Originally appeared in RED MSU Denver in July, 2019
Bryson Cayaban brings the Hawaiian tradition of treating guests like family to his career in hospitality.
Growing up on the island of Kaua’i, Bryson Cayaban received an early introduction to the Hawaiian tradition of treating others like ‘Ohana’ – family.
“My family is deeply involved in the hospitality and food-service industries on Kaua’i – from engineering to housekeeping,” he said. “Both of my grandfathers also worked on sugar plantations for most of their lives.”
In addition to a family history of hospitality, Cayaban’s grandparents were determined to give their children and grandchildren access to higher education. “My grandfather called education ‘the golden key’ – the key to success,” he said. “It is important for me to continue my family’s legacy of education and honor their sacrifices.”
After graduating from high school in 2013, Cayaban searched for a city on the mainland where he could attend college and build a life. Denver’s diverse population, active city life and weather proved a perfect fit for the Hawaii native. Originally a political-science major at the University of Colorado Denver, Cayaban got involved in student government, which gave him the chance to plan events around campus.
“My interest in hospitality was becoming an undeniable passion,” he said. “I even started working in guest services at a private country club when I returned home on break.”
During a trip home for Thanksgiving break in 2015, Cayaban spent time considering the possibility of turning his passion into a career. After returning to Denver and meeting with Chad Gruhl, Ph.D., professor of hotel management with the School of Hospitality, Events and Tourism (HEaT), he chose to transfer to the Metropolitan State University of Denver hotel-management program the following spring.
“The School of HEaT faculty hooked me on MSU Denver,” he said. “They have years of real-world experience to share, and they want you to succeed.”
Two years later, talking to a classmate about their experience as a Dimond Fellow alerted Cayaban to an unexpected opportunity. He had enough credits to graduate in December 2018, and his family was flying from Kaua’i to join him, but he was tempted to apply for the Rita and Navin Dimond Fellows Program.
In 2014, a generous gift made by Rita and Navin Dimond – founders of Stonebridge Companies, a Denver-based, privately owned, innovative hotel owner, operator and developer – established the Rita and Navin Dimond Fellows Program. The program allows recipients to gain hands-on experience at select Stonebridge Companies properties across Denver. The Dimond Fellows Program accepts students twice a year, selecting among applicants who have completed a minimum of 60 credits toward any School of HEaT degree program.
With a fast-approaching deadline, Cayaban quickly completed the application. “I was not confident I’d be selected,” he said, “but a voice in the back of my mind told me to apply.”
While waiting to learn his fellowship fate, Cayaban continued his daily routine of attending classes, followed by walking to his job in guest services at the Four Seasons Hotel Denver. Right before graduation he was invited to become a Dimond Fellow. Acceptance meant taking one more class and staying at MSU Denver for an additional semester.
“It was a personal decision to extend my academic program,” he said. “I felt like I wasn’t done.”
As planned, Cayaban’s family joined him in December to watch him achieve his dream of earning his degree – five years after dropping him off at a dorm room over 3,000 miles from home.
“I was proud to bring my family to MSU Denver,” he said. “They were in awe of Commencement and President (Janine) Davidson’s speech, and amazed by my fellowship site and the HLC facilities.”
That spring, Cayaban began his fellowship at Stonebridge Companies’ Renaissance Hotel – Denver Downtown City Center, housed in Denver’s historic Colorado National Bank building. Stonebridge Companies purchased the space, which had been slated for demolition, in 2011 and renovated it in a way that honors the history and architecture of the original building – keeping murals from 1925 in the lobby and bank vaults in meeting spaces.
“Every Stonebridge Companies property is unique,” Cayaban said. “The Dimonds do an amazing job of honoring the past while building the future.”
The fellowship taught Cayaban how to run a successful hotel. He built relationships with hotel staff and came to understand the ins and outs of the hotel’s major departments – including engineering, housekeeping, guest services, marketing, operations and more.
“It is a privilege to provide guests with a sense of home while they are away,” he said. “In Hawaii, we refer to that as ‘ohana.’ Ohana means family.”
With his fellowship complete, Cayaban continues to work at the Four Seasons, with plans to attend graduate school. He is proud to have been able to connect his family’s commitment to education with the missions of MSU Denver and Stonebridge Companies.
“When I got to Denver, I was all alone – I am grateful for the warm welcome I received,” he said. “The cherry on top was my Stonebridge experience. I will always be an ambassador for my MSU Denver and Stonebridge families.”
By: Lynne Winter
Originally appeared in Hotel News Now in July, 2019
By: Danielle Hess
Executives at the recent HSMAI Chief Revenue Officer Executive Roundtable in Minneapolis discussed how they’re thinking about rates at a late point in the hotel industry cycle and the possibility of a profit recession. They also talk on video about the transition from revenue management to revenue strategy.
As the hotel industry cycle continues to show signs of age, raising rates has been more of a challenge for hoteliers, but revenue experts said they’re not ready to throw in the towel just yet.
During an HSMAI Chief Revenue Officer Executive Roundtable in Minneapolis, Raul Moronta, SVP of revenue strategy at Crescent Hotels & Resorts, said the industry is close to a “profit recession.”
“We’re probably about a month away from having a profit recession, meaning there’s a number of hotels that would actually have two consecutive quarters of negative growth on the GOP line,” he said. “So when you’re sitting at a 2% growth in the revenue mark, no average rate growth and every other expense is growing faster, you’re going to have a hard time making your profit grow on a year-over-year basis.”
To overcome rate struggles, hoteliers should focus on total profitability and find ways to grow ancillary revenue, said Priya Chandnani, VP of revenue management at Benchmark.
“We still have a hotel and we still have a space that we can (use) to generate revenue,” she said. “Now (we can) push our boundaries and say, ‘How do we leverage function space? How do we leverage food and beverage? How do we invest in spa?’ to be able to bring up that ancillary revenue that we would have otherwise liked to get from robust rates.”
Planning for a downturn
The Great Recession took many by surprise, but revenue experts said their teams are more prepared for a downturn this time around.
“We are a lot smarter than we were 11 years ago when things went south,” said Kerry Mack, EVP of revenue and distribution at Highgate Hotels. “There are a lot more revenue executives and professionals and staff and analysts, so I think we’re in a better foundation to deal with that and to not panic.”
Chandnani added that her company has its “fences in place” to get through a recession.
“We know that we’re not going to drive demand through some of the high-cost distribution channels,” she said. “We put fences in place to be able to drive demand through some of those low-cost channels, and we’re starting to think about that already and we’re implementing strategies now, which will help us in the future, so I think we’re definitely better prepared at this point.”
While many revenue managers experienced the last recession and know what they would do differently the next time around, Chris Cheney, VP of hotel performance and analytics at Stonebridge Companies, said he’s not sure how revenue technology will react.
“We don’t know what the AI is going to do differently … and a major concern I have is what’s going to happen with pricing strategy when a system is geared toward driving every dollar of (revenue per available room) it can realizes the fastest way to get RevPAR is to sell another room, even if it’s at a garbage rate,” he said. “That’s not the approach we would take, but currently, that’s the approach the system would take. I don’t know how fast they can get it to evolve before it starts spiraling out of control.”
Originally appeared in Hotel News Now in June, 2019
A laundry list of issues have combined to erode hoteliers’ abilities to increase rates even while the industry fundamentals have remained strong.
By many measures, the current U.S. hotel cycle has been a great one, in part because of its exceptional length and durability.
But if there’s one area where the current cycle has fallen short, it’s been hoteliers’ continued inability to increase rates even as they’ve enjoyed record high occupancies, sources said.
The rate issue has been the subject of serious study, said Carter Wilson, SVP of consulting and analytics for Hotel News Now’s parent company STR.
“There has been some pretty comprehensive analysis of why we’ve seen record-high occupancies and rate has effectively stayed at zero when you take away inflation,” he said. “That’s in stark contrast to the late ’90s when there might have been high occupancies, but it wasn’t as high as it is now.”
So what was the broad takeaway for that analysis?
“There’s no silver bullet to what the problem is,” Wilson said. “It’s a combination of many different things.”
And there is no one type of hotel or segment in the industry that has been immune to the phenomenon, he noted.
A crisis of confidence
To raise rates, hoteliers have to believe they have the power to do so. For most of the current cycle, that belief has been in short supply, sources said.
Wilson noted the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009 took a mental and emotional toll on hoteliers.
“People were still freaked out by 2009 and more hesitant to push rate,” he said.
Helga Buszta, VP of revenue management for Filament Hospitality, said at least part of the issue is a generally young and inexperienced workforce that didn’t recognize exactly how much pricing power it should have had.
“Revenue management is not in its infancy, but we’re cycling through so many individuals who have been minimally exposed to past events,” she said. “Some lack that confidence.”
While lack of confidence or inexperience wouldn’t be universal, one hotel’s ability to drive rate is dependent on whether its competitors are also driving rate.
Buszta noted this underscores the importance of industrywide education.
However, the problem isn’t simply that the industry isn’t sophisticated enough with revenue management, Wilson said.
“You can easily find many instances of effective revenue and yield management all the time, especially around special events and markets with high compression nights,” he said.
Sources agreed that many instances during this cycle highlighted the fact hoteliers have prioritized driving occupancy over rate.
“There are many theories on why operators are incentivized to sell out properties at the expense of cutting rates,” Wilson said.
Chris Cheney, VP of hotel performance and analytics for Stonebridge Companies, said one of the drivers of this has been the structure of loyalty program reimbursements for properties, which often made big jumps if hotels could achieve certain occupancy thresholds.
“So that put you in a position where you had to focus on that occupancy to get that reimbursement rate,” he said.
He noted hoteliers are often able to rebound more easily when missing on rate targets than with occupancy.
Both Cheney and Buszta noted many of the automated revenue-management systems being deployed by brands or third parties have the impact of de-emphasizing rate as they’re more driven by revenue per available room.
“Those tools, depending on how much we can influence them and rely on them to be in autopilot, also have the potential to hurt us,” Buszta said.
Cheney noted they are “entirely RevPAR-focused,” which often can be out of line with what owners really want.
“They’re not (ADR-), GOP- or NOI-focused,” he said. “If the system can find more RevPAR by selling to groups you wouldn’t normally, that’s exactly what it’ll do.”
Wilson noted some hoteliers seem to have de-emphasized rate, believing higher occupancies can more than make up for a lack of rate growth in some circumstances due to increases in things like food and beverage revenue.
Like so many other issues in the hotel industry, the lack of rate growth can be somewhat attributed to supply growth, at least in some areas. That’s becoming an increasing issue as the cycle ages, Cheney said.
“We’re seeing supply growth match demand growth, which puts a damper on pricing power a bit,” he said.
This has been largely an individual market issue, sources said, but Cheney noted some markets have been hit by the opening of especially large properties that can considerably shift dynamics within a market or submarket.
“Some markets have seen large chunks of supply come online with big boxes opening, and that has a ripple effect on group composition and rates,” he said. “Some hotels (sacrifice rate) to try to gobble up as much business as they can get before those big boxes get there. And after they open, there’s much more competition for large groups.”
Distribution and transparency
One of the clearest differences between the current cycle and previous ones is the prevalence and dominance of online third parties in the booking process, particularly the online travel agencies.
Wilson said this leads to an overall more complicated landscape for hoteliers managing rates.
“There are so many more channels now in general that property managers have to understand the right balance of,” he said. “If you’re trying to think about all the potential combinations that can drive rate the most, that’s a lot to learn and understand.”
Buszta said one of the problems is the OTAs—while great at assisting in customer acquisition—are often built around the idea of luring in travelers with promises of deals and discounts, and that’s only become more popular with the rise of sites with last-minute bookings and flash sales.
“That’s what drives that audience now; they’re going out there to search for a deal,” she said. “In my opinion, many of the OTAS have changed guests’ mentality.”
Buszta noted it’s driven many travelers to be less brand loyal, which presents opportunities for hotel companies with wholly independent portfolios.
Cheney said the effects of rate transparency “can’t be ignored.”
“I fully support what the brands are doing to make sure guests have awareness and see the value in booking the most direct channels,” he said.
The rise of alternatives
Cheney noted the rise of alternative-accommodations platforms such as Airbnb can’t be ignored when piecing together the puzzle of tepid rate growth.
“You don’t want to overemphasize alternative lodging, but if you go back three or four years, you see a lot of studies saying things like Airbnb are not having an impact on the hotel sector,” he said. “And I think today, broadly speaking, there’s more of a recognition that there’s an impact.”
Quantifying that impact can still be difficult, but he noted at his company it’s clear it has a corrosive effect on rates around events with a massive spike in leisure demand, pointing specifically at New Year’s Eve in New York City, spring break in Florida and South by Southwest in Austin, Texas.
“At South by Southwest specifically, prior to the rise of that alternative supply, hotels had immense pricing power because there was more demand than the market could accommodate,” he said. “That really let you drive price, but now there’s a demand release valve since it lets you ratchet up supply. That’s really reduced pricing power in key markets.”
What’s the solution?
Hoteliers hoping to hear there is a simple fix to all of these problems are set up for disappointment, sources said.
Buszta said one of the most important things hoteliers have to do is educate themselves and communicate across the industry.
“It’s about communicating (across the industry) in general so we all know what’s plaguing and benefiting us,” she said. “Industry and (chamber of commerce) events are great for bringing in information and expanding your information base.”
Cheney said one of the more positive recent changes from at least some of the major brands is a de-emphasis of occupancy tiers in their loyalty redemption formulas.
“There’s less of a push now to get over that ledge,” he said.
The current environment also underscores the need to establish base business, such as groups, early in the process, Buszta said.
“You should do whatever you can to build that base further out,” she said.
But that doesn’t have to only mean groups. Buszta noted she’s a big fan of using advanced purchase rates to layer in base business.
“There some argument about whether advance purchase should be considered discounting, but I really don’t think it is,” she said.
By: Sean McCracken
Originally appeared in Hotel News Now in June, 2019
Getting the highest possible rates from various booking channels still requires some human interaction, as well as continuing to educate a hotel’s revenue-management team and its front office, sources said.
What’s your strategy for getting the highest possible rates?
Chris Cheney, VP of hotel performance and analytics, Stonebridge Companies:
“Really focus on the booking window and the pricing power you have within each booking window. Thirty days out, you don’t have the same price elasticity as three days out. There are very different purchasing behaviors and different strategies deployed. Often consumer behavior is ignored when making pricing decisions and instead (revenue managers) look at how other hotels are priced.”
Eric Gravelle, VP of revenue management, North America, Diamond Resorts:
“Working with the various OTAs is a partnership. We have found the best way to maximize revenue potential is by building an individual relationship with the market managers. With this in place, it is easier to be remembered and included in targeted promotions and initiatives. This will then help increase your placement and exposure. My team knows that OTA does not mean cheap.”
Tina Meredith, VP of portfolio revenue strategies, PM Hotel Group:
“It is crucial for our front-office teams to be part of the revenue-management process when it comes to property-direct bookings. In today’s world, even though most hotels do not have on-site reservation departments … education for the front-desk team about upgraded room types, different package offerings and how to resist price-fading all play an important role in ensuring we consistently achieve the highest possible rates. How our hotels set their rate strategies, whether it be for day of or advance bookings, will always be based on demand in the market, among other factors. However, converting those property-direct calls to actual reservations at quality rates is directly linked to ongoing education and communication with our associates.”
Meredith: “Group rate strategy needs to encompass several key factors to support achieving the highest possible rates. Our sales and revenue-management leaders use a multi-prolonged approach to accomplish this. It starts with being knowledgeable about the compression and demand periods in the market, which allows us to set retail, and therefore, group strategies appropriately. … Our hotels are also focused on selling retail and group rates by room type. This allows for higher group rates on the most demand room types. Additionally, minimal accepted group rates are adjusted on a regular basis in the sales system, adjusted for changes in group pace and evolving market conditions.”
Helga Buszta, VP of revenue management, Filament Hospitality:
“Wholesale is very relationship-heavy. It’s very much old-school sales. For me, a lot of this comes down to knowledge. Speak to your partners to get to know their customers and stay on top of how their customers mix and (how) feeder markets are changing.”
Monte Gardiner, managing director, revenue management services, Best Western Hotels & Resorts:
“A strong brand ambassador who can guide the transaction is key. Consumers are more likely to buy and spend more when dealing with an individual who is considerate, empathetic and personable—making the human connection and customer relationship a critical element. Beyond that, the representative must be able to present our product in the best possible light. It is essential that they are well-versed on the value proposition of each brand, individual properties and key amenities. The most important asset in driving the highest possible rates from voice channel bookings is a well-informed brand ambassador who can connect with the customer.”
Originally appeared in Denver Business Journal in May, 2019
In Denver’s quickly growing hotel market, where some 7,000 new rooms have opened over the past two-and-a-half years, it’s no longer good enough to just offer a quality lodging facility to attract and retain guests.
As three prominent hotels in and around downtown Denver — each of whom has gained national attention — reach milestone anniversaries this year, their operators each have stories to tell about how they have swerved, adapted and put forth their unique properties to get there. And their leaders all sat down with the Denver Business Journal over the past three weeks to offer some insight into their success.
Hotel Teatro — 20 years
In a city now teeming with boutique hotels, Hotel Teatro was the original — the former Denver Tramway Co. headquarters turned into an independently owned 110-room facility that quickly grew into a lodging spot for celebrities playing concerts or getting their time on stage in the Denver Center for the Performing Arts that sits across the street. At the white-tablecloth restaurant, Chef Kevin Taylor served up high-end meals, and locals and out-of-towners alike were drawn to this unbranded experience in the heart of a booming city.
But as independent boutiques became closer to the norm than an outlier in the Denver market over the past five years especially — think The Crawford, The Maven, Halcyon – A Hotel at Cherry Creek — leaders at the Teatro knew they couldn’t rest on their original laurels or unique situation. Taylor closed his eponymous restaurant five years ago and the Teatro brought its food service in-house, opening The Nickel, a high-end restaurant known for experimental seasonal dishes and barrel-aged spirits. In early 2018, San Francisco-based owners Dinapoli Capital Partners funded a $2.5 million renovation that added amenities like 50-inch TVs in the largest makeover in hotel history.
Still, the Teatro has no loyalty-rewards program affiliation, and its event space is much smaller than many other downtown hotels, leaving it at a disadvantage for attracting group events. It doesn’t have the marketing budget of competitors and, at 85 employees, is one of the smaller-staffed hotels in the Denver area.
General manager David Coonan, who took over day-to-day operations four years ago, has used the small size and the lack of corporate oversight policies to stay nimble and to experiment with draws that many name brands couldn’t turn around so quickly. For example, when his food-and-beverage staff began seeing the rising popularity of CBD, a non-intoxicating compound extracted from cannabis, it quickly developed two alcoholic-drink recipes using CBD for The Nickel and saw them become wildly popular as the first such drinks available in the downtown bar scene.
“There was no chance we could have done that” if owned by a publicly traded company, said Coonan, who spent 22 years with Hyatt Hotels Corp. (NYSE: H) before coming to the Teatro. “If there’s a trend in the market, we can get out ahead of it. … We have that freedom to operate here completely independently.”
And while the sales team continues to pitch the historic nature of the hotel when they attend national conferences — it’s on the National Register of Historic Places — they also seek out targeted smaller group business, selling organizations on the individual attention offered by the staff. Education and legal groups continue to frequent the space, and at a time when occupancy is on the decline at most downtown hotels because of the increase in rooms available, the occupancy percentage at the Teatro is actually on pace for growth this year.
“We have to work hard at it every day,” Coonan said. “But just being a really engaged hotel is what gives us our advantage.”
Renaissance Denver Downtown City Center Hotel — 5 years
While Stonebridge Companies’ plan to open a Renaissance hotel downtown in 2014 wasn’t even unique to Denver, its decision to convert the 98-year-old Colorado National Bank building into travel lodging drew all sorts of gawking attention. For several years, general manager Michael Damion said, the unique structure — lined with the historic work of muralist Allen Tupper True depicting Native American life at the turn of the 20th century — generated traffic almost by itself, whether from guests seeking a true Denver experience or tourists wanting to stop inside for a drink and meal.
But even as the hotel’s revenue, profits and market share has grown every year of its existence — its revenue per available room (RevPAR) has been escalating at a steady pace of 2 to 2.5% and projects to continue doing so for the next few years — the leadership team knew they had to do something to keep the experience fresh. So, in addition to diving into some renovations before the usual seven-year window hit (they just added 55-inch TVs to all 230 guest rooms this month, Damion noted), they sought ways to accentuate far more than the overnight-stay experience.
Michael Gayle — the hotel’s “lead navigator” or concierge — offers guided tours of the property, both for drop-in visitors and as part of deals that guests can purchase along with drink and food packages. The extensive lobby that features the murals now hosts weekly entertainment, a monthly artist series and a monthly “Learning Chef” event where cooks from the hotel’s restaurant, Range, demonstrate their modern-western techniques.
And, as such, the Renaissance becomes more than just a hotel, offering non-monetary incentives for leisure travelers to choose it over nearby unique lifestyle hotels or to book it for a business trip.
To spread the word about such amenities, Damion has hired on a public-relations firm that provides the hotel an active presence on social media. And it’s developed relationships with local businesses and even the Denver Center for the Performing Arts to bring in the lunch and dinner crowds — Range has no problem pulling in 100 to 120 covers for a mid-week lunch — and emphasize its service aspect.
Damion, who spent many years in the Washington D.C. market, is not hedging on his hotel’s growth potential, even as the downtown market becomes fuller and national economists warn of a looming recession. He believes cultivating a unique place will help it weather any storms ahead, just as it has for the past half-decade.
“This market is exploding, and it’s becoming a first-tier city,” he said. “We don’t really see that stopping for the next couple of years.”
The Ramble Hotel — 1 year
In time, people may say it was a no-brainer that developer Ryan Diggins open a 50-room boutique hotel on the edge of the River North Art District neighborhood that had exploded with restaurants and breweries but never been home to a full-service lodging facility as of May 2018. But at the time he decided to move forward with The Ramble Hotel at 1280 25th St., he faced so many skeptics that the atmosphere practically dictated that he run the upscale hotel himself, so that he could put into place the details he believed would make the hotel stand out.
A big part of that came in the design of the building, allowing for it to reflect the urban-chic sensibilities of the neighborhood without being so spartan that people felt they were staying in one of the converted warehouses that surrounded it. While he thought the independent facility would be leisure-heavy because of this — and it nears 100 percent occupancy on most weekends — he’s found a surprisingly robust mix of business clients that have taken to the technology and feel of The Ramble.
He also refused to drop room rates in order to attract guests in the early going, believing that he would not be able to create the long-term reputation of the hotel if he engaged in the same “race to the bottom” in which he sees other downtown-area hotels participating when their occupancy rates appear poised to dip. The average daily rate has remained around $259 even during leaner weekdays, and by the end of the second month of operations, revenues had stabilized to the point where management felt comfortable with the model.
Diggins also bet heavily the food and beverage amenities in the small hotel not only would be needed to add non-guest revenues to its bottom line but that they could be done in such a way that The Ramble would attract both local and national attention.
After convincing legendary New York bar Death & Co. to open just its second location in its facility, he invested in a press tour of New York City, generating articles about the hotel that have helped to bring in significant numbers out-of-state guests. And then he turned around and waited several months for the opening of Super Mega Bien, a pan-Latin dim-sum eatery from attention-attracting chef Dana Rodriguez that has solidified a local crowd while also giving visitors to the area a location that is attached to the hotel at a time he estimates that two-thirds of the incoming traffic to Denver is based around eating or drinking somewhere in particular.
“I have no doubt that’s what’s driving our weekends. People want to come and check this out. The hotel is just a part of the whole thing in Denver,” Diggins said. “When you walk through the doors, there is a sanctuary of escapism.”
Finally, rather than looking to grow partnerships or license the name of the hotel, Diggins has spent the first 12 months of its existence focusing on keeping the facility running at top shape. He paid attention to the website to make sure it is working, limited events at the facility (including its Vauxhall event space) in order to let the catering team get up to speed in the first few months and made sure the service and maintenance functions of the hotel worked perfectly before taking on new areas of growth.
As a result, The Ramble made it to U.S. News’ annual Denver rankings during its maiden voyage. And it’s primed for even more success in the years ahead — even as it keeps its focus local, despite calls to expand.
“All over, there’s people now approaching us. But until we can say we’re the best hotel in Colorado, why would I go learn another city?” he asked. “For now, we just want to water the garden that’s here. There’s no need to go plant elsewhere.”
By: Ed Sealover – Reporter, Denver Business Journal
Originally appeared in Denver Business Journal in May, 2019
Navin Dimond wasn’t supposed to be here — physically or professionally.
The son of blue-collar immigrant parents who worked as a bus driver and factory worker in London, Dimond viewed education as his way to move up in life, and he received three college degrees in his quest to do so. But it was only by chance that he came to Denver after receiving his undergraduate degree from Washington State University in 1985, choosing to sleep on a friend’s couch as he looked for jobs and eventually ended up working as an intern in the University of Denver’s executive MBA program while he used the tuition break from that job to get his master’s degree.
Thirty-four years later, Dimond’s Stonebridge Companies operates 60 hotels across the United States — two-thirds of which he owns — while managing more than 11,500 rooms and employing more than 4,000 associates. Roughly half that stock is in Denver, where he’s transformed an old bank into the Renaissance Denver Downtown City Center Hotel and is getting ready to renovate the old Emily Griffith school across from the Colorado Convention Center into the city’s first Tapestry Collection by Hilton facility, among other projects.
Dimond can talk at length about how to spot a good opportunity to develop or manage a hotel from New Orleans to Seattle — he says he probably accepts only 1% of the deals he is offered — and about why Denver is such a booming market. He also is willing to continue to bet big on the Mile High City, believing its attractiveness for both business and leisure travelers will continue to foment growth in the market despite a boom cycle that has lasted nearly a decade now.
But in addition to being known as one of the state’s biggest hotel magnates, Dimond is growing a reputation as one of its most significant philanthropists as well. In 2014, he donated $1.5 million to Metropolitan State University of Denver to help it launch a hospitality fellowship program in which students compete for the chance to do intensive professional-development work in the industry for one year. Earlier this year, he broadened his university giving, offering $5 million from the Dimond Family Foundation to University of Denver to build a freshman residential hall.
Dimond and his foundation focus their giving on two areas: education and children’s organizations, particularly those that help impoverished children who may have drug-addicted parents or who may need early-childhood education in third-world countries. The reason is simple: The 57-year-old married husband of two daughters understands what it’s like to grow up poor, and he understands how education can change such a life.
“Between those two causes, I think you touch everyone in the world,” Dimond said. “When you’re born, you don’t get to vote ‘I want to be Bill Gates’ child.’ You are the most innocent human you can be. And you can be in tough places.”
While Dimond has been a pace-setter for the local hotel industry with his historic renovations and wide range of investments, he would like to have more sway when it comes to corporate giving. Not only does he believe that more leaders in the Denver business community should be willing to donate time and money to charitable causes, but he believes there needs to be more collaboration among nonprofits to make more efficient use of community philanthropy and ensure that organizations are not overlapping in unhelpful ways.
“I think the notion of giving can take courage,” he said. “I’d like to give more people the courage to give. There’s plenty of wealth in this town.”
That will become even more true as more people and companies move to Denver — a migration that is happening because people understand the town more than they ever have on a national level, he said. It took a bit of circumstance and luck for Dimond to get here and to make that connection, but he’s using the love he’s found for this place to employ people and to give them the hand-up they need to maybe do the same one day.
“I didn’t think I’d be here. Sometimes I look and say ‘Why am I sitting in this seat getting interviewed by you? I’m a kid who was born to two immigrant parents,'” he said from his company’s Denver Tech Center headquarters. “No, I didn’t expect this. But I’m happy it was here.”
By: Ed Sealover
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155 Portland Street
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Hotel Phone: 617-557-9955
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125 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
Hotel Phone: 617-236-8787
Hotel Fax: 617-236-0244
Walk two minutes to Oracle Park from your room in the bustling center of Mission Bay. Explore the Golden Gate City’s downtown restaurants, green spaces, and art museums from Hyatt Place San Francisco / Downtown, within a mile of landmarks like Yerba Buena Gardens.
Hyatt Place San Francisco / Downtown
701 3rd Street
San Francisco, CA 94107
Hotel Phone: 415-767-2000
Originally appeared in Hotel Management in May, 2019
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national unemployment rate currently sits at 3.6 percent, a 49-year low. While state unemployment rates may vary slightly, this overall number is the lowest level since December 1969.
A low unemployment rate is indicative of a strong economy. It is advantageous to individual workers because they can more easily secure employment to provide for their families. And when people are employed, they have more money to spend, resulting in a strong economy.
But a downside often overlooked during strong economic cycles is the accompanying difficulty in recruiting and retaining talent. The hospitality and tourism industry is no exception. In December, there were 978,000 current openings in the hospitality industry. This is a challenge for an industry already struggling with annualized turnover north of 70 percent.
A great statistic to watch is the U.S. job quits rate, which tracks how likely a team member is to quit his or her job. This number has doubled since its nadir in 2009. In a candidate-driven market, fewer people are actively searching for work and businesses must be relentless in their efforts to both attract potential team members to fill open positions and ensure current team members remain with the company.
Many of our markets have experienced significant growth in recent years, and the costs of living and housing markets also have boomed. Employees across industries endure longer commutes, not only as the population grows but also as workers move farther away from the city center, where the cost of living is increasing most rapidly. Downtown properties often face the highest team member turnover due in part to the associated high cost of living.
Recognizing the importance that commutes can play in recruitment and retention, hotels ought to evaluate transportation options near the property and consider commuter programs. For example, to help alleviate any hurdles to successful employment that commutes may present, properties that sit along a bus route or rail service could support passes for team members or downtown properties could provide employee parking.
Do not underestimate the importance of a thoughtful onboarding and training process. When you are early in the relationship with your team members, these are critical times to both show them your compassion and properly prepare them for their duties. As a manager, do not be shy about asking about their career aspirations and their long-term goals. There is a strong possibility that their previous employer never asked those questions.
Identifying a new team member’s aspirations—and potential work challenges—early on in the hiring process can make a significant difference in helping to curb any concerns that may hinder his or her retention at the hotel. By having check-in conversations with new team members, leadership at the property can help to provide team members with tools for success and make any course corrections in the early stages of employment.
Showing interest in a team member’s workplace satisfaction also helps foster a quality team rapport, which can make a significant impact on retention. This effort can prove especially beneficial in cases when team members have been hired because they fit the culture and personality needs of the property, with the understanding that leadership can help teach the job skills. Building a strong working relationship with and displaying an investment in employees provide intangible benefits that can be rare to find in competing workplaces.
With the unemployment rate near record lows, companies are doing more to attract talent from a shrinking pool of candidates, meaning job applicants have more options and the risk of losing current team members to competitors or other industries has never been greater. In order to overcome this obstacle, hotels must strategically plan for team member recruitment and retention. Becoming an “employer of choice” does just that.
An employer of choice provides many features for its team members. The most obvious factor is competitive pay and benefits, which, while important, should be only a piece of a hospitality firm’s larger retention effort. Other factors should include:
Incentives such as referral and performance bonuses, and perks ranging from provided lunches, free lodging options, English as a Second Language classes, flexible schedules and employee and family events go a long way in demonstrating care and concern for team members. Businesses and guests both benefit when team members are engaged and enjoy the work they perform.
Supporting the development and growth of team members is essential, not only for the retention of current team members but also in attracting talent to your organization. Internal initiatives such as apprenticeship and leadership training programs keep team members engaged and encourage them to stay with the company rather than being lured away by a competing offer. When current and potential team members see opportunities for promotion and career development, they become champions for your organization.
It should come as no surprise team members want to work for companies that invest in the causes and communities they care about. Giving, not only of money but also of time, to charitable organizations helps to attract potential talent while retaining current team members, separating your company from competitors within and beyond the hospitality industry. Activities with local charities also really help to foster a sense of culture within your hotel.
Low unemployment is a strong indicator of a robust economy, but with it comes the associated difficulty of recruiting and retaining talent. However, incorporating sound staffing strategies can help to mitigate that challenge. When strategic efforts are paired together, hotel properties will succeed in both attracting and retaining team members in an otherwise tight labor market—which benefits employers, team members and guests alike.
Chris Manley is the COO of Stonebridge Companies, a privately owned hotel owner, operator and developer headquartered in Denver.
By: Chris Manley, COO Stonebridge Companies