Historic Hotel Properties Are Unique, And So Are Their Challenges

By Kurt Meister Senior Vice President , Distinguished Programs | May 13, 2018

Frank Sinatra lived there. Every U.S. president from Herbert Hoover to Barack Obama and numerous global heads of state stayed there. And now, after 87 years of elegance on Park Avenue in Manhattan, the famed Waldorf Astoria New York is receiving its own brand of star treatment.

Late last year, amid much fanfare, the Waldorf Astoria began an extensive renovation project at the cost of nearly $2 billion. To accommodate the renovation, the iconic structure closed its doors last March. The two-to-three-year project will transform the Waldorf Astoria into a mix of guest rooms and condominiums. It also will restore and preserve much of the buildings' interior Art Deco design features.

The massive Waldorf Astoria renovation has created plenty of buzz, bringing historic properties – and historic hotels in particular – into the spotlight. Guests love historic hotels for their uniqueness, and hotel owners and operators enjoy the status and prestige a historic hotel can bring to their portfolio. Yet while each historic property is distinct, repairing or replacing historic elements within those properties bring some shared challenges.

A Potential Growth Market

You might think the market for historic hotels is finite. After all, how many buildings could possibly qualify as historic? The answer might surprise you.

The National Register of Historic Places, operated by the National Park Service, maintains an active database of historic U.S. properties. Their database includes more than 95,000 listings, and more than 1,100 listings were made active in fiscal year 2017 alone. Every county in the U.S. has at least one historic property on the register.

To qualify as historic, a hotel (or another property) must be at least 50 years old and must look much the same as it did in the past. That means even buildings from the postmodern era are beginning to qualify as historic.

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Coming up in March 2019...

Human Resources: An Era of Transition

Traditionally, the human resource department administers five key areas within a hotel operation - compliance, compensation and benefits, organizational dynamics, selection and retention, and training and development. However, HR professionals are also presently involved in culture-building activities, as well as implementing new employee on-boarding practices and engagement initiatives. As a result, HR professionals have been elevated to senior leadership status, creating value and profit within their organization. Still, they continue to face some intractable issues, including a shrinking talent pool and the need to recruit top-notch employees who are empowered to provide outstanding customer service. In order to attract top-tier talent, one option is to take advantage of recruitment opportunities offered through colleges and universities, especially if they have a hospitality major. This pool of prospective employees is likely to be better educated and more enthusiastic than walk-in hires. Also, once hired, there could be additional training and development opportunities that stem from an association with a college or university. Continuing education courses, business conferences, seminars and online instruction - all can be a valuable source of employee development opportunities. In addition to meeting recruitment demands in the present, HR professionals must also be forward-thinking, anticipating the skills that will be needed in the future to meet guest expectations. One such skill that is becoming increasingly valued is “resilience”, the ability to “go with the flow” and not become overwhelmed by the disruptive influences  of change and reinvention. In an era of transition—new technologies, expanding markets, consolidation of brands and businesses, and modifications in people's values and lifestyles - the capacity to remain flexible, nimble and resilient is a valuable skill to possess. The March Hotel Business Review will examine some of the strategies that HR professionals are employing to ensure that their hotel operations continue to thrive.