Originally appeared in BizWest in September, 2018
Just as Loveland-based McWhinney completes one new hotel in Centerra, the company has announced plans for two additional hotels in the 3,000-acre mixed-use development.
McWhinney and Englewood-based hotel developer Stonebridge Cos. later this year will complete a Courtyard by Marriott at Skypond Drive and Centerra Parkway, near Interstate 25 and U.S. Highway 34 and just south of The Promenade Shops at Centerra.
The four-story, 67,000-square-foot hotel will feature 101 guest rooms, bistro, lounge, 1,200 square feet of meeting space, a fitness center, market, pool, hot tub and guest laundry. The hotel marks the third Marriott property in Centerra. 2WR + Partners serves as the architect, and Coe Construction as the general contractor for the project.
McWhinney and Stonebridge also will collaborate on two additional hotels, a Homewood Suites and Hilton Garden Inn. The Homewood Suites and Hilton Garden Inn hotels will offer approximately 100 rooms each. Planned as a dual-brand property, one wing will operate as the Homewood Suites hotel and another as the Hilton Garden Inn. The hotels will share the lobby and community spaces.
The 135,000-square-foot, five-story dual-brand property will feature a restaurant and bar, pool, fitness center and meeting space. The hotels will sit immediately south of the Courtyard and will mark a total of three Hilton hotels in Centerra.
“Jointly, the three hotels will add more than 300 guest rooms to the area, catering to focused-service business travel and extended stay needs,” David Crowder, general manager of Centerra and vice president of community development for McWhinney, said in a prepared statement. “We feel that Centerra is the ideal setting to support Northern Colorado’s continually growing demand for hospitality services. The properties are centrally located in the heart of the region and easily accessible to the multitude of community amenities here at Centerra, including shopping, dining and entertainment at Promenade Shops at Centerra and the Centerra Marketplace as well as Chapungu Sculpture Park.”
McWhinney serves as the owner, asset manager and co-developer of the properties, with Stonebridge as the co-developer and hotel manager. The partnership has previously delivered three hotels in Centerra, with the Residence Inn by Marriott, completed in 2005, as the most recent property. The partnership currently has six hotels in operation, including three in Anaheim, Calif.
“Stonebridge Companies is proud to expand its partnership with McWhinney,” said Navin C. Dimond, founder, Stonebridge president and CEO. “As a valued partner in our continued growth, our relationship with McWhinney has been very rewarding to date. We look forward to supporting the success of these newest properties with our philosophy of distinguished hospitality central in all facets of the hotels.”
Originally appeared in Mile High CRE in September, 2018
McWHINNEY and Stonebridge Companies recently partnered to deliver the fourth hotel in Loveland’s Centerra master-planned community. Construction is underway on the Courtyard by Marriott property, which is planned to open in late 2018. In addition, the partnership has also announced plans for two additional hotels, supporting demand for hospitality offerings with six total hotels in Centerra.
The Courtyard property is located in southeastern Centerra at the I-25 and U.S. 34 intersection off Sky Pond Drive and Centerra Parkway, just south of The Promenade Shops at Centerra. The four-story, 67,000-square-foot hotel will feature 101 guest rooms, bistro, lounge, 1,200 square feet of meeting space, fitness center, market, pool, hot tub and guest laundry. The hotel marks the third Marriott property in Centerra. 2WR + Partners serves as the architect and Coe Construction as the general contractor for the project.
With occupancy and demand showing strong growth, the partnership is also planning to deliver two additional hotels in Centerra under the Homewood Suites and Hilton Garden Inn brands. According to the Rocky Mountain Lodging Report, the revenue per available room calculation for Loveland has increased 4.6 percent in the July 2018 year-to-date period, compared to the same period in 2017. With the Loveland market’s continued expansion, demand drivers for hospitality include nearby UCHealth-Medical Center of the Rockies; corporate demands from major Northern Colorado employers such as Agrium, Inc.; transient leisure traffic from Rocky Mountain National Park; events at Larimer County Fairgrounds; and oil and gas exploration and production.
The Homewood Suites and Hilton Garden Inn hotels will offer approximately 100 keys each. Planned as a dual-brand property, one wing will operate as the Homewood Suites hotel and another as the Hilton Garden Inn. The hotels will share the lobby and community spaces. Aligning with the latest industry trends, the dual-brand property concept consolidates operations, offering efficiency as well as the best qualities from both brands to guests.
The 135,000-square-foot, five-story dual-brand property will feature a restaurant and bar, pool, fitness center and meeting space. The hotels will sit immediately south of the Courtyard and will mark a total of three Hilton hotels in Centerra.
“Jointly, the three hotels will add more than 300 guest rooms to the area, catering to focused-service business travel and extended stay needs,” said David Crowder, general manager of Centerra and vice president of community development for McWHINNEY. “We feel that Centerra is the ideal setting to support Northern Colorado’s continually growing demand for hospitality services. The properties are centrally located in the heart of the region and easily accessible to the multitude of community amenities here at Centerra, including shopping, dining and entertainment at Promenade Shops at Centerra and the Centerra Marketplace as well as Chapungu Sculpture Park.”
McWHINNEY serves as the owner, asset manager and co-developer of the properties, with Stonebridge Companies as the co-developer and hotel manager. The partnership has previously delivered three hotels in Centerra, with the Residence Inn by Marriott, completed in 2005, as the most recent property. The partnership currently has six hotels in operation, including three in Anaheim, Calif.
“Stonebridge Companies is proud to expand its partnership with McWHINNEY,” said Navin C. Dimond, founder, president and CEO of Stonebridge Companies. “As a valued partner in our continued growth, our relationship with McWHINNEY has been very rewarding to date. We look forward to supporting the success of these newest properties with our philosophy of Distinguished Hospitality™ central in all facets of the hotels.”
Originally appeared in Hotel Executive in August, 2018
Let’s just start by talking about the 22-37-year-old elephant in the room; The Millennial Generation is a product of participation trophies. They feel entitled to a $100k job two days after graduation. They find a date for Saturday night, then a great restaurant to go to, and directions to the closest theater, all within ten minutes of use from their ever-present smart device.
They never had it like us; I walked 8 miles to school through snow in summer uphill both ways. We used school supplies called “pencils.” Teachers wrote on “chalkboards.” We got a newspaper every three days; we didn’t have information that happened 30 seconds ago somewhere on the other side of the world at our fingertips. They will just never understand how easy they have it.
And so on, and so on, and so on. (Please don’t inundate me with emails; this was all meant tongue-in-cheek, of course.)
We’ve all heard these stereotypes from anyone that grew up when Pearl Jam was just getting started and those that still remember when lemon-colored kitchen appliances were hip. Being hospitality executives, we have maybe even seen examples in front of our very eyes. Our teams are likely populated by members of the millennial generation.
But can anyone deny the buying power of today’s pre-30 year old? Or the ability to talk about the most efficient way to find out what is now the hottest trend in, well, anything? I recently needed to find out what a WeWork was; I asked my 29-year old CSM and her twin sister. After a few painful seconds of pointing and laughing, they got me an answer, no Google search needed.
If you and your property execs are sitting at your Tuesday meeting and saying that “they are just not our market,” you are watching a lot of revenue head down the street. But there is a lot more to this group than avocado toast with cage-free pasture raised chicken eggs and the local craft IPA with hints of saddle leather. And if you are ignoring those potential revenue-building opportunities, someone else won’t be.
Sometimes “What,” Always “Why”
Early in my hospitality management life, I was a point-and-shout manager. Those days, bartenders and servers responded to direction much differently than today’s guest service associate. As I got older and continued to use this method with my staff, I subsequently saw a good number of them working happy hour across the street two weeks later. Realizing I needed to adapt or tend bar myself, I set my mind to changing my motivational strategy. Today’s millennial service industry employee is far more interested in the “why” part of their tasks and duties. They want to know the benefit of them and the benefit to their guests, and how they go hand-in-hand.
The same can be said about their food choices. Give a 27-year-old a smoothie with all the ingredients listed, their response is likely “meh.” Tell them that the local organic blueberries in that smoothie are chalk-full of antioxidants and the picked-this-morning strawberries are loaded with vitamin C that will help their immune system, and it’s “Oh, snap!”
The desire for fresh produce and protein that is humanely grown at the farm no more than 20 miles from the barstool they are seated at is bound to draw the environmentally-conscious millennial. The need to feel good about what we eat is almost as important as the custom seasoning the chef uses on that Colorado black angus tenderloin.
Great, But Here Comes The Tab…
You toil over the menu with your executive chef. You utilize local farms for the spinach and kale salad, the airline chicken breasts have never once been put in any type of cage, and the cream for the in-house spun dessert only comes from the Guernsey that eats flowers and grass from mountain hillsides. Total tab for the three-course meal: $48 at 32% COGS. One problem; they only have a $50 per diem, and they bought the $25 organic frisee salad with sustainably-grown salmon over lunch.
One trait with the millennial age group that cannot be ignored if you really wish to capture that business is they will not sacrifice quality ingredients for cheaper menu items. But gathering that milk for the mountainside-grass fed cow is getting more expensive and harder to find, so at what point do we eat the cost to welcome the business? I’ve had an easier time balancing quality girlfriend time with golf.
The importance of keeping costs down and showing profit gains goes without saying. The company that hired that young person has cut per diems down for that exact reason, as well. Understanding that aids in building the menu with quality local ingredients while keeping the lights on.
More and more I am finding myself staying at my property through Happy Hour, not just to help the bartenders load the dishwasher when we are running low on clean wine glasses, but also to sit back and really observe our guest demographic. Quick glance: its young, its local. And they are often eating early dinner with the happy hour food specials. Having small-plate options that make available the chance to try numerous items for a perceived value is a strategy we have seen pay off. Given the chance to just get a quick bite to prevent the pre-dinner buzz or eating only apps for an early dinner leaves the experience up to the guest. But don’t think for a second that those cheap ingredients are going to fly. Keep it fresh, small and fun. We have seen that offering items off the everyday menu at a discount is not as effective as having an ever-changing limited menu with options that allow most everyone to find something that will draw them in, even just for a quick snack and drink before meeting their colleagues for dinner. And keep it light and refreshing. The deep-fried options are great for game day, not every day. As far as beverage options; well, that is another whole article in and of itself.
Let’s start where most meals do; the greens. Quality produce to build your salad selections can be an eye-catcher on your menu. Lunch salads have outsold sandwiches almost 3 to 1 at my current property. And no, it’s not just thanks to the ladies who lunch; today’s male consumer is far more health conscious than 20 years ago. Having just recently crossed over onto “40 Island” myself, I am spending more time in the produce section than the cookie aisle these days.
Keeping local is important to the guest and is vital to your ability to keep the millennial guest inside your four walls. Keeping seasonal and local is far more important to your P&L. Find greens that are in season. Surplus of goods leads to lower costs. Grab the frisee year-round but save the escarole for your spring/summer menu. Artichokes and bitter melon are abundant for your autumn ideas. Pull the corn and the eggplant by Labor Day. Of course, the regions that can grow most salad accoutrements without the worry of seasonality should also be conscious of trends and quality even without the need to consider availability. Keeping in touch and in good relations with your local produce monger is vital to stay current with what’s hot, what’s abundant, and what’s cheap.
The Main Course
Seasonal vegetables may not take center stage for entrees, but there may not be a better strategy in balancing the expensive protein cost to make things affordable. Celery root puree, when in season, can be cheaper than even potatoes (and far more interesting). Cauliflower and Brussel’s sprouts are flying out of the walk-ins locally. Zucchini is basically grown as efficiently as dandelions; ever made them into tots? Amazing. Remember to keep it interesting!
When it comes to proteins, chefs will have nightmares about making affordable menus with quality cuts, especially with beef. Time to put the lipstick on the steer! Sourcing lesser-known cuts of meat and serving them at a value price might be just what is needed. Skirt steak is somewhat of a prized cut amongst chefs in terms of flavor, and highly under-utilized. Flat irons, flanks and shanks may not sound as sexy and prove to be a little tougher but still have the perception of value to not only young adults but budget-travelers, as well. Chicken is still very affordable, even when cage-free and local (and your mark-up can be GREAT!) Pork is gaining popularity with its lean cuts, but don’t turn your nose up to braising and shredding with Boston Butt or shank. They provide great flavor, lower menu price and still great food cost percentage.
The great part about engineering a menu for the mid-week millennial business traveler is that same menu can provide a lot of revenue for your weekend family stay-over, as well. Families with teens are considering the expense of traveling more than ever and giving those groups affordable but flavorful menu options that parents won’t shy away from (it rains on vacations, sometimes) and keeping those families in your outlet will show instant dividends.
Let’s not take the responsibility away from the front of house staff to be able to sell these sometimes “odd” ingredients to the guest. Following these procedures means nothing if your team can’t make the ingredients sound appealing to the guest that raises an eyebrow at the chicory salad. While the millennial guests will likely do a quick search of the lesser-known ingredient, its far more impactful to have a great recommendation from an actual speaking service industry professional. The always-important recommendation and assurance that they will LOVE what they ordered can never be expressed off a tablet screen.
This may be an unprecedented time in the industry where there is this much impact from a specific age group. Many food and beverage outlet managers and directors are already making time to engineer their menu using these strategies, especially the non-specific-themed restaurants. The establishments that do are reaping the benefits of retaining in-house guests on a budget while maintain their COGS at a level that keeps execs off our backs. But even the steakhouse that is broiling up the finest bone-in ribeye can find ways to attract the budget customer. (Albeit, a slightly larger budget). Make time! It will show in the end. We as department heads have an obligation to our properties to maximize our best available revenue asset; our guests. And a growing number of our guests is the Millennial professional. You simply cannot afford to ignore it.
By: Jeffrey Coyle, Director Food & Beverage, DoubleTree Denver Tech Center, Stonebridge Companies
Originally appeared on CBS in July, 2018
Originally appeared in Forbes in July, 2018
One of the most striking, most audacious design touches the boasts is a clock.
Not just any clock. A four-story LED clock at the very top of the 432-ft building—a welcome injection of dynamism and color to the skyline in the city’s Garment District, on 35th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues. At certain times—the appearance of the clock changes constantly—the clock takes the form of a peacock, its tail feathers on extravagant display.
To be perfectly honest, a great many of the guests, occupying the hotel’s 348 guest rooms, won’t even be aware of it. But, to onlookers, it provides an idea of the interplay of art, design and technological razzle-dazzle going on within the building itself, courtesy of the hospitality-design wizardry of .
From the earliest moments of the hotel experience, there’s plenty to gawk or marvel at. Guests entering the hotel will immediately find themselves in ’s interactive passage, with colorful displays—via a combination of reflective wallpaper, motion detectors, projectors and 3-D cameras—that react to your every movement.
Even on the initial ride up to the sixth-floor lobby, you can’t miss that the elevator cabs are adorned with life-size pictures of well-dressed, drink-holding revelers—as if you’re joining a party already in progress.
On the sixth floor itself, guests will discover… Frankly, there’s a lot to discover in the sprawling, light-filled space, starting with a material palette that perfectly combines the concrete grit of the neighborhood with the chic elegance of the fashion industry.
On either side of the front desk, ’s frenetic photographic collages of New York are projected onto concrete, while a rousing quote from Diane von Furstenberg, “Attitude is everything,” is rendered in push-pins on a wall, in a piece by .
Ruel and Woolery are among several artists commissioned by Beers, through art marketplace Indie Wails, to make original works for the building. A personal favorite, again perfectly fashion-centric: “The Devil Wears Nada,” by Brooklyn-based artist , constructed out of more than 50 stiletto heels.
The lobby bar is an exquisite white-grey block of Calacatta marble. Seated on one of the upholstered bar stools, a certain kind of mind won’t be able to help but notice, and be pleased by, the mathematically precise placement of whiskey bottles behind the bar. Beyond the floor-to-ceiling windows, the bar offers views of the fifth-floor terrace (more about which later), and you can nurse your drink lounging on any number of winged chairs, barrel chairs or cushion-adorned sofas throughout the Library Lounge. There are laptop-friendly communal tables, more quotes from the likes of fashion greats Coco Chanel and Oscar de la Renta, and a secret DJ booth that whirrs to life on weeknights.
Gosh, all this before you’ve even reached your room. Neutral colors and pale finishes abound in the uncluttered , with occasional splashes of purple in the bedding and upholstery. As with the lobby, floor-to-ceiling windows allow natural light to stream in, while the all-white Italian marble en-suite bathroom is separated from the sleeping area by a frosted-glass shower wall.
For the high-flyers, there are seven Executive Suites and one Empire Suite, the latter offering a sitting/living area, dining area, stainless-steel kitchen area and wine bar, library and balcony space, which—as a friend with superior eyesight noticed immediately—offers a downtown view of the Statue of Liberty in the distance, in between skyscrapers.
Also worth highlighting: the hotel’s on-site, fifth-floor restaurant, (formerly Rock & Reilly’s), has just undergone a thoughtful, classier reimagining. With the building’s proximity to Madison Square Garden, it’s an inevitable destination for the sports-minded and, sometimes, the sportspeople themselves. (WWE performers have been known to drop by.) There are still plenty of television screens to catch any number of games but, as of this summer, you’re far more likely to spot buttoned-up business types along with jersey-wearing superfans, in more sophisticated surrounds, including an expansive and inviting terrace. (Brunch fans note: the Smashed Avocado Toast, with a generous helping of baby greens, is a dish worth cheering for.)
By: Darryn King
Originally appeared in Mile High CRE in June, 2018
Hospitality Firm Stonebridge Companies Advance Leadership Team, Promotes Four Team Members
In its corporate office in Denver, Stonebridge Companies has promoted Chris Cheney (pictured above) to its vice president of hotel performance and analytics. In this role, he will be responsible for harnessing data to help Stonebridge’s teams grow both top- and bottom-line performance.
Previously, Cheney served as the vice president of revenue management. With more than 17 years of experience in the hospitality industry, Cheney joined Stonebridge Companies in 2007 as a general manager, growing through several leadership positions and joining the corporate team in 2011. Cheney is also a member of Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International (HSMAI)’s Americas Board of Directors.
Thomas Lloyd (pictured above) has been promoted to general manager of the Boulder Marriott. He previously served as the assistant general manager of Stonebridge’s Renaissance Denver Downtown City Center Hotel.
Lloyd graduated from Stonebridge Companies’ Aspiring Leaders program, an advanced training program supporting the development and advancement of team members. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business management from Colorado State University-Pueblo. Lloyd is also a member of the Downtown Denver Partnership’s Leadership Program.
Michael Marchese (pictured above) has been promoted to general manager of Hampton Inn by Hilton – Loveland. He previously served as assistant general manager of Hilton Garden Inn – Denver/Cherry Creek, advancing from his initial role as the property’s food and beverage director.
Bryce Walker (pictured above) has been promoted to general manager of Courtyard by Marriott – Denver/Cherry Creek. He previously served as an assistant general manager at two of Stonebridge’s Denver properties, including helping to open the Hampton Inn and Homewood Suites Downtown Denver Convention Center hotel – the first dual-branded Hilton hotel in Colorado.
Walker earned a Bachelor of Science in business management from Metropolitan State University of Denver.
Maximum comfort and convenience awaits at the Courtyard Denver Airport at Gateway Park. Request our complimentary shuttle service to and from Denver International Airport (DIA), located less than 12 miles away from our hotel. Rest comfortably in our stylish guest rooms and suites featuring luxurious bedding and flat-panel TVs, then get to work with well-lit desks, ergonomic chairs and complimentary Wi-Fi. During your stay, refuel at The Bistro – Eat. Drink. Connect. Enjoy breakfast and dinner, as well as specialty Starbucks beverages and custom evening cocktails. Our 24-hour Market also offers snacks and beverages for anytime cravings.
Courtyard by Marriott Denver Airport at Gateway Park
4343 Airport Way
Denver, CO 80239
Hotel Phone: 303-574-1212
Hotel Fax: 303-574-1213
Originally appeared in Hotel News Resource in June, 2018
Courtyard by Marriott Denver Airport at Gateway Park is scheduled to open its doors on Tuesday, June 19, 2018. Featuring an innovative lobby space as well as Courtyard’s latest contemporary room design, the new hotel provides flexibility and choices that allow guests to optimize and elevate their travel experience.
Located at 4343 Airport Way, the 192-room hotel will operate as a Marriott franchise, owned and managed by Stonebridge Companies of Denver, Colorado. Whether traveling for business or pleasure, the Courtyard Denver Airport at Gateway Park offers guests convenient access to Denver International Airport and downtown Denver. Rates begin at $159 per night.
Courtyard constantly researches trends, evolving to meet the changing needs of its guests. The latest room design offers hybrid zones for working, sleeping, relaxing and getting ready for a meeting or a social event. Indirect lighting and a neutral, tone-on-tone color palette makes for a soothing and calm environment.
“From day one, Courtyard has prided itself as a brand that listens to business travelers,” said Callette Nielsen, vice president and global brand manager, Courtyard. “Today’s technology has changed how people travel. Our guests want a room that has purpose and flexibility that enables a seamless transition between relaxing and working. Courtyard is designed to offer them a relaxing and functional space to work the way they want to, when they want to.”
“We are pleased to own and manage Courtyard by Marriott Denver Airport at Gateway Park,” said Navin C. Dimond, founder, president and CEO of Stonebridge Companies. “We have a strong relationship with Marriott and our Denver community, so we know that this hotel will stay true to our Distinguished Hospitality™ brand as we continue to provide modern comfort and convenience to our guests.”
The new room layout is intuitive and thoughtful, offering flexible yet comfortable spaces that enable technology. Upon arrival, guests can store bags on the “Luggage Drop” and plug personal devices into the “Tech Drop” ledge for seamless technology integration.
Signature furniture and architectural elements replace traditional art in the new guestroom. The “LoungeAround” sofa offers a pop of color and a comfortable area for relaxing or for working. The new design also features a light desk on wheels, allowing guests to work from anywhere in the room.
Courtyard Denver Airport at Gateway Park features the brand’s latest lobby design, where guests can enjoy an open and modern environment outside of their rooms. The newly designed Bistro is the epicenter of the lobby, which fosters social connections and collaboration with more flexible and informal seating options. The Bistro offers guests a wide variety of “made to order” breakfast and dinner items, “grab and go” options, and also features an array of cocktails, beer and wine for guests to unwind at the end of the day.
Throughout the hotel, guests can connect with ample electrical outlets. The business library features several computer terminals, along with a printer and separate computer stations dedicated solely to printing airline boarding passes and checking flight status.
Green has been Courtyard’s signature color since Marriott launched the brand 30 years ago. Now it is even greener with the introduction of a guest recycling program for the environment. Receptacles for paper, glass, plastic and metal are conveniently located by side exits.
The six-story hotel features a fitness center and guest laundry, and offers 1,500 square feet of meeting space to accommodate functions of up to 50 people.
Originally appeared in Money Inc. in June, 2018
4. Residence Inn by Marriott New York Manhattan/Midtown East
Midtown is one of our favorite locations to stay whenever we’re in the city. The area is right at the center of everything the city has to offer, and this hotel is right at the heart of it all. At this location, you’ll be close to several tourist destinations and the best spots to eat in the area. You’ll be blocks away from the Rockefeller Center, which we suggest you visit during the Holiday season for the most amazing experience.
By: Nat Berman
Originally appeared in Hotel Business in June, 2018
When done right, technology can be a great way for owners, operators and brands to make their guests’ stays the best they can be. But there are many pitfalls that can keep that technology from being flawless, frictionless and seamless.
Held at RLH Corporation headquarters, the Hotel Business Executive Roundtable “Tech Legacy: How new innovations are shaping modern brands” allowed 12 industry executives to share their varying opinions on the topic. The roundtable was hosted and sponsored by RLH Corp. with supporting sponsorship by Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. Real Estate and Hospitality Services.
Nicole Carlino, Hotel Business’ managing editor and moderator of the roundtable, opened the session by posing the question, “What role does technology play in what an owner wants to see in a brand they are going to invest in?”
“Today, hotels are not just focused on design, they are focused on the program, and that has become an important differentiator in the industry, so the technology has to support that,” said Paul Sacco, chief development officer of upscale brands with RLH. “It is not just about the room, it is about a terrific common-space experience, and that common space has to allow guests, who are increasingly accustomed to using newer technologies, to enjoy the space, whether it is mobile check-in or, like in our Hotel RLs, an iPad check-in. The new hotel program has to be conducive to those technologies.”
Steve Van, president/CEO of Prism Hotels & Resorts, said that most operators, owners and developers are looking for a competitive advantage. “Most technological breakthroughs end up being a defensive policy. You just have them because everyone else does,” he said. “What is interesting is using technology differently to get guests in hotels. That would be a competitive advantage that is harder to reproduce than just, ‘We’re gonna have iPhone check-in, too.’ Once something happens in the business, everybody has got it and they go by the wayside. What you are really looking for is not even a breakthrough technology, but something that is used in a different way.”
Finding that technological breakthrough is getting harder and harder as technology is making leaps and bounds, especially at guests’ homes. “Basically, it used to be that when you stayed at hotels, you saw new things in technology and you wanted to bring them home,” said Walter Barela, principal with Peak Hospitality LLC. “Now, I think it has gotten to the point where we have so much technology in our homes, we tend to expect and want it in a hotel.”
Most participants agreed that most importantly—just like at home—guests want seamless connectivity. “Our research shows that there are four key components with the guest,” said Joseph Bojanowski, president of PM Hotel Group. “The first is that they be connected to their family and their home when they arrive at the hotel. We need a really good phone signal. I want to call my family. I want to let them know that I am there and I want a really good connection on the internet. Second, I want to be connected to work if I am there for business, so give me an easy way to get on, and don’t make it difficult for me to figure out how… The third is connected to the hotel—I want to know what is going on there. I want to be able to see some menus, I want the hours of operation of the fitness center or pool. The fourth is around the trend of everyone wanting to have an experiential component; let me know what is going on somehow so I can make some decisions. It is our responsibility to figure out how to deliver that to them in a seamless, uncomplicated way.”
Blake Hart, e-commerce manager with Kokua Hospitality, agreed that seamless connectivity is extremely important. “We have seen at many of our hotels where guests just want seamless connectivity,” he said. “They can sign in simply and not have to download an app that makes them feel like they are providing their personal information to the hotel.”
It is important that the connectivity can meet every guests’ needs, no matter the generation.
“You have to have a technology that is easy enough to use for grandma and grandpa, plus flexible enough for my kids and everyone in between,” said Brian Fry, president of Commonwealth Hotels LLC. “One thing where we get ourselves into trouble with brands sometimes is that the desire is to funnel all of the guests through one platform, through one program for the brand’s purposes, rather than accept the fact that the guests want to interact with technology on their own terms. Finding a way to do that better is a real opportunity.”
As the only broker on the panel, Mike Cahill, CEO/founder of HREC, had a question of his own for the rest of the panel. “Technology—is that considered primarily the responsibility of the brand versus the operator? What does the operator do to advance technology, or is everyone just relying on the brand, and the operator follows the brand?”
There was no simple answer to the question. “We try to be proactive about it as an operator, but that is a terrible challenge when you have cross-branded properties, because you’ll put into play some technology that works,” said Fry. “We had some texting programs that were quite early on and were working very well. Then the brands jumped on and decided they wanted a certain platform and before you know it, you have to reinvest in a different platform; now I have three different platforms that I have to use for three different brand families when they are all trying to have a strategic advantage over the other ones, so you can’t use a common platform across. It is really challenging. We are very discouraged to take those kinds of investments because we feel like whatever we are going to invest in is at the mercy of brand decisions that we don’t have a lot of control over.”
When it comes to infrastructure, John Edwards, SVP/chief information officer with RLH Corp., thinks that newer brands have advantages over the legacy brands because they don’t have the same requirements for operators. “Here is a scenario: Some of the more established brands, you talk about mobile check-in and you talk about infrastructure—when you look at door-lock manufacturers as an example, there is one solution for mobile check-in within certain brands. One of the things that we have really focused on is how do we adapt to the hardware that is at the hotels to allow it to work for mobile check-in? So we have two mobile vendors for door locks, and we are working on a third. What it does is it lets the newer brands start to move within the operators’ space a little faster because when you look at some of the newer brands, they don’t say you have to have this TV and this door lock manufacturer and this WiFi solution. Instead, some of the newer up-and-coming brands are saying, ‘Look, here are our standards, and as long as you meet those standards and play within our rules, you can go crazy with one direction for technology, and a different operator can go crazy with another one—as long as there is an overall guest experience that is branded and consistent.’”
Sacco brought up the fact that it is important for operators to plan for the future of technology. “Being out ahead of technology is hard,” he said. “Think of something as simple as the alarm clocks that are still set up for the original Apple connectivity, but they are still in so many of these hotels. How many pieces of fitness equipment, whether it is in a hotel or a gym, have that? The fitness equipment has a 10-year life, but the adapter has a two-year life.”
“I think a lot has to do with the fact that so much of it is reactionary,” said Phillip Hutchins, principal of Rockies Lodging Capital LLC. “All of a sudden it is ‘Well, we’ve got to get that plug on that clock or that treadmill.’ But nobody thinks, ‘Why don’t we make something that is more adaptable? What happens if that plug changes in five years? Then we should just put the USB port in.’ From my perspective, that is the biggest thing.”
Carlino then asked how hoteliers are able to mitigate the potential challenges of investing in something, and then in three years it becomes obsolete.
“At least for the infrastructure, I don’t know that we can avoid it because the number of devices is rising exponentially, the bandwidth requirements are going up as exponentially, the cost is going down, but that doesn’t help because you are replacing things that you thought had a useful life of five years and it turned out to be three years,” said Fry, noting that hoteliers need to adjust their perspective. “For us, we are recognizing it as an investment—you have to reserve for it and keep it in your strategy when you are investing that that is the cost, and you are just going to have to recognize it is there.”
Bojanowski added, “It is either an operating cost or a capital investment, and if you are not planning for it, shame on you, because it is a known cost and if anyone thinks technology is not changing, and it is not going to be a cost of the owner and operator, then they have probably made a mistake,” he said.
Preparing for future technology also means preparing for a new type of guest. “I think when you start looking outside, you have to start looking worldwide, especially with the growth of the Chinese tourist,” said Michael Blake, CEO of Hospitality Technology Next Generation (HTNG). “What are they using? That is going to be more prevalent as we start seeing them in a lot of hotels. It is not just seeing what we are all comfortable with, it is going to be what the world is comfortable with.”
Some of the panelists discussed the types of technologies that might work well in the guestroom.
“I think what would be helpful in the room would be Alexa or Google Assistant because I don’t have to turn my light on to look at the phone to see push talk for the front desk to ask for a late checkout,” said Barela. “I can just say ‘Alexa, call the front desk for a late checkout.’”
Others brought up the privacy concerns with using that type of technology. “We just have to get the consumer technology to an enterprise class, to where it is not always listening,” said Edwards. “I think what is a great example is the Google Home that is embedded in the LG TVs now. Some of the new TV solutions in the hotels allow for consumer-grade TVs. We have had to have educational sessions with some of our owners and operators and say, ‘This TV is always listening.’ Depending on the wiretapping laws where your hotel is, all of a sudden, you are at a major risk.”
The television may become the focal point of connectivity for guests in the next 10 years. “So whether that is ordering food or requesting something to your room or even connecting to find out what is happening in the neighborhood, I think that becomes a connection point for everything when you start moving into areas like convergence, whether it be check-in, checkout, whatever it is you want to view, a maintenance order, Grubhub. Now maybe I have that account right on my TV, and you can just order it right from your room,” said Bojanowski.
With all of these technological advances, there is a concern that there may be a loss of guest touchpoints and human interaction. “When there is overreach with technological advancement, it becomes gimmicky or gadgetry just for the sake of trying to differentiate,” said Chris Cheney, VP of hotel performance and analytics with Stonebridge Companies. “I think the root cause of that is the entire guest experience is becoming digital—the booking process, the check-in process without a front desk, getting into the room, checking out without seeing a person. I think brands and operators at large are concerned that we are losing guest touchpoints, human interaction and a place to differentiate with our service.
“There is still so much waiting in the industry on service for us,” he continued. “Are we connecting with guests? Are we delivering what they want? Are we delivering it better than our peers do? So as you are losing human interaction guest touchpoints, brands are trying to desperately replace that with technology touchpoints, and the technology is just not there to really differentiate if you don’t execute it perfectly.”
Too much technology can also be a bad thing. “I think there is a tendency on a large scale to overreach with things like the curtains and lighting on an iPad control,” said Cheney. “Not everyone wants that or needs it; they are just trying to create something to differentiate, but pretty soon, everybody does it, so you are not differentiating any more.”
Barela agreed. “You don’t want intrusive technology,” he said. “I appreciate a text telling me my reservation, check-in time and address of the hotel because it makes it really easy to just click on the address and get directions. What I hate is after I stay at the hotel, the constant texts where you have to block the number. The other thing is, don’t make me download an app for everything. Every time you go to a conference, you have to download their app so you can get around the conference. My phone is full of apps, so when a hotel wants me to download an app, it is an inconvenience.”
When technology doesn’t work flawlessly, it can be worse than not offering the technology at all. “Technology needs to serve a purpose and if it doesn’t serve a purpose, then it is apparently intended for a point of differentiation,” said Bill Linehan, EVP/chief marketing officer with RLH. “If that point of differentiation is not flawless, then it is not working and it is creating more friction. When it serves a purpose, such as keyless entry, it should also not only serve a purpose, but create efficiencies, so that there are savings in other areas… It is about creating options, and when it is creating gimmicks, I think it is incredibly risky because gimmicks are costly, and if they don’t work, then it is even more costly because now, all of a sudden, you’ve got consumers complaining about it.”
Beyond guest-facing technology, back-of-the-house innovations were also discussed, especially related to the labor shortage. “I don’t think that anyone here has enough associates today, particularly in the housekeeping department, and I don’t know any of our housekeepers today who are working that hard to put their children through school so that they can become housekeepers,” said Bojanowski. “Immigration levels are down significantly. I don’t think we are going to have a choice but to move to automation in housekeeping, because there just aren’t going to be enough. So whatever functions can be automated—maybe the housekeeper is just a bedmaker and you put the robot in the bathroom to clean it and vacuum [the room]. And maybe we can pay more, and it is a much better job. But I don’t think we are going to have enough employees to run housekeeping in our hotels five years from now, and certainly not 10 years from now.”
And, of course, with technology, it all comes down to data. Edwards noted, “From the back-of-house technology side of things, the newer brands and even the legacy brands have got to adopt a more open architecture for connectivity. For a long time, the brand maintained and controlled system data. I think a lot of the core enterprise solutions are forcing some of the brands to change that. The newer brands that adopt this open architecture or standards-based solutions right from HTNG or HFTP, that allow the owner and operator to be more efficient by saying, ‘Here is the data you need to be able to run your hotel’—that’s huge.”
Fry noted that there are still many brands that do the exact opposite. “They intercede between the owner and the operator and their data to the point where they went on your URLs and you can’t control your message to your guests,” he said. “It feels like a solution based on liability concern, rather than on innovation and embracing the guests.”
“It is a joint issue,” Edwards added. “The legacy concept that the brand owns the data and the brand owns the risk and the brand maintains all of that, while it is valid to some extent, the reality now is that the owner and operator owns just as much of that data and just as much of that risk to some extent.”
By: Greg Wallis