Iconic hotelier and philanthropist Harris Rosen began his speech at the 2021 UMA Motorcoach EXPO on a note of deep gratitude.
“I’m here to essentially say thank you from the bottom of my heart — thank you, thank you, thank you — to the motorcoach industry. If it was not for you, I would not be standing here today,” the founder of Rosen Hotels & Resorts told the UMA Members. “I would not own and operate seven hotels in Central Florida with 7,000 rooms. I don’t know what my life would be like, but it wouldn’t be anything, anything approaching what it has been over the past 47 years.”
His story of how the motorcoach operators saved his business shortly after he spent his savings to buy a financially struggling hotel — during an economic downturn in the early 1970s caused by an oil embargo — resonated with attendees who struggled during the past year as the pandemic has essentially shut down group ground transportation.
After an inspiring speech that drew a standing ovation from the hundreds in the audience, Rosen was presented with an appreciation award by UMA. It was given by Prevost’s Mitch Guralnick, a UMA board member who devoted countless hours with Scott Riccio, UMA board member and EXPO Committee Chair, to organizing this year’s EXPO.
Both Rosen and Guralnick grew up in New York City, and Guralnick’s family business, White Bus Co., was one of the East Coast motorcoach companies Rosen visited in 1974 to work out deals with them to bring their customers to his first hotel. The other operators included Parker Tours, Red and Tan Lines, Domenico Tours, Casser Tours, Paragon Tours and College Tours.
“I remember being one of the first to send a group down here,” said Guralnick, recalling how the hotel requested to have a person’s name on every suitcase. As soon as the bus pulled in, staff quickly unloaded the luggage and matched names to room numbers.
“The bags made it up to the rooms before people got out of the bus. The guests couldn’t believe it,” said Guralnick. “They thought they were going to the Waldorf Astoria. The treatment that people got — and get today — is astronomical. … It’s like you are part of the family.”
Reinvesting in community
Rosen has reinvested much of the wealth he made from his hotels in the local community, mostly in the form of education. He provides a college education for employees and their children, and underwrites preschool and college education for youth in two struggling Orlando neighborhoods. The latter has resulted in a seismic drop in crime while dramatically raising high school graduation levels.
Down the corridor from where he delivered his speech, his 2009 Visionary Leadership Award hangs on the wall in the Orange County Convention Center, honoring his years of business and philanthropic work in Central Florida.
Another example of Rosen’s generosity has been his willingness to work with UMA in making the 2021 EXPO as affordable as possible for UMA Members, Guralnick said. Hosting the EXPO offered Rosen a way to repay the kindness of motorcoach operators who went out of their way to help him nearly 50 years ago.
“I will be forever grateful to the motorcoach industry for helping me as they did,” Rosen said. “I still do motorcoach business whenever I can. I will never forget how kind, how incredibly wonderful the motorcoach people were. I owe everything to you all. I love you all so much.”