44 – Experiential Travel Featuring Kirk Pederson

by | March 11, 2020

In this episode of The Suite Spot, we discuss how embracing experiential travel helps hotels make lasting connections with their guests. Ryan welcomes President of Sightline Hospitality, Kirk Pederson to the podcast to discuss how to implement experiential travel in meaningful ways.

Kirk shares his hospitality experience, complete with examples of interesting guest experiences he’s helped implement at partner hotels across the country. Ryan and Kirk discuss how special guest experiences translate to engaging social media content, and how to continue to connect with guests through review responses. They wrap up the conversation by discussing Sightline’s commitment to instilling a “Culture of Welcome” across their portfolio. This is an episode you don’t want to miss!

Episode Transcript
Our podcast is produced as an audio resource. Transcripts are generated using speech recognition software and human editing and may contain errors. Before republishing quotes, we ask that you reference the audio.

Ryan Embree:
Welcome to Suite Spot where hoteliers check in and we check out what’s trending in hotel marketing. I’m your host, Ryan Embree. Hello everyone, welcome to another episode of the Suite Spot. This is your host, Ryan Embree. We have a very special guest going to be joining me today, and we are pleased to welcome Kirk Pederson, president of Sightline Hospitality onto the Suite Spot. He’s a 30 year veteran in the industry, which has a wealth of knowledge and resume full of hospitality experience in operations, food and beverage development, acquisitions. Kirk’s diverse background, both in the public and private sectors resulted in the direct oversight of over 5 billion of independent and branded hotels and resorts. We’re very fortunate to have him today on the Suite Spot to share some insights with us. So without further ado, let me welcome you Kirk to the Suite Spot.

Kirk Pederson:
Thanks, Ryan. Man, you make me sound old. I don’t like hearing about all of that experience you know, when people mention it, because now I just feel like I’m getting older.

Ryan Embree:
No, you bring all that wisdom and experience. We love to see it. You know, especially in an industry where a lot of people’s stories start off in operations, you know, we’ve talked to a lot of hoteliers that start off at the front desk or have their first job at a hotel and they work their way up, so it’s super exciting. With that in mind, as we do with all of our new guests, we love to learn kind of your hospitality and hotel background and story. So what was the journey that led you to Sightline Hospitality?

Kirk Pederson:
As I mentioned it’s a long journey, right? Yeah, I’m one of the fortunate ones. I think I knew very early on that I wanted to be in the hotel business. I was staying at the Hyatt Regency in Waikiki when I was 10 years old and really saw the hotel operations from the General Manager’s perspective. And, you know, that day I said to my dad, I want that job, like that’s I want to do for a living. I want to wear khakis and an Aloha shirt and be the general manager of a five star resort in Hawaii. And you know, I didn’t really think much about that. So I found myself getting jobs in high school. You know, I worked in country clubs and restaurants, and really kind of fell in love with the entire hospitality industry. I thought for a while I was going to be a chef, I still love to cook. You know again, followed that dream of being that hotel General Manager, went to hotel school UNLV, and got out of college and decided I wanted to go into a management training program. And so I did that and I was on my way man to being my first general manager job in Key Largo, Florida. I got a call from our HR department and they said, “Hey, there’s this job in development and they’re looking for somebody who has a finance background and a hotel background.” I minored in finance in school as well and always liked that. And I said, “Nope, I’m going to be a general manager. I’m going to wear that aloha shirt and I am on my way.” And I took the interview, you know, just to take the interview and, you know, long story short, I started on the development acquisition side of the business. And didn’t go back to operations for a long time. I kind of worked my way, you know, from grunt all the way up to VP of Acquisitions and Development and, you know, did that with different groups. I worked with the old American General Hospitality guys, Ameristar guys, the Interstate team and you know, then I actually spent some time in hotel brokerage, did some residential development deals in suburban Chicago and then, you know, kind of got called back to the REIT world, in asset management. I’ve done quite a bit in the hotel business, you know, from operations to acquisitions to asset management. You know, I was fortunate to be able to go and work for Morgan Stanley real estate funds and spearhead their West coast asset management and acquisitions business and really learned a lot, you know, working for a large institution like Morgan Stanley, but at the end of the day, it’s all the same, right? It’s all hospitality. I ended up meeting the Charter’s Lodging Group guys, through a relationship formed at Morgan Stanley. And really just liked the people and loved working with them on a project we were working with them on and ultimately they convinced me to come over to the operating partner side of the business. And so I ran acquisitions and asset management for the Charter’s Lodging Group here in San Francisco. And recently over the last two years have taken over the management side of their business, which formerly was Kakua Hospitality. And we merged Kakua with Filament Hospitality to create Sightline. And that’s where we are today, we’re, you know, growing a third party, independent, experiential driven – and I know we’re going to talk a lot about that today on the podcast – but really experiential driven management company and we’re having a blast doing it. And so now I’m in a different spot and I’m kind of taking all of the knowledge from all these other, you know, experiences and really applying them to being the best operators we can be in a specific segment.

Ryan Embree:
Well and that’s what I was going to say, your journey has probably so many different stops with so many different key takeaways from each stop that it probably makes your experience very unique and what you guys – and we’re going to talk about this a little bit later about what Sightline Hospitality brings that’s unique from maybe some of their management groups – but really what I love about these backgrounds and these stories is it’s all rooted in the passion of the industry, right? Your story about being there and seeing that GM. You know, we hear that a lot, it’s a very unique industry where you can be on, you can start on one side of it, you know, being a guest at a hotel, but then you can have that dream and that goal to be on the other side. So a very cool, journey that you’ve taken, a lot of experience. And with that experience, you know, you’ve worked with a lot of both independent and branded hotels – had a lot of success with them both. Now we have a lot of hotel listeners to this podcast that manage both and they will tell you, you know, “I go the independent route because of this or I go the branded way because of this.” With your experience in both, what advantages do you think moving forward into the 2020’s each of them have?

Kirk Pederson:
That’s a question that comes up a lot, right? And there is no right answer for the industry. I think, you know, every, every hotel is different. Every market is different. Oftentimes we want to be able to, you know, categorize something one way or another and it’s really not possible. Because you need to focus on a specific micro market and who the consumer is that’s going into that market and then make a decision as to whether or not you’re better suited to be a branded hotel or an independent hotel. You guys are probably familiar with Kalibri labs and what they do. I love what they do because I think one area that they’ve focused on specifically has been the cost of acquiring the guest, right? And there’s this cost of acquisition we call it, right? And there’s this, pendulum that swings from independent to branded, back to independent, back to branded. Yes, it can be, you know, market specific, but listen independent hotels are awesome because you can do what you want to do. You don’t have a brand telling you what you have to do. I think the brands are getting a lot better at, you know, swinging to that side of the pendulum too with all the soft branded stuff, you know, that they’ve been releasing. But I think independent hotels, if you’ve got a strong market and you’ve got a good product, you can survive, and your flow through is going to be better. You have to be able to convince yourself that you can acquire that consumer, at the lowest price possible, which is directly, you know, through your website or, you know, directly through phone call, and that requires you to do a lot of things online – which we’re going to talk about later – but I think there’s a real place for independent hotels in a lot of different markets. Where you can get the same rate, same cost of acquisition, but less cost, you know, through the brands. That makes an independent execution really, really profitable. On the other hand, in a softer market, in a downturn, in the general market – I like the fact being affiliated with or associated with a brand. It’s providing a more stable demand space, they’ve negotiated much lower fees with the OTAs, you have essentially qualified to be affiliated with that brand, so there’s a stamp of approval that’s been put on your product that a lot of consumers like. So there’s positives and negatives to both. We work with certain owners that only want to do independent hotels, we work with other owners really are agnostic right, they want to do the right thing for the market. I think it really depends. We focus as a third party, independent manager on doing what owner wants to do. I’m working on a project now where an owner is convinced the project should be independent, independent, independent. And I keep on putting examples of soft branded hotels in front of that owner, because I think there’s an opportunity to do something different. At the end of the day, we’re going to do what the owner wants to do, but our obligation to the owner is to give them our best opinion and then let them take it from there. And either way we’re going to manage it to the best of our ability, but that’s what makes us a little bit different is we like both independent and branded hotels. It just depends on the market and the assets, and the quality, and, you know, a number of different factors.

Ryan Embree:
Yeah, I absolutely agree and it will be interesting to see, there’s been a movement by the brands with these soft brands to kind of move towards more of an independent feel and then some independent hotels are trying to get into things like loyalty programs as well. I feel like we’re going to see that kind of move closer and closer together – but, at the end of the day, it’s about getting those guests through your doors and telling your story. Through experiential travel or guests seeking out adventures, now you’ve been quoted on saying, “that experiential travel is more a trend but a necessity.” Can you kind of speak to that in your own words and share with our listeners what experiential travel is to you?

Kirk Pederson:
It’s a big topic. Everybody wants to be focused on experiential travel. Well, first I think we take a step back and we think about the different kinds of travelers, you know, that there are in the world today, right? There are these travelers that are seeking out experiences. You’ve also got travelers that are really just seeking the best rate and they really could care less about the experience. So let’s not focus on the traveler that is just looking for the best rate. Let’s focus on the traveler that’s looking for a well rounded kind of trip that includes some kind of experience. When I say, “that’s it’s a necessity.” I say that in a way it’s meant to say that if you don’t focus on it and you don’t make it a priority within your operation, you’re going to be left behind, right? So as an operator, if we’re not doing something to enhance the guest’s experience when they stay with us, we’re going to be left behind, right? Then you’re just a room in a box. You know, you’re a transaction. We don’t want our traveler to be a transaction. We feel that today’s traveler doesn’t want to be a transaction, right? So to like kind of narrow it down to one thing, it comes down to in our mind, you know, establishing an emotional connection. An experience can be physical, right? An experience can be emotional, you know, they’re different kinds of experiences and likes and needs for every consumer that you deal with or are trying to attract. If you don’t know who your consumer is, you’re looking at your business the wrong way. Cause there’s a certain consumer for every product: the younger traveler – I still like to put myself in that category – the younger traveler I think is looking for more than just a room and a receipt, right? The traveler today is looking for an emotional connection and they want to feel good about the purchase they’ve made. And you can make them feel that way in a number of different ways, but that’s experiential travel, right? It’s not, like we’ve just looked at it before, like going on Safari. Going on Safari is very experiential, right? Or, you know, I went to Nicaragua this year and went to a surf camp and that was very experiential, but that’s, you know, that’s one kind of experience. There are many different other kinds of experiences that can make up from experiential travel, but in my mind it all comes down to creating an emotional connection with the consumer.

Ryan Embree:
I completely agree and that connection is something that we look for even from big resorts out there or just a hotel that they’re just going on a little family vacation, and having a way to connect with your guests is going to leave that impression in your mind that when they walk out of your doors that they had that type of experience that you wanted them to gave. So, I know you shared some examples personally, but what about any examples you can share of experiential travel implemented in the properties that you’ve worked with in the past or currently working with?

Kirk Pederson:
Man, I am, again, really fortunate I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the coolest hotels on the planet. You know, from the Grand Wailea in Maui to independents like the Mason Deville in New Orleans in the French Quarter, to other big resorts La Quinta PGA West, the JW Ritz Carlton Grande Lakes in Orlando and Disney hotels. Really had the opportunity to work with some cool, cool stuff. I think a lot of those properties have a built in experience just because of the location there in. You know, you’re going to Hawaii because, you know, you want to go to the warm weather, and you want to be in the Hawaiian islands, and you like the culture. We try to connect people a little bit more than just the culture so say if you’re talking about Hawaii, right? There’s – everybody wants to go to a luau, everybody wants, you know, get a Leigh, everybody wants to, you know, experience the beach and, the pools there, but there’s more to it than that, right? In our mind there is a local community that in every location we operate is fascinating. And our goal in these properties is to connect our guests – to the extent that we can – to connect them more with the local community to establish that emotional connection, right? And so, I’ll give you an example: in Hawaii at the queen Kapiolani Hotel, independent hotel, sits right off the beach in Waikiki. The views of the hotel are of diamond head. Everybody loves diamond head white beach, well instead of just saying, “Hey guys, go to diamond head, it’s a really cool thing to do when you come to Waikiki.” We sponsor a neighborhood weekly run that we invite people from the community, from the local neighborhoods, from the other hotels to go on this weekly run around diamond head and our guests go with them. So now you’ve got locals connecting with guests, talking to them about cool things to do while they’re in town, and it means more than just going and doing it on your own or going and paying for a guided, you know, tour. It’s immersing someone in the local community and making them feel like they’re part of something that’s bigger than just the four walls of their hotel. In Jackson Hole, Wyoming, it’s one of the most gorgeous places on the planet and outside of having this cool little town, you’ve got people that live there that are very, very passionate about, you know, the outdoors and the wildlife there and there’s multiple seasons in Jackson Hole and different things to experience. It was seeing the Grand Tetons as you fly into Jackson Hole, it’s breathtaking, but to go in a horse drawn sleigh at the base of the Tetons through an elk refuge. See these elk that have come out of Tetons in the wintertime to go down into the refuge so that they can get food and you know, survive the winter. Literally being on a sleigh with them right around you. It’s the most unbelievable experience you’ll have. It’s really, really cool. That’s the kind of stuff we want to put at the fingertips of our guests. If they want to experience it, they can. If they don’t want to experience it and their idea of experience is something different. Yeah, that’s okay too. You know, we stoked the local fire and do wood burning exercises in the lobby, on a weekly basis. We spike, you know, your coffee upon check-in with a bar that’s literally right behind the check in desk. Just little things like that, that makes somebody walk away from that stay and say, “Well that was more than just a stay in a motel in Jackson Hole.” “That was a real experience.” We just opened up a youth hostel because I always feel that only youths stay in our hostel, but it’s not a youth hostel. It’s a glamorized hostel in the basement of the same hotel, which has turned into like this gathering place for people who are, you know, really into, you know, wintertime skiing and snowboarding, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling and everything else that they want to do in town, but they want to hang out with other people that have the same likes and interests. Well they just want a bed, and a great shower, and really cool area to hang out, eat, and talk about your explorations from the day. That, you know, we’re providing to those people. I could go on and on about these different experiences, but it’s about making that emotional connection with the guests.

Ryan Embree:
No, it’s great. I mean, to be honest with you Kirk, it literally sounds like the way you describe, you know, some of these scenes is a commercial and the cool part about this is the view expose enough guests to this and they’re going on social media, on Instagram, and sharing these moments, it’s almost like you’re running a constant commercial for your hotel and bringing more of these experiences in. But it’s those unique connections that you’re talking about that really take it to the next level. Another player in the industry that I feel has really taken advantage of it, experiential travel, is Airbnb, right? You know, where do you see hotels having the advantage for guests seeking adventures over a place like Airbnb and how can hotels really take it to the next level?

Kirk Pederson:
Yeah, that’s a another great topic that’s been debated quite a bit. You know, a lot of us in the hotel business say, “Oh, Airbnb, I don’t like Airbnb, I’m afraid of Airbnb.” I think Airbnb is awesome for what they do. There’s a real place for that. You look at like Airbnb and Sonder and some of these other companies that have really used a technology platform to make different kinds of, you know, stays in different markets, accessible to, you know, people who aren’t looking for the service and stuff provided in the hotel. They’d rather just do it on their own. That’s great, there’s a lot of travelers out there that want to do that. You know, I do that on trips where I’m with family or friends and we already know the location and we just want to do it on our own. I think the challenges, that some of those platforms, you know, dealt with in the past and will continue to deal with is consistency, right? I’ve stayed in an Airbnb where the host in that location is so awesome. Like before you’ve show up, I mean, they’re going above and beyond and putting in your room and putting a birthday cake, because they found out ahead of time, it was your wife birthday before you showed up. Like that’s a real host, right? That’s the kind of person I want to hire to work for us in the hotel. You have that experience, but then you also have, you know, some not so great experiences where you check in and it doesn’t feel real clean and, you know, the linens are older and you don’t feel like they’d been washed or are up to the standard that you were expecting. So that’s the hard part about those platforms and so I think hotels, the advantage they have is, you know, the advantage of consistency and being able to control that consistency. I do think, you know, a lot of the technological, you know, platforms and advantages of those platforms, you’re going to see integrated into more hotel experiences. That’s really a function of trying to reduce operating costs, you know, that continue to rise faster than revenues do. But I think that’s the real difference, I think there’s always going to be a place for an Airbnb, and a Sonder, and these other platforms that are trying to, you know, create experiences for guests in a different way. But hotels have the ability to be consistent, whether you’re independent or branded. You can provide all those other amenities that people tend to like when they’re on vacation, like being able to walk out of your room and go grab a drink at a cool bar with, you know, other people and experience the music and do it in a way that has done for you, as opposed to having to do it on your own.

Ryan Embree:
Agreed and Airbnb has really pushed the industry and really has disrupted it enough to, where we’ll talk to hoteliers that maybe 5 or 10 years ago in their hotel, they weren’t doing some of the things that they’re doing today. They’re having their staff learn more about the local area because they know that travelers are looking for these types of experiences like we talked about, there constantly sharing them, so if you can leverage in the right way, you’ve got a great commercial for your property. I also heard you use that phrase Instagram-able moments. We know travelers are on social media throughout their entire journey. How do you think hotels can best engage and interact using social media?

Kirk Pederson:
Social Media is, in my mind, just another extension of that emotional connection. When you post something, you’re affiliating yourself with something else. You’re branding yourself. And you always – most people want to – brand themselves with something cool, right? Or something to make them look good. So Social Media is a means of doing that. And as I look at these great places that, you know, we operate hotels in, right? There’s ways for our travelers to affiliate themselves or soft brand themselves to being affiliated with these different locations. And it’s a way of them, you know, kind of expressing who they are as an individual, right? Some individuals want to be showing these Instagram-able moments on the beach. Others wouldn’t be caught dead. Taking a picture of themselves on the beach. So it’s different for everyone person, but it’s what they resignate with. And so I think understanding your consumer and providing them these unique opportunities to easily associate themselves with something that is, you know, part of the emotional connection they’re making with your location. It’s just going to become more important, you know, as time goes on here. It’s not about, in my mind, it’s not about that stage, you know, where you go and put your face in the mural right there that makes you look like you’re different. You know what I’m talking about? It’s not like that, it’s not about creating those stages. It’s creating a real feeling, you know, a real sense of involvement or engagement in an activity or location. That somebody is going to want to take a picture of and put online. We’re doing this really cool project in Calistoga right now where we’re creating a communal bathing environment in a well established, brand name that’w known for their mud baths. And you know, we’re kind of opening this up to, it’s not just about going and sitting in a, you know, in a room, in a sterile room with a tub filled with mud, It’s about doing that with your friends, it’s about doing that with your spouse, connecting with others – getting a little bit out of your comfort zone – but doing something so fun and unique that you can now associate yourself with. That is going to cause people to want to take a picture of that and say, “Hey, this was a really cool experience. You need to come do this.” You know, part of this experience, everybody’s going to wear pink robes around the property. Well, you know, you get a bunch of guys wearing pink robes and what do you get? That’s an Instagram-able moment. It’s all part of the experience and what makes it fun, and what makes you want to be alive and go do these things. So if we can connect with people emotionally like that, provide opportunities for them to share their story, you know, we want them sharing their story about doing stuff with us. It’s really important. And you know, we’re going to continue to be focused on it. It’s not just Instagram, right? There’s a number of other, you know, social media platforms that are, you know, emerging. I don’t know if you guys focus on tik tok, you know, any of these other kind of cool platforms.Yeah, Pinterest is huge. We’re going to see more and more of that. So again, it doesn’t really change what we’re doing, if we’re providing that emotional connection, I think it’s going to provide Instagram-able moments because people are going to feel good about it. But when you’re designing a hotel or your concept-ing, you know, the guest experience. If you’re not thinking about how they’re going to feel and how they’re going to make an emotional connection and then how they’re going to photograph it and how they’re going to put it online and how they’re going to talk about you. I think you’re making a mistake, you gotta be focused on that.

Ryan Embree:
Agreed. And what travelers are looking for now is authenticity. Social Media- we’re at a point where social media is now, you know, sites like Facebook, it’s more than a decade old and these people that have been using this platform, they understand what an advertisement looks like, they understand what a business page looks like. So when they see a post of your, you know, beautiful property on your Facebook that might resonate with them, yes. But if all of a sudden they see an experience by someone that they follow or someone that they trust and it looks authentic and real, that’s where you really see the movement there of a call to action for somebody to say, “I want to experience that, I want to do that same thing.”

Kirk Pederson:
Yes, that’s exactly right. I just spent the holidays down in Tulum, Mexico with my wife and bunch of friends and there was always this image of Tulum that I had at the back of my head, right? And you think about why people go there and I had an image in my head of what it was and I had put myself in that location. I had already decided in my head, that this was for me, right? This was cool. I was going to go kite surfing and I was going to do this and I was going to do that and it was going to be Bohemian sheek and I was going to feel really cool about myself because I went and I had that experience. My whole like vacation was already planned out in my head months and months in advance because of what others had shown me through there experiences in that location. And it caused me to go and spend the money I spent to go, and by the way, I loved it, it was fantastic, but what it was because of what I saw and what I heard. And you know, that just enhanced by how people are portraying that on social media.

Ryan Embree:
Absolutely and that’s what travelers are looking for, you know, they’re not looking for an ad anymore. They’re looking to plan out and get, you know, that feel just like a hotel’s reputation gives them that feel, right? Sites like Google that have all these reviews, TripAdvisor, you know, and that’s where at Travel Media Group, we specialize and we partner with hotels to kind of help them optimize both their social media presence, but we know how that goes hand in hand with online reputation. I’d love to know kind of what is Sightline Hospitality’s approach to really managing not only the social media side, but also that reputation side as well.

Kirk Pederson:
I mean it’s, it’s not enough anymore just to respond to TripAdvisor reviews, right? There’s Google analytics that you gotta be all over. It’s amazing how this has changed over the last 10 years, right? Your reputation management is extremely important and it’s a full time job. I’ll tell you: we have used third parties like your group to help with that in certain hotels. We have in house teams, you know, within the corporate office, that we’ve used to do that for our hotels. And in larger hotels you’ve got teams within the hotels themselves that are focused on that. If you don’t know what people are saying about you online, I don’t care what medium it is. Shame on you. I mean you better know what they’re saying. Because the consumer that’s booking you knows exactly what they’re saying. And listen, not everybody is perfect. Not every response to a comment is perfect either. You know, there’s kind of an art form to it. Listen, in the early days, we just have our general managers respond to things. General managers tend to take things more personally than they should. I’ve seen general managers and I’ve seen our general managers included, literally get into arguments with consumers back and forth on these platforms and they don’t understand kind of how that makes them look, because they get caught up in it.

Ryan Embree:
You’re gonna lose that battle every time.

Kirk Pederson:
Hey man, we’re in the hospitality business. The consumer is always right. If you screw up, you screw up, apologize for it, and move on. And that’s really, you know, the direction to our people. In terms of how we do it, you know, it’s different for each hotel, right? The bigger hotels can afford to do more of it. The smaller hotels it’s harder to afford a third party. So you try to take more of that in house and, you know, have an individual work on, you know, a portfolio of hotels to manage that process. So it’s done different for every hotel, but it’s a key component to your operation strategy and running any hotel today. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a courtyard or an independent 500 room resort. You better be focused on what the consumer is saying about you.

Ryan Embree:
And we always liken it to almost the landscaping, was something that maybe you thought, “Hey, I can go ahead and handle some of this. Maybe I can just have somebody come out here, handle my landscaping like once a month or something like that.” And you hired somebody that didn’t sound weird to say, “Hey, I’m not an expert in landscaping. I need to reach out and have somebody help me, you know?” So now we kind of look at our online presence or digital presence as that’s your digital landscaping, right? So if you’re not responding, if you’re letting those bad reviews, which are weeds just continue to grow and look like that, people are going to see that before they even take a step into your lobby. And it’s exactly what you said Kirk, they know your business. If you’re not aware of what’s going on and what’s being said out there, your traveler, they are aware and they’re going to know your business a little better than you. Now one of the things that I really loved kind of doing some research for this interview with you, Kirk, was Sightline Hospitality’s “culture of welcome.” Can you describe a little bit more in depth what that means and what maybe how that distinguishes you from other management groups?

Kirk Pederson:
I’m really excited about “culture of welcome.” We literally rolled it out, you know, to our teams, at the kind of third/fourth quarter of last year. You know, after we announced the merger. I’ll tell you where this came from. I’m pretty open book about this. There are some great companies in our business that are known for their culture and it means something different to each of them, but there’s somewhat of a void out there today in the consolidation of these different management groups. For a group that really pushes culture, like some of these groups used to push culture, you know, through this consolidation, you know, these companies get bigger and bigger. It’s really hard to maintain a culture and to really manage a culture. It takes time and effort. It’s not something that just happens overnight, but it’s got to start with the top. And, you know, we decided very early on that, you know, we were going to make a commitment to this and it’s going to evolve over time. We call it the “culture of welcome” for a few different reasons. When I think about the hotel business – we in all the different locations that we operate in – we’re welcoming travelers all over the globe, all different nationalities, and likes and dislikes. And it’s not our role to determine who we accept or we don’t accept. We accept everyone and we welcome everyone and it doesn’t stop with welcoming our guests, it really trickles all the way down into the different departments within the hotel and how we welcome each other in every hotel that we manage. And so we went on this road show the end of the year, last year, Phil Tufano, who is our chief operating officer and I, we went into every hotel that we manage and we got to know each other really well on this road show. We went into every hotel that we manage and we listened and we wanted to understand what was important to our employees, about who they worked for and about how they served the guest. It was fascinating to hear about what was important to them. And what was most important to them was how good of a time they were giving to the guests that was showing up in the hotel. And what kind of secondary in importance was working in the hotel with others that are working in the hotel. And you know, when you again, take a step back and you think about it, it’s staring us right in the face, right? I mean, when you work in a hotel you tend to spend more hours in that hotel, then you spend with your own family and in your own home and your hotel family becomes kind of your extended or your second family? And so we, you know, we’ve taken all of that feedback from our employees and now we’re rolling out different programs, you know, to all of our hotels that support a “culture of welcome.” And that’s, you know, welcoming everyone into your hotel, whether it be fellow associates or guests traveling from all over the world. But it’s different unique things that we’re doing as a manager that’s different from other managers, to make sure our guests know that they’re welcome in the place that they’ve chosen to stay, and that’s with us. And if you come to work with us, you feel welcome in your place of work and if that feeling of welcome is threatened or jeopardized, it’s really the responsibility of our senior or executive team in that hotel and our corporate resources in people and culture and human resources to make sure that we are supporting a culture where everyone feels welcome. If I could get every owner of every hotel just put a really cool welcome mat that sits at the front of our hotel, like you see in people’s homes. I’d be winning. They don’t all want to pay for it. On this trip around the country, you know, we talked about managing a hotel is no different then inviting your family or your friends to your house and you know before your friends arrive or your family arrives, you know, you clean your house, you wash the sheets, you make the beds, you go to the grocery store and stock the fridge with things you know that they’re going to like. You do all those things and it’s different than your day to day life, you’re preparing your home arrival of your guests. We do the exact same thing in hotels and we should go out of our way everyday to be welcoming people into our hotels, just like we welcome them into our home and that’s “culture of welcome” to us. So more to come on that it’s an idea that is being supported from me at the top. Hopefully we will be known 15-20 years from now, people will say, “Hey, that group Sightline really has a cool operating culture in that “culture of welcome” that they’ve got in their hotels. That’s the goal.

Ryan Embree:
I love that. I love that concept and, you know, it’s very rare to talk to a company that really does do that top down approach because again, at the end of the day, your employees are servicing your guests, but they’re going to be on the other side of that desk at one day or another and they’re probably hoping that employee that they’re talking to when they’re checking into that hotel, you know, is giving them the type of service that they would give to one of your guests. So very, very cool culture there, Kirk. And it sounds from all the properties that you talked about, you’ve got some really, really exciting, innovative properties and ideas. So last thing, we just like to ask just one little piece of maybe advice or nugget that you would give to any of our hotel listeners out there before we wrap up, just maybe one piece of advice.

Kirk Pederson:
I’m going to steal something that I kept hearing from Phil Tufano, our chief operating officer, as we were going across the country. So disclaimer there, I’m stealing this from Phil. But I think it really tells a good story, and that is, when you go into Nordstrom: you look around the store and you end up buying what you buy, you leave that store with a bag of goods and a receipt. When you go to a hotel and you check out of the hotel, you checkout with a receipt. The other thing you check out with is a memory. We are in the business of creating memories. That’s what we do. You don’t go to the hotel for a receipt, you go to the hotel and you leave the hotel with a memory. So if we can think about that and focus on creating memorable experiences for our guests, I think the business is going to keep coming back to us. We’re, we’re going to win that game of attracting guests. So think about creating memories because that’s really what we’re doing for people.

Ryan Embree:
Love it, perfect. Well, thank you Kirk for being on the Suite Spot. To all of our hotel listeners, remember: create those memories for your guests because that’s what’s going to keep them coming back. So Kirk, I want to thank you again for joining me today and for all your insights. It’s been a pleasure having you on.

Kirk Pederson:
Thank you, Ryan. Appreciate it.

Ryan Embree:
Alright and we will talk to you next time on the Suite Spot. To join our loyalty program, be sure to subscribe and give us a five star rating on iTunes. Suite Spot is produced by Travel Media Group, our editor is Anne Sandoval with cover art by Bary Gordon. I’m your host, Ryan Embree, and we hope you enjoyed your stay.

 

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