The Travel Channel
Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014 | 11:59 p.m.
In Part 1 of our interview with Las Vegas’ Shane Green, host of the Travel Channel’s new series “Resort Rescue” that premiered Tuesday night, he talked about unruly guests and dysfunctional employees and owners.
Here is Part 2 of our extensive conversation:
What’s coming next for the industry? How can the industry improve on itself? What new is there to bring to the market?
I think we’re actually already seeing the new element of people authenticity — the most important element in any type of customer experience. People want authenticity. I grew up with the Ritz Carlton. That was my indoctrination and immersion, yet it was scripted pretty much every inch of the way. The biggest transformation is that the millennial attitude traveler today wants authentic experiences. A lot of small, boutique hotels in markets are really connecting with the local community. Whether it is art, music, food and beverage, whether it is some of the simplest elements.
What I loved getting out on the road with “Resort Rescue” was we went to Middle America into some towns that were never heard of, but they had something. They had an art gallery; they had an element to it that was so captivating. We’re seeing this movement back to realism. The homestay is becoming a big, big deal. The business is now under pressure to become much more personable and much more customizable but most importantly more authentic.
The big brand chains are starting to release their reigns a little because if they’re not localizing their products and services, then quite honestly they are not top of mind when it comes to the vacation traveler. Business travelers are a little different. A business traveler wants to be able to rely on and be consistent, be easy, but when it comes to vacations, which is such a valuable part of our culture here in America, they want authenticity, and I think if you’re not giving it to them or connecting them to real people, real experiences, you fail.
Are you saying that being authentic means that you make the hotel more the town square center in future?
That’s a great way to put it, and it doesn’t have to be just the town square; it should be the center of the city. It has to be the connection point for lots of different experiences. When I first got into the hotel business 25 years ago, I was told, “You can’t let the traveler leave your hotel.” The trick to being a great hotel is you’ve got to keep them inside the four walls and spend all their money with you, eat in your restaurants and all that.
Talk about horrible because some of the worst restaurants, 25 years ago, were found in hotels. Fortunately now, some of the best ones are found in hotels. So the future for hotels is about connecting to the community and partnering with as many elements as possible, and you’ll see that in our series that I really encourage the owners to get out and connect with and partner up with, whether it’s the golf course, whether it’s the art gallery, whether it’s with a couple of the restaurants down the road because when it comes to resort destinations, a hotel is very hard unless you have a few thousand rooms and can be a destination unto of yourself.
You’ve got to be more partnering, much more relationship focused, and as a result the new general manager has to be just as focused with what is happening with his partners outside the hotel than what’s going on inside the hotel.
Are we getting a rash of boutique hotels, are we seeing the end of nationwide brands, to get that authenticity?
It goes back to my definition of hotels and resorts. If they have conventions, to take care of business, the big hotels survive. Room numbers are a premium. No one’s building any more of these big hotels unless there is a market that is underutilized for conventions. People want to see the small boutiques, they’re doing a great job of being more personalized, getting to know you better and then customizing these unique experiences, so I think that’s where the differentiation comes back to hotels vs. resorts
Resorts is a mentality, it is an emotion, and even though you might call yourself a boutique hotel, what you’re seeing today is creating these one-off experiences. That’s pretty amazing. And it goes back to many of the hotels that we talked to throughout the season getting back to recognizing that they have to create something that is more personal.
Many of the properties were historic and great, yet trying to compete with the chain properties. My first message was stop trying to compete with them: Be yourself, be authentic. Create an identity because that is what the world is looking for when they start to plan their vacation travels.
You can’t really make money of 100 keys, though, can you?
No, it is very hard, but what you’re starting to see is that these small hotels actually connect together. Some of the best new resort chains is where you have a dozen of these small boutique hotels connecting together. Every location is very individualistic, very localized and yet when you can start to bring reservation, accounting, human resources and some of these other elements into a centralized location, then that allows the property to make money. But a small property having to put all the infrastructure in, you’re right, you don’t make money.
You’re increasing the value of that asset. A lot of people get involved in small hotels for the real estate. They see it as a wonderful investment opportunity, and so many times this season we saw families make these huge investments thinking about the asset, but the unfortunate part was having no expertise. The result was they really jeopardized not just their family investment but actually the whole family bonding and sense of community. You see that starting to tear itself apart when you’ve got a small singular property, which really has very tight margins, and you see one mistake and what the impact might be.
In our first episode, the owner gives the restaurant to a couple to run so she can focus more on the hotel, yet she gives the restaurant to a couple who’ve never run one before. As a result, within a couple of months, they are running it into the ground and thus running her hotel and reputation into the ground.
So those little decisions, those little things have a big impact on part of what I think we bring out on the show is how some of these small decisions, by turning them a different direction, you can go from a losing proposition to breaking even and ultimately make money.
How many competitors do you have in your business as a hospitality rescue expert?
It’s interesting. There are a lot of people out there who claim to be able to turn hotels around, but what makes our company unique is we focus on the internal cultural mechanism. A lot of companies that turn around hotels will go in and look at the front desk and focus on the delivery: How does the front desk engage and interact? How does the staff interact with the front of the house? We actually focus on behind-the-scenes.
A really great element that gets brought out in the show is that we focus on leadership. We focus on selection, performance management. What makes our company unique is that we’re a one-stop shop. We have an in-house design group who comes and build socialization tools that start to shift and transform people’s way of thinking. That’s why we think our group stands out in the marketplace. We’re not the only ones who do what we do, but we think we do it pretty damn well.
In Europe, you know it’s an honor, a prestigious position to be a waiter in a hotel, to be a concierge. It’s a real profession. Like a doctor, like an engineer, like a university professor. Is the profession itself, is the attitude toward restaurant hotel help improving in this country?
It’s got a long way to go. One of my talking points is really to get more young people focused on the hotel business and see it as an art form. I believe the hotel teaches a very important set of skills and relationship-building skills. These skills get used in service and in sales. If you can master those skills, I believe you’ll never be without a job.
So I am a big proponent of showing young people that even if you don’t know what your ultimate goal is, learn relationship skills. What we’re seeing in America is there is still this lag behind changing from a manufacturing-focused economy to a service economy. I think that lag is still there. I think that people are starting to understand why customer service is so important and the result recognizing that hotels and resorts do it better than anybody else Now that recognition isn’t just from great hotels, but some of our best clients are in automotive and professional sports teams.
I’m hoping that we can start to get that message out that this is the best foundation today for what’s going on in our economy for the next 10 to 20 years: If we can get more young people to recognize it — customer service and experience is just as important — but that transformation still has a wee bit a way to go.
We’re a big loud voice out there, myself, Anthony Melchiorri with “Hotel Impossible,” we are very aligned in fact with the whole Travel Channel group about really promoting the artistry and the expertise that must be created to work on this side of the business.
Let’s touch briefly on the mess that Atlantic City is in with resorts closing, going out of business and putting tens of thousands of people out of work. Can it be rescued?
Absolutely. It’s got to start to take a page out of what Las Vegas did. We were involved in some of the hotels out of Atlantic City. The northeast has now got a lot of casino options. People can gamble anywhere in the northeast. Atlantic City did not respond by being more experiential. It had to focus on the experiences that locals were looking for and to attract itself.
Up in New York state, there is a hotel resort there called Turning Stone, very much engaged in the gambling experience, but they have transformed it through restaurants, clubs, outdoor activities. They put all of their money into creating an experience. As a result, the hotel there is more successful than it has ever been. Unfortunately, Atlantic City stayed too focused on gambling and saying, “Hey, we’ve got casinos; they will come.”
That doesn’t happen anywhere in business now. You’ve got to deliver the right experience. It’s such a shame because there are so many amazing people who are now without a job. I’m hoping that they’ll get some good owners in there who will recognize and start small and get it back to some more experiential elements and places of premium of what people do outside the casino floor because that will then attract the families, the groups and some of the other non-gaming-focused market segments back to that city.
So take a page out of Las Vegas?
Robin, you know this city better than anyone. Las Vegas did it better than anybody anywhere out there. We had a couple of tough years but went back to creating better and better experiences. A lot of money was invested, which hurt a lot of bottom lines, the stock prices fell, but now look at what has happened. Travelers are coming back, and they’re having a better experience than they’ve ever had before. I’ve been coming to La Vegas for about 20 years, and I think Las Vegas has never been better!
Does Las Vegas do resort hotels best? Better than anybody?
The scalability and consistency in Las Vegas is better than anywhere else in the world. I think sometimes the service is compromised a little when you’re dealing with so many staff, but I think when you put the numbers into play, they do an amazing job of creating a type of culture with some of the transformation going on right now. I think hands down for creating experiences, LasVegas rules the world.
“Resort Rescue” premiered Tuesday night on the Travel Channel.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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