The highly anticipated Metropolitan by COMO hotel (2445 Collins Ave., 305-695-3600) opened last week on Miami Beach in the historic Traymore Hotel space, making it the first United States property for the Singapore-based COMO Hotels & Resorts. The luxurious international brand is comprised of 12 resorts in destinations including London, the Maldives, Bali, Bhutan and Thailand. They zeroed in on Miami Beach as a sister property to their island retreat in Turks & Caicos, Parrot Cay by COMO, responding to a need by its guests stopping over in Miami to have a property with the same values and vision.
A hotel five years in the making, COMO dispatched general manager Javier Beneyto from its London property The Halkin in the fall of 2012 to oversee the final preparations of the Metropolitan’s opening. Originally from Madrid, the hospitality veteran has worked in Mallorca, Ibiza, the Dominican Republic and Canada. He was on the team at the iconic Villa Magna Hotel in Madrid for nearly four years (awarded Best Hotel in Spain) before COMO recruited him to their Cocoa Island resort in The Maldives.
We sat down with Beneyto before the property opened to learn more about him and his plans for the 74-room boutique hotel, which features a restaurant, two pools—including a rooftop hydrotherapy pool and spa with a dedicated yoga program and juice bar—poolside cabanas and beach amenities.
What drew you to hospitality as a career?
Since I was very young I was traveling a lot. I was very fortunate. I was traveling with my parents overseas, and to be honest with you, what drove me into hospitality was my dad. All of my family, they are lawyers. I came from a family where all of them, cousins, uncles, everybody was a lawyer. And I asked my dad one day, I was like, so I guess I’m studying law. And he was like, “Don’t you dare do it. Don’t you dare do it. Try to do something with your skills with people, etcetera. I think you are very outgoing.”
When I started talking to him about that I was 15, 16 and every time we’d travel, he’d point out things here and there in the hotel and I’d say, you know what, perhaps this is the kind of business I’d like to do. Since I was a little kid, I was always sneaking around hotels from the back of the house, and I think that my dad told me that it was on me since I was very young. I was very curious about cooking. I was very curious about service. It was things that were not common in a small kid. From the beginning, from when I was 10 or 11, I loved cooking. I remember the first glass of wine my dad gave me, I was eight or nine and he was like, try it, smell it. And that’s how we get into that. I guess it was through traveling, though.
You’re extremely well traveled. Does one destination stand out more than the others as your favorite?
It’s very difficult, but one of the things I think a hotelier must have is that it needs to be easy for you to adapt. I left Madrid when I was 17 when I finished high school and I decided to move to Palma de Mallorca. For Spain, Palma de Mallorca is kind of where the hospitality roots are. Most of the hotel companies in the Caribbean are Spanish, so Arabella, Iberostar, Barcelo, all of the big ones, they’re from Mallorca.
I moved to Frankfurt for another year and finished my university in Palma de Mallorca again. After that, I went for two and a half years to the Dominican Republic for my first management role. Then life moved me to Canada for three years, then back to Madrid for four years and now here.
If you asked me to pick a spot it’s very, very difficult. Not even my hometown. People get very attached to a city. I’m very detached from the place. You tell me tomorrow—I mean, I hope to stay here five or six years—but if the company called me tomorrow to say Javier we’re opening up something in San Francisco, it’s like, okay, give me 24 hours, let me pack my bags and go. For me, it’s very easy to disconnect.
But now, I’m getting older and now I’m looking more to put some roots into a place. My goal will be for the years to come to be in the United States. I think if the company keeps growing, I will certainly like to stay here.
But if you asked me to pick one place, perhaps the last four years in Madrid was very, very good. I was fortunate enough to be part of the renovating team of the Villa Magna Hotel, which was awarded the Best Hotel in Spain. I was the hotel manager for about four years, and I think that experience put my profile in terms of hospitality to the next luxury level. I started understanding the needs of the different travelers over there.
There are 11 other COMO resorts worldwide, why did you choose Miami Beach to be the first entry into the U.S. market?
It just made sense. For the company, we needed to step into either Miami or New York and sooner or later New York will happen. But this opportunity came in and the thing was, having a property in the Turks & Caicos where they have travelers from California, Chicago, Seattle, New York, they were making a stopover in Miami, so they were saying all the time to the owner, when Miami? The profile of the guests that come to COMO, they are looking for a hotel with this specific value and vision. We’ve been looking for this property for five years. At the end of the day, it just made sense. Miami’s the capital of Latin America, so it’s a great port of entrance.
What are the visions and values of the COMO brand?
For COMO, we try to make a meaningful difference in the community. One of the things that Mrs. [Christina] Ong [the head of COMO Group] is very insistent on is that any property that goes into any country, we need to give back. We’re all about giving back. We know we’re going to make some profit on this property, hopefully, but as soon as we get into the community, we need to give back. We haven’t even opened yet and we’ve already partnered with Feeding South Florida. We’ll be doing some events with them, so we try to make a meaningful difference for the people and the community. If you’re asking me, that’s our main goal.
Then, after that, comes into the hospitality and the little details, the more intuitive service. We try to be formal, but not too formal. We don’t need to call the guests three times by the names Mr., Mrs., Mr., Mrs., no, I mean, Mr. and Mrs. Robinson once, and that’s how we do it here. We’re formal, but we’re not that much. But we tend, obviously, not to do casual. And the vision is trying to bring something different than what Miami’s used to.
And what difference is that?
We will care. At the end of the day, in terms of hospitality, that’s the sentence I’ve been using. It’s back to basics. At the end of the day, to make our guests happy is very simple. You just need good coffee, a good croissant and the basics covered. We try to have service without attitude, which I think is very important. We believe that our training programs are very specific. We believe that the leaders we bring on board are very passionate. They’re very passionate about COMO. It’s knowing what the guests want and caring for them because we want them back.
Tell me about the COMO Shambhala brand.
Our executive chef for the group is Amanda Gale. She developed a cuisine called COMO Shambhala cuisine, which is not a calorie counting cuisine. It’s more about how the flavors and the ingredients mix together. When we open, you will be able to try this different kind of food. We will have that menu available. We have so many followers of this type of cuisine. At the end of the day, it’s more organic, it’s more how the ingredients mix.
The holistic approach, Mrs. Ong has been doing yoga for the last 25 years, so we believe in that. It’s something to think about for a company. The best spa in the Americas is at Parrot Cay and the best spa in Asia is the one at COMO Shambhala.
What has your travel schedule been like since you’ve arrived in Miami?
I landed here on September 22, 2012 and then in Christmas they didn’t have a GM for one of our properties in London, so they sent me over there to the Halkin because of the partnership with [Elena] Arzak with the restaurant. A Spanish GM, a Spanish restaurant, it just made sense. I took care of the property and helped with this property for two months. After that, I’ve been in Rio de Janero, Sao Paulo, Mexico, New York, LA, Bangkok, London again, Spain for holidays and a couple of more. I’ve been traveling quite a bit.
Where do you stay when you’re on the road?
Competitors. When traveling, if we’re working, we try to identify what is the new trend over there, not from the fashion point of view, but, yes, from the service point of view, to learn because the learning curve is humongous.
What do you enjoy in Miami when you’re not working?
I do a lot of exercise. I did the Miami half marathon. I’m preparing for an Iron Man next year. When I’m not working, I’m exercising or spending time with my girlfriend, in that order. I swim quite a lot. I like to swim in the ocean. We go for dinner. I try to see what’s new, what’s hot. I’m not going out for parties. I’m not a party person. I go often to Juvia and Burger & Beer Joint. I don’t own a car here. If I need to move, I take a taxi. I live on 26th, office on 25th, hotel on 24th and the gym on 23rd, I’m pretty set.