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How a zoologist from Florida runs a hotel that became #1 on TripAdvisor in the US

Plus: Revenue management to address labor challenges, and what Bill Gates’ Four Seasons deal tells us about the future of travel

Hospitality Daily is a non-boring summary of stories for busy people who want to get better each day at providing hospitality.

Today, you’ll read about:

  • The zoologist from Florida who runs a hotel that became #1 on TripAdvisor in the US

  • Revenue management as an opportunity for addressing labor challenges

  • What Bill Gates’ Four Seasons deal tells us about the future of travel

How a zoologist from Florida runs the hotel that became #1 on TripAdvisor in the US

My friend Adele Gutman recently interviewed the owner and general manager of The Nantucket Hotel & Resort, which became the #1 property in the US in TripAdvisor, and has remained year after year among the top-rated hotels in the US. In the days ahead, we’ll share the story of how they did it. 

The Nantucket Hotel & Resort was built in 1891 and is one of the last great seaside hotels that once dotted coastal New England.

When Little Gem Resorts co-owner Gwenn Snider and her partner, Mark Snider, first learned that the property was available for purchase, it was in a sad state. The previous owner had bought it with the intent to develop it into a condominium hotel. But they went bankrupt, leading to the hotel being boarded up for years. It had become an eyesore, and a sore point for Nantucket residents because it had such a long history in the community.

“We were so lucky to find a way to buy it in 2012,” Snider said. But a lot of work needed to be done. “When we bought that hotel, it was a shell. You could see from the fourth floor to the basement.”

Determined to open by the following July, she embarked on what she calls an “extreme hotel makeover” – with 200+ people working on the property every day for 184 days. “Everyone said we would never do it. But we did.”

With the makeover complete, the next challenge was to build a hotel operation that delivered on the property’s potential. And to do that, she hired Jamie Holmes as general manager.

“He came up from the Caribbean in a trench coat in the middle of January to a building that was under construction. I thought to myself, ‘I don’t know how he’s going to envision what his life might be. But, boy, he is a wonderful person.’”

Enter Jamie Holmes: The zoologist from Florida  

Jamie Holmes was studying zoology at the University of Florida when he first began working at a hotel. “I found that that was my calling and my passion,” he said. “I didn’t have preconceived knowledge on how it was supposed to work. So I had to learn and I had to figure out what is the very best way to be successful.”

That success started with putting the right team together. “Early on, I learned my main goal always needs to be to put the right team together.” According to Holmes, that means a group of people excited about serving guests and constantly finding new ways to do that. “A great host is almost like a golden retriever puppy. Just so happy to see you.”

This strategy paid off for him. He ended up in a variety of leadership roles across several prestigious properties – including the Ritz Carlton in St. Thomas – and got that hotel to the top of TripAdvisor rankings there, in addition to being rated the #1 hotel in Travel and Leisure and #1 in Conde Nast Traveler.

Holmes credits this success to not only hiring the right people but setting the right expectations. “We have a written vision to serve our customers. And when we hire people we do orientation and tell them right up front that we have this really high expectation. We tell them that we didn’t just hire you, we selected you because we believed that you had the ability and the personality, and the desire to deliver at this level. We look for sincere people with a high level of integrity that are self-starters.”

That doesn’t mean everyone acts like a game show host. “We also don’t look for just really outgoing people. You need all types of people. You need the engineers to be detail-oriented and the chefs need to have a passion, but they don’t have to be able to go out and talk to every customer. Some are good at that and some aren’t. But we tell them upfront that our expectation is to be world-class in whatever they do.”

Stay tuned tomorrow for how they built a culture of winning on their team…

Revenue management as an opportunity for addressing labor challenges?

Food & Wine had an article titled “The Real Reason There’s a Worker Shortage” that seems equally applicable to lodging and other types of hospitality businesses. While much of the article won’t come as news to many of you, this part stood out:

Will restaurants get the hint that living wages, health insurance, and vacation pay aren't luxuries? Will restaurant guests understand that their meal might cost more, in order to provide a proper life for the person making it? Will all the people doing the real work—the dishwashers, the porters, the prep cooks, the line cooks, the bussers, the servers, the undocumented workers with little to no bargaining power—finally be recognized as the people who run this industry, instead of the chefs and owners that ride on their shoulders?

Everyone I know who's returned to a restaurant job has done so because restaurants are where they have experience, training, talent, and passion. I hope they find an industry not only ready for but actively pursuing change, and one that appreciates and rewards their dedication.

There is where smart revenue management is so interesting to me: it’s the potential of charging more for guests who are willing and able to pay more in order to attract and retain the staff that will keep your business thriving.

What Bill Gates’ Four Seasons deal tells us about the future of travel

On Monday I wrote about what’s going on in hospitality-branded residences, and a new article from Forbes explores this trend in a bit more depth.

“The transaction marks a pivotal point in the evolution of Four Seasons,” the corporate press release goes, suggesting that the best is yet to come. Mainly, this means we can expect new hotel openings, more residential inventory, improvements in contactless technology, and a new CRM that helps the company keep track of guest preferences. “Everybody wants personalization today, so we plan to pursue further investment in that.”

But brands like Four Seasons are no longer just hotel operators. They are fully immersed in the rental home business. If you pony up the multi-million dollar premium for living large at one of these properties, you get the benefit of their operational expertise and services. They look after your property when you’re gone. What’s more — and this is the clincher — they rent it out for you if you’re not using it.

Developers, too, are big beneficiaries of this model. “Mixed use properties allow our development partners to realize a significant profit upon the opening of their property. It pays for the cost of the property. In some cases, they come out of this having recovered all their investment just through the residential piece, so they basically own the hotel for free,” adds Four Seasons CEO John Davison.

This strategy in turn benefits hotel operators like the Four Seasons, which earns license fees when the residences are sold. If it doesn’t make sense to open a hotel in a particular market, they might open a branded residence instead.

If you’re working on something you’d like me to share here - or come across a story of someone providing exceptional hospitality - let me know by replying to this email ([email protected]).

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And that’s it, folks! Go out there and make someone’s day today.