation in a very competitive environment; several strong international brands have come into town over the years. Having said that, I must compliment our team: All of my achievements are, in the end, our achievements, as I’m only as strong as our team is.
How have you seen Setai Miami Beach change over the years?
Miami and Miami Beach grew up! Today we are an adult city, in line with New York, Los Angeles, Chicago or Boston. With the most recent influx of wealthy residents and more important industries such as hedge funds and tech companies, I’m sure Miami will establish itself without question as one of the most desirable cities to live in.
What are the biggest challenges facing the hotel in the next five years?
We are continuing to see great brands coming into town; the latest announcements are the Bulgari Hotel right next to us and the Aman Resort next to The Faena Hotel. This will keep us on our toes – healthy competition is the best motivation for management and ownership to keep our product top of the line.
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With environmental concerns growing, how has the hotel responded to this and become more eco-friendly?
This is an ongoing commitment; we’ve implemented several sustainability measures over the years and continue to do so. Examples include everything from swapping to paper straws and enhancing overall recycling procedures to using energy-saving LED lighting across the property and using water-saving valves to reduce waste. We also have Leviton charging stations in our private garage, and our kitchens use USDA certified organic, Fair Trade and locally produced food and beverages. A sustainable – and fun – fact about The Setai is that our swimming pool tiles are made from 99 percent recycled glass.
What experience do you hope visitors will have when staying at Setai Miami Beach?
We want to provide understated luxury and try to remove every discomfort possible during our guests’ stay. The relaxing, comfortable atmosphere and a choice of several different settings around the resort mean that many of our guests hardly leave the premises; they often spend breakfast at the Courtyard, lunch at the Pool or Beach area and have dinner at Jaya or Ocean Grill. It makes us proud, especially considering all the great dining options and variety of international brands the city offers, such as Nobu, Cipriani, Zuma and Milos.
What are you excited about for the future of the hotel?
We are continuing to invest in the property to improve the facility, the restaurants, the Spa and the guest suites. Those projects will keep us busy over the next few years and will keep the excitement up for our loyal repeat guests and residents. One of the projects includes a new Japanese restaurant adjacent to Jaya; another is the remodeling of our lobby areas and the Spa by Valmont, which is being done with the prestigious design firm Blink, from Bangkok.