Beyond the Ordinary: Historic Hotels and Unique Event Venues

By John Tess President & CEO, Heritage Consulting Group | December 16, 2018

Events can take many forms, from small intimate gatherings to blockbuster conventions, from a business meeting to weddings and soirees. Regardless of the size and form, in an increasingly competitive hotel marketplace, the role of the event as a value-added component to the bottom line cannot be underestimated. Events have a significant direct and positive impact on a hotel's bottom line, but also indirectly in exposure and positive reviews, whether formally in publications or informally through social media and word of mouth.

As in other segments, the marketplace has come to expect quality service and products and is increasingly demanding more. In today's marketplace, patrons seek authentic and unique experiences. The good news is that they are generally willing to pay for it.

In delivering the authentic and unique, by definition, historic hotels have a leg up. They are properties whose bones are decades old. They are properties that when built featured designs, materials and workmanship of generations past. By definition, they are unique, they are authentic.

There are two basic kinds of historic hotels:

The first are those buildings built originally as hotels. Our mind first goes to the grand dame properties constructed and maintained to be the premier hotel property in a community. The product of superior architects, these properties are defined by grand spaces with high end finishes. The sequence of space is dramatic, from the design of the exterior and a grand entry, to the sense of arrival in the lobby and upwards through a secondary elevator lobby, corridors and finally the guest room. These grand dames were planned for and are social centers with opulent ballrooms and meeting rooms.

Examples abound across the country. A couple worth mentioning here are the Hay-Adams Hotel in Washington, D.C. and the Hotel DuPont in Wilmington Delaware, both considered some of the most beautiful venues in the country.

The Hotel Henry Urban Resort Conference Center in Buffalo, New York was built in 1872 as part of the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane, designed by renown architect Henry Hobson Richardson.
As part of creating Hotel Henry, a glass enclosure with winged stairs was built on the north elevation form a dramatic hotel lobby that features the historic Medina sandstone exterior.
Hotel Henry includes 100 Acres: The Kitchens at Hotel Henry, a hall-like setting in the historic footprint of the building's first floor. The hotel offers locally-sourced and chef-selected ingredients for a true “farm-to-table” menu.
The Gray can be found in Chicago's West Loop. In 2016, Kimpton Hotel adapted the historic 1894 New York Life Building, designed by Jenny & Mundie, into a 293-room hotel.
The Gray features a dramatic two-story building marble clad lobby with paired marble stairs leading to hotel reception on the second floor.
On the top floor of the Gray is the Boleo, a South American inspired bar and event space that offers a unique open air venue with a fully retractable glass roof.
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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.