Rita Dimond and I founded Stonebridge Companies nearly 30 years ago. It was then and remains today a family made up of team members, guests and the communities in which we serve. Their safety, health and well-being has been and will continue to be our company’s top priority.
As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak continues to profoundly disrupt many industries, including travel and hospitality, we anticipate our team members and guests may have questions about our efforts to help mitigate its spread.
We are taking extensive precautionary measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 and ensure the highest safety standards for all of our guests and team members. We will continue to monitor for developments and employ updated guidelines and recommendations from local and national government and health agencies as the situation evolves.
A key component of our mission is dedication to people, and that is something that will remain constant no matter the challenges we face. It is during difficult times such as this that the strength of our family will persevere.
Originally appeared in Hotel News Now in on March 20, 2020
Some professionals in the hospitality industry say that achieving a 100% overall service rating isn’t possible. While achieving a perfect overall service score may be rare, the claim that it’s impossible just isn’t true.
Take for example a trio of Marriott-branded hotels—Residence Inn, Fairfield Inn & Suites and Courtyard by Marriott—in Loveland, Colorado, that have all recently achieved 100% overall service ratings despite varying ages of the properties.
While certain elements, such as cost, brand loyalty, location and amenities, may influence decisions on where to book a hotel reservation, guests traveling for leisure or business desire a positive, enjoyable service experience. Using team members to create positive guest experiences—and not relying solely on the physical hotel product—is a surefire way to eliminate poor encounters that can send a guest looking elsewhere for their lodging needs.
Many factors relating to service can impact a guest’s experience during their stay at your hotel and can set you apart from your competition. That includes everything from their arrival and the smoothness of the check-in process, to room cleanliness, to the overall anticipation of their needs, to their eventual check-out and departure.
Performing all of these services well leads to not only positive guest experiences but also to stronger customer loyalty and increased bookings via referrals and repeat business. That ultimately increases the ability to capture higher rates than competing area hotels.
In the digital age of social media and online reviews, there is no more powerful marketing tool than your guests and their feedback. According to Tripadvisor, 79% of its users read reviews before choosing a hotel. If guests have a good experience while staying at your hotel, they’re more likely to recommend your property to family and friends and leave positive comments and reviews online.
Here are some tips and strategies to implement in an effort to improve guest satisfaction scores on your way to achieving 100% overall service.
Hiring to create a culture of service
Interviewing and hiring authentic team members—those who may not have prior experience in the service or hospitality industry but who possess a heart for relationships and a desire to serve—makes the task of creating a culture of service that much more achievable.
It’s much easier to teach new team members about the hospitality industry than it is to teach someone to be passionate about customer service.
Train for consistency
Once you have the right people in place, training team members to do simple things like talk with guests, learn their names, share appreciation for their stay and find creative ways to say “yes” so that guests never feel like they’re being told “no” goes a long way toward ensuring the guest experience is second to none.
It’s important that a hotel’s team, across all departments and roles, is properly trained and committed to ensuring guests have a great experience, so maintaining that consistency year-round becomes habit. Setting the bar high and never letting that expectation slip ensures that there are no limits to service and that guests remain the focus.
Maintaining a high standard is much simpler than reestablishing one.
Share feedback with team, positive or negative
Communication with team members is essential when pursuing exemplary guest service. Sharing feedback with each department, good or bad, is an opportunity to both reinforce strengths and to draw attention to shortcomings that may lead to unsatisfactory guest experiences.
Holding team members accountable for performance appraisal scores emphasizes the standards to which the hotel is working in pursuit of superior guest satisfaction.
Being transparent, open and honest about what your hotel does well and what it can do differently to eliminate substandard customer interactions will remove barriers to higher guest satisfaction scores by helping to build a team that takes pride in its work.
Achieving a perfect overall service score isn’t the result of the work of one person, but rather a hotel’s entire team, from front desk to housekeeping, food and beverage, management and maintenance. Celebrating those successes, whether at a stand-up meeting or team outing, during an appreciation lunch or through incentives and bonuses, encourages team member buy-in.
Showing appreciation for and recognizing and rewarding team members who are mentioned by name on social media and in guest satisfaction surveys, for example, will do well to boost your team’s morale and desire to win guests over.
There is no better indicator of your hotel team’s ability to exceed expectations and provide superior service than a guest’s satisfaction during their stay. Apply these strategies and standards at your hotel and your team will find that 100% overall service is, in fact, possible.
Lynda Campbell is vice president of training for Stonebridge Companies, a privately owned, innovative hotel owner, operator and developer headquartered in Denver. Amanda Wheadon is area general manager for Stonebridge Companies in Loveland, Colorado.
By: Lynda Campbell and Amanda Wheadon
Originally appeared in MSU RED in on February 21, 2020
Seeing a chiseled, 6-foot-8 young man walking around a refined downtown Denver hotel, some people jump to conclusions.
“I got some remarks,” Cain van Heyningen said. “Like, ‘What NFL team do you play for?’ Or, ‘Are you in the NBA?’ I would just say, ‘No, I’m an intern here.’”
Van Heyningen is a senior starting center and co-captain on the Metropolitan State University of Denver Men’s Basketball team. But he also just completed a fellowship during the fall semester at the Renaissance Denver Downtown City Center Hotel. He was one of two fall 2019 recipients of the prestigious Rita and Navin Dimond Fellows Program, made possible by a generous 2014 gift by Rita and Navin Dimond, founders of Stonebridge Companies, a Denver-based, privately owned, innovative hotel owner, operator and developer.
While some tall folks might find the same old questions about their height a nuisance, van Heyningen, a native of Amsterdam, sees them as an opportunity.
“Those remarks are funny, but it’s also a conversation-starter,” he said. “And there are a lot of people in the industry who can help you, so it’s beneficial. You’re definitely never out of sight.”
The Rita and Navin Dimond Fellows Program allows recipients to gain hands-on experience at select Stonebridge Companies properties across Denver. It accepts MSU Denver students twice a year, selecting among applicants who have completed a minimum of 60 credits toward any School of Hospitality degree program.
And as he does with virtually every topic, van Heyningen soaked in all aspects of his fellowship.
“I’ve built tremendous relationships, and I’ve gotten a true insight into what’s going on behind the scenes,” he said. “You can go to school all you want, but at the end of the day, practical experience is so invaluable, and that’s what they gave me.”
Beyond his success on the court and through the fellowship, van Heyningen excels in the classroom, where he carries a 3.55 cumulative grade-point average and was named to the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference All-Academic honor roll the past four seasons.
In what’s left of his spare time, he’s one of the Men’s Basketball team’s representatives on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.
“He’s one of those kids who, from the first day I met him 5 years ago, he’s always carried himself a little bit differently, always walked a little bit differently in terms of just being a natural leader,” MSU Denver Men’s Basketball coach Michael Bahl said.
Juggling the court, the classroom and his internship, van Heyningen handled it with aplomb.
“Somehow, you get through it,” he said. “There’s a certain amount of planning that goes into it. Basketball is out of my control – I don’t decide when practices and games are – so that’s the first piece. School is just as heavy of a load. So the flexibility of the internship allowed me to make it work.”
In the classroom, van Heyningen’s people skills are evident too.
“He’s not afraid to be a leader, and he also doesn’t have such a big ego that he can’t also be a good follower,” said Jeff Koch, a lecturer in the School of Hospitality. “His personality is very welcoming to everybody. He’s a good people person.”
In other words, he’s a perfect fit for the world of hospitality.
For instance, when the basketball team traveled to Costa Rica last summer, van Heyningen found it was a great opportunity to engage with the local community.
“We had to pull him away a couple of times because the bus was there waiting for us,” Bahl said.
As a leader, van Heyningen relishes his time with the SAAC, which includes trying to develop a catalog of internship opportunities for student-athletes.
“It definitely gives you some involvement in how the student body feels,” he said. “To represent them is an honor.”
Despite being a natural, van Heyningen didn’t fully discover the world of hospitality until after enrolling at MSU Denver. It was his basketball prowess that drew him to Denver.
After training at a basketball academy in the Canary Islands, Spain, van Heyningen eventually came to MSU Denver after getting connected with the basketball program by a former teammate who was a Roadrunner.Originally, van Heyningen was a nutrition major – no surprise, considering his impressive physique.
“I value nutrition, and I value eating healthy and taking care of myself,” he said. “But it’s not something I would want to make a career out of – at least not with the options that are available right after school.”
Now, after seeing the hotel industry inside and out, van Heyningen surprised himself with what he discovered.
“I found that I liked human resources more than I thought I would,” he said.
Van Heyningen said he likes the idea of keeping workers satisfied and making sure they are treated equally.
“It’s like the people business within the people business,” he said. “People come to you with their issues, so they have a certain emotional energy. I can relate to people well, and I think they truly believe that I want to help them. I think I’m perfect for that.”
By: Rob White
Create your home away from home at Residence Inn Herndon Reston. Located near Washington Dulles International Airport and the scenic Reston Town Center where you can spend the day savoring foods and shopping, or tee up at the near by Hidden Creek Country Club.
After an eventful day, head home to our spacious suites. Our accommodations blend comfort and practicality with areas for you to work, relax, dine and unwind. Maintain everyday routines when you utilize our complimentary Wi-Fi for work and the fully equipped kitchen when you need to fuel up. On the go? Treat yourself to one of the various entrees we have available at our complimentary breakfast buffet. In the evening, join us for The Residence Inn Mix, our evening social hour hosted Mon, Tue and Wed night. Take time to yourself with a dip in our seasonal outdoor pool or at our Sport Court.
Find time for work and play at Residence Inn Herndon Reston.
Residence Inn by Marriott – Herndon Reston
315 Elden Street
Herndon, Virginia 20170
Hotel Phone: 703-435-0044
Hotel Fax: 703-437-4007
Originally appeared in Hotel Online in on February 27, 2020
Stonebridge Companies — a Denver-based, privately owned, innovative hotel owner, operator and developer — has acquired and will manage the 168-room Residence Inn by Marriott Herndon Reston in Herndon, Virginia. The acquisition is Stonebridge Companies’ second in less than three months and third since late 2018.
Stonebridge last month announced the purchase of the Le Méridien New Orleans, and in late 2018 acquired the Embassy Suites by Hilton New Orleans.
The Residence Inn by Marriott Herndon Reston is located at 315 Elden St. in Herndon, just minutes from Washington Dulles International Airport and blocks from Reston Town Center, the shopping and dining destination that is home to more than 50 retailers, 35 restaurants and a multi-screen cinema.
The extended-stay hotel offers modern and spacious studio and two-bedroom suites with fully equipped kitchens and complimentary Wi-Fi. It features a seasonal outdoor pool and Sport Court®, barbecue and picnic area, complimentary breakfast buffet, 24-hour market and on-site business center and meeting space. Guests can also earn and receive benefits through the Marriott Bonvoy™ loyalty program.
“Stonebridge Companies is proud to expand our presence in Virginia and the Washington, D.C., area,” said Navin C. Dimond, president, CEO and founder of Stonebridge Companies. “We’re confident that our unique brand of Distinguished Hospitality™ will provide our guests with an experience that is second to none in the area’s hotel market.”
Stonebridge Companies’ diverse portfolio of 64 hotels and approximately 12,000 guest rooms includes select-service, extended-stay, mid-scale and full-service hotels located across the United States.
Originally appeared in Hotel News Now in February, 2020
For hotel owners and operators, making technology investments is all about creating balance between guest needs and brand wants, according to sources.
But as 2020 comes with more tech demands, there’s sometimes a requirement for owners to pushback or redirect expenses.
Chris Manley, COO, Stonebridge Companies, a Denver-based ownership, management and development company, said his team is always in constant communication with the brands about which investments will help both the guest experience and the property’s bottom line.
“The great thing about our industry is that with the number of rooms in each hotel, we’re able to A/B test new and different technologies to see what resonates with our guests and team members. If something doesn’t work, we can redirect quickly and with less investment loss than other industries,” he said in an email interview.
Joseph Bojanowski, president at PM Hotel Group, a Maryland-based management company, said in an email interview his company serves on advisory boards and councils with all of the major brands, and they generally are in line with owners’ objectives.
“We find the brands are very open to discussion about return on investment and achievement of owner financial objectives and are, in general, seeking a balanced approach ensuring that there is a balance between the guest, brand and owner perspective when considering new technology,” he said.
Larry Trabulsi, EVP at asset management company CHMWarnick, said his team will often ask the GM of a property to explain the rationale behind projects.
“If they can’t explain it at the first blush, it’s not exactly a top priority,” he said.
Top investments for 2020
Manley said Stonebridge Companies is aggressively investing in and rolling out algorithm-based solutions related to staffing and scheduling to aid team members.
The company also made a “major investment” into a new applicant tracking system to help increase candidate flow. He said early results are encouraging, and it’s helping his team tackle “one of the biggest issues in our industry: filling open positions.”
Although it’s been around for quite some time, mobile key is still a top priority for guest-facing technology in 2020, he said.
“I think you’ll see it become both mainstream and a guest expectation over the next 12-18 months,” he said.
Manley said upgrading Wi-Fi is always critical and has become “as much of a guest expectation as hot water.” He said both the brands and operators are closely watching the rollout of 5G to see how it ultimately impacts the delivery of data in hotels.
“It has the potential to dramatically enhance the guest experience while at the same time rendering a lot of previous investments obsolete,” he said.
There’s room for more investment in enhancing the booking phase, and the brands have done a great job so far implementing sophisticated algorithms to help guide pricing and revenue strategy, Manley added.
Bojanowski said guests are continually wanting tech that delivers all their check-in/check-out and in-room needs. He said his company is investing in app capabilities so that the “brands and our hotels are less vulnerable to disruption from current and future technology platforms that target our guests.”
He said there is “no end in sight” to the labor shortage in hotels, and PM Hotel Group is putting money towards technology that will allow greater back-of-house efficiencies without compromising the human element of service. For example, he said robotics and artificial intelligence are great alternatives for completing repetitive actions that otherwise an employee would do.
Trabulsi said he’s starting to see more of a demand for mobile technology in terms of mobile pay at hotel restaurants and more portable devices for housekeepers. However, with that comes an influx of people carrying devices, so the wireless service that is provided needs to be exceptional, he said.
This year, CHMW’s clients are focused on investing in alert systems for employees.
“That’s been a big push from Marriott International this year, so we’re spending a fair amount of money on that,” he said.
In addition to that, CHMW is focusing on projects with a return on investment, such as tech that will help eliminate energy and water usage.
What are owners hesitant to invest in?
Bojanowski said some owners are pushing back on infrastructure improvements required in the hotels to execute on the technology initiatives because of how expensive and redundant it can be.
“These are expensive and disruptive projects and there needs to be extended shelf life to the type and capacity of the wiring and hardware being used to build out a new infrastructure in a hotel,” he said.
Trabulsi said it often varies where the pushback is, but in-room technology tends to be one area.
It’s tough for brands to be cutting edge, he said, whereas at smaller chains or boutiques it’s easier to be a lot more nimble.
“You might have some owners that are willing to take the chance, (but when) dealing in a brand-managed environment, it just takes time vetting the systems,” he said. “You just have to be understanding why (owners) chose a certain path.”
By: Dana Miller
Originally appeared in WSU Insider in January, 2020
Whether people share a simple dinner or gourmet meal, the act of breaking bread often invokes feelings of friendship, generosity and sometimes, collaboration. Carson College Executive Chef Jamie Callison can testify to the occurrence of these sentiments many times over throughout his career, but recently they merged in a very tangible way.
While catering the WSU Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture advisory board dinner, Callison connected with guest Navin Dimond (’85 Bus. Admin., Const. Mgmt.), a respected leader in the hotel development and management industry.
Dimond, who is the founder, president and CEO of Stonebridge Companies, has a history of providing unique learning opportunities for WSU students interested in hospitality business management, marketing, sales and construction management careers.
Impressed by the talents of the hospitality student catering team that evening, Dimond approached Callison with a new opportunity to immerse hospitality students in a week-long learning experience at the Stonebridge corporate office and key properties in Denver.
“My goal was to influence students in a positive way and give them an educational experience that would have lifetime value,” says Dimond.
Callison worked with WSU School of Hospitality Business Management leadership and Mark Newman, Stonebridge’s vice president of food and beverage, to create a course outline that would give students insights into food and beverage, culinary and hotel operations.
A “behind-the-scenes” look at hospitality sectors
On an October Sunday, Callison and 13 excited students flew to Denver to begin the immersion experience at 8 a.m. sharp the following day. First on the agenda was a tour of the Stonebridge corporate office and information sessions on hotel design and construction as well as ecommerce, revenue management and accounting—topics that tie into the Carson College’s emphasis on financial literacy education across all majors.
“I was very interested in seeing how the business concepts we learn at WSU, such as revenue management, play into a real hospitality business,” says Sherlane Yuen, who hopes to one day support nonprofits that benefit humanitarian needs such as food, farming or clean water.
Dimond led a discussion with the students to address their finance-related questions, from marketing and room pricing strategies to performance measures and their causes.
In the days following, instruction occurred at Stonebridge’s Jacquard and Renaissance hotels as well as the Narrative restaurant in Denver, where all students learned more about accounting and human resources before separating into their respective areas of interest.
Operations students shadowed administrators in engineering, pool operations, property management, front desk services and guest experience.
“When I first heard about this program I knew it was something I would be very interested in because of my passion for hotel operations and because Stonebridge Companies owns such a wide variety of hotels all over the nation,” says Caleigh Swetters. “This experience helped prepare me for a career in hospitality, and by learning from industry leaders and professionals, I understand more how hotels operate and how departments collaborate seamlessly.”
Culinary students observed food prep in the kitchen, beverage menu development, service sequence, tabling and hosting duties.
“I am very interested in the events department and was excited to have the food and beverage operations focus for the week because I know they are cross-functional teams,” says Hannah Umansky. “This is a great step in my education and furthers my hard skills in this field.”
“For as long as I can remember, I have dreamed of owning my own restaurant,” says Justin Walker. “Having the opportunity to work alongside Industry professionals in my chosen field is extremely beneficial and exciting. This program provided me with a new perspective on the industry.”
Hands-on practice reveals classroom relevance
All students applied their new knowledge at the end of the week by working with the Narrative and Jacquard culinary teams to host a catered dinner for area WSU alumni, Carson College Dean Chip Hunter and Bob Harrington, director of the WSU School of Hospitality Business Management. Culinary students worked in the kitchen while food and beverage students worked as servers and guest experience professionals. Operations students were among the dinner guests and responsible for evaluating the food, service and guest experience and suggesting policy recommendations to hotel staff.
“The Stonebridge learning experience shows students the relevance of their education in a unique way,” says Callison. “Students don’t always get the same connection between class learning and industry from an internship. Real-world experiences help students broaden their views on their career goals and aspirations.”
“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to receive invaluable industry knowledge that will enhance our education and careers immensely,” says Emma Claire Spring. “I can take the knowledge I learn from this program and apply it to my next summer internship, my first post-grad job and maybe even into the business plan of my very first boutique hotel.”
Fortunately for the hospitality program, it won’t be a once-in-a-lifetime event: Dimond plans to fine tune the week-long immersion experience and offer it again next year.
“I am truly obligated and privileged to share my company’s success with students,” says Dimond. “We all have a responsibility to give back, not because I’m a CEO and it looks good, but because it’s the right thing to do. And, you never know—the business student you help today could be the one helping your business in the future.”
By: Sue McMurray
Originally appeared in Denver Business Journal in January, 2020
After three prolific years in which the Denver area added some 9,000 hotel rooms, 2020 will represent a pause in which operators can catch their breath and re-examine the effects of all this growth on occupancy and average daily rate.
But it will only be a short pause until one of America’s hottest hospitality markets erupts again.
Bob Benton, a consultant specializing in market conditions and new development, said he can foresee as many as 4,000 new rooms that could come onto the market starting in 2021 after a total that is expected to be closer to 1,500 this year — though Benton emphasized that he thinks a number of those planned projects will hit delays or fall away in the next two years. The new wave of hotel development ranges from the 17-room Life House scheduled to open early this year in Denver’s Highland neighborhood to a 525-room Marriott near the Colorado Convention Center that will give a significant boost to Visit Denver’s efforts to attract large events when it debuts around mid-2022.
>In many markets, this flood of new projects might look more like a tsunami creeping in to drown existing businesses. But Denver has done an amazing job of meeting the new construction with commensurate new demand.
Chris Manley — chief operating officer for Denver-based Stonebridge Companies, which owns or operates about 60 hotel properties nationwide and has two in the pipeline over the next three years in Denver — noted that the supply of hotel rooms in the Denver market increased by about 7% in 2019, a figure that tripled the national average, including the addition of 1,501 rooms at the Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center in Aurora. Despite that crush of new rooms, occupancy in Denver-area hotels rose 0.7% to 76.1%, average daily rate jumped 1.6% to $148.27 and the all-important statistic of revenue per available room increased 2.3% to $112.89 through the first 11 months of 2019, according to figures compiled for the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association by Robert S. Benton & Associates and other firms.
“This is not just a rush to develop in a hot city. The fundamentals in Denver of lodging are as good as in any city right now.” Manley said. “It’s a strong and healthy market. It’s in balance. The market could absorb a lot.”
Supply, demand and rates
Denver, like many cities, fell behind on hotel supply in the early part of the past decade because financing for large projects dried up during the Great Recession. Much of the development of recent years has focused on the increasing throngs of leisure seekers who are joining business travelers and convention-goers coming into downtown and surrounding neighborhoods, leading to new projects from the AC by Marriott/Le Méridien downtown to the Kimpton Hotel Born beside Denver Union Station to the Ramble and Source hotels that became the first lodging facilities in the River North Art District area.
While hotels have attracted more and more customers through this wave, the rise in average daily rate, which typically has been just a couple of percentage points per year, hasn’t been as high as in past decades when the economy was good and demand for rooms went up, Benton said. Many hotel operators, wanting to maintain their market share in a competitive environment that includes an onslaught of alternatives like Airbnb, have opted to keep rate increases down for today’s more price-sensitive visitors and to accept slightly lower profit margins, he explained.
This year — which features no planned openings other than the Life House in Denver as developers concentrate on filling in suburban supply in growing areas like Aurora, Thornton and Westminster — should allow the market to increase average daily rate between 2% and 3%, Benton predicted in his 2019 Mid-Year Market Review.
The next two years
But the new-hotel-producing spigots will come back on in 2021. Hyatt Hotels Corp. (NYSE: H) will open its first Thompson hotel, a lauded urban brand, in the Denver market. Stonebridge will convert the former Emily Griffith Opportunity School across Welton Street from the convention center into a 250-room unique setting. The new World Trade Center Denver complex near 38th and Walnut streets is expected to include a 240-room hotel upon its opening.
Then in 2022, if all goes as planned, the downtown Marriott will add another facility adjacent to the convention center. Sonder will develop its first hybrid short-term rental facility that functions like a hotel. And Stonebridge plans a hotel adjacent to the Belleview Station Regional Transportation District stop that could give a boost to the southern end of town.
Tony Dunn, general manager of the Sheraton Denver Downtown and chairman of the CHLA board, said that Visit Denver has done a fantastic job of attracting events to the city that help to fill these rooms, leading to what could be a record year for many hotels in 2020. But even as he completes a roughly $80 million renovation of his property over the course of this year, he said that what could be needed the most are more very large hotels in the core of the city — ones like the planned Marriott, he admitted, that would compete directly with his property.
Bringing in even larger hotels could help Denver win more of the 10,000- to 15,000-attendee conventions that it often loses to cities like Chicago or San Diego because they have large numbers of massive hotels that can absorb huge blocks of conventioneers, Dunn said. While more hotels come online in the range of 250 to 400 rooms, the city needs differentiators that can appeal to planners of major events, he said.
Riding the wave
Still, Benton, Dunn and Manley all agree that Denver is nowhere close to reaching a bubble as far as hotel rooms go. The increasing leisure crowd, for instance, has created a new market for independent and soft-branded hotels that are more popular than corporate chains with younger travelers who want an experience unique to a city more than they want points to build up for future trips, Benton said.
And, thus, the hotel wave is, in some ways, an opportunity to attract even more people to a city that ranks consistently as one of the most aspirational urban destinations in America for travelers. Just ask Dunn, who will need to compete against an increasing trove of competitors to fill up his 1,231 rooms by the time his renovations are complete — and is looking forward to it.
“Every time we hear the economy is slowing down, it keeps surprising us. Denver is strong,” he said. “There’s still a ton of groups who haven’t been here yet who are still intrigued by it … So, I still think it’s a great story.”
Stonebridge Emily Griffith Opportunity School renovation
Address: 1250 Welton St. (Central Business District)
Expected opening: Early 2021
The story: Stonebridge Companies is transforming a (since-moved) school launched in 1916 for the purpose of providing technical education to underserved students into a mixed-use campus with a hotel, retail and office space. The $96.5 million project will preserve the historic building, maintaining the wide hallways of its school days and constructing the hotel fitness center to resemble a classic gymnasium.
By: Ed Sealover
Originally appeared in Biz New Orleans in January, 2020
Stonebridge Companies, a Denver-based, privately owned hotel owner, operator and developer, in partnership with an affiliate of Walton Street Capital LLC, has acquired the 410-room Le Meridien New Orleans hotel. The acquisition is the group’s third in the New Orleans market and second in just over 12 months, having purchased the Embassy Suites by Hilton New Orleans in late 2018.
The building at 333 Poydras Street debuted in 1984 as a Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza and has gone through several owners and name changes since. From 2000 to 2014, it was the W New Orleans Hotel.
Le Meridien is near Harrah’s New Orleans Casino, the French Quarter, Bourbon Street and the Warehouse District. It’s a full-service upscale hotel offers modern guest rooms and suites with sophisticated amenities, including boutique furnishings and destination-inspired artwork, and boasts a 24-hour fitness center, rooftop pool, onsite restaurants with all-day dining, a business center and more than 13,000 square feet of event space.
“The acquisition of our first Le Meridien brand hotel and an additional property in New Orleans is a fantastic complement to our growing portfolio of more than 60 hotels and reinforces our position as an industry leader in hotel development, ownership and management,” said Navin C. Dimond, founder, president and CEO of Stonebridge Companies. “New Orleans is truly a great American city, and Le Meridien is ideally located for both leisure and business travelers alike visiting downtown New Orleans.”
Stonebridge Companies’ portfolio of 63 hotels and more than 10,000 guest rooms includes select-service, extended-stay, mid-scale and full-service hotels stretching from Boston to Anchorage, Alaska to Southern California.
Originally appeared in Hotel Management in January, 2020
A variety of factors can impact hotel guests and their decision about where to book hotel reservations, none more so than their experience while staying at a hotel. Cost, brand loyalty, location and amenities all influence a guest’s choice, but a poor experience or encounter can quickly send a guest looking elsewhere for his or her hotel needs.
Hoteliers can see their property from the guest’s perspective through the annual quality-assurance inspection of the hotel, a benchmark for assessing guest satisfaction. Despite the stress or anxiety the process may cause hotel proprietors, an audit of a hotel’s service, standards, cleanliness and conditions highlights what the brand is supposed to provide to guests—there’s a direct correlation between a hotel’s audit score and its guest satisfaction score.
It’s important to perform well on a QA inspection audit. Not only is it proof of a staff’s commitment to the high standards put in place by a hotel and its brand, but it also translates to positive guest experiences. Those positive experiences ultimately justify a higher rate than competing area hotels and lead to a better bottom line for owners. For example, touting high QA inspection scores can make an impact when the sales team is working to close deals with large organizations.
Because a property receives no indication or advance notice of when an inspection will occur, there’s no immediate preparation involved. But there are some simple strategies a hotel and its staff can implement to be equipped for when the eventual audit does take place.
Read on for some tips to employ in an effort to ace your hotel’s next QA inspection.
Know and Maintain Brand Standards Year-Round
Operating to and maintaining brand standards year-round and never deviating from the hotel brand’s specifications are the keys to scoring well on your property’s next QA audit.
All brands have standards and criteria for everything inside their hotels, down to where to place certain items within the hotel room, and those standards are outlined and published in a manual or booklet that should be referenced frequently. Don’t lose easy points during an audit because of an incorrect uniform or missing name tag.
Keep the audit top-of-mind and reference it frequently throughout the year to ensure standards are being met. If a hotel’s entire team operates as if every day is QA, attention to detail will naturally follow suit and will become the rule rather than the exception.
And if by chance your hotel has already undergone its QA inspection, don’t allow that to invite a relaxed standard the remainder of the year. It’s much easier to maintain a high standard than to reintroduce one.
Train and Inform Team Members and Candidates
Properly training team members and informing them of standards and expectations will help them to know what is required and will ensure consistency from department to department.
The same can be said when interviewing candidates and choosing new hires. During the interview process, it’s important to communicate as to what standards you run your hotel. Top-operating hotels with high guest satisfaction scores attract strong candidates. At a time when unemployment is low and it’s difficult to find high-quality applicants, your hotel’s turnover rate will decrease and remain low because the property is well-run.
Create a Service Culture
Creating a service culture is something a hotel should do regardless of whether a QA inspection is expected. In the same way that brand standards should be maintained year-round, so too should a hotel and its staff provide excellent customer service.
To avoid and limit opportunities for unsatisfactory experiences, rooms should be regularly inspected. Overall cleanliness, dead batteries in TV remote controls and burnt-out light bulbs are examples of items that should be routinely checked.
Simple things like training associates, regardless of role or position, to make eye contact in the hallways or to give a guest the same answer to a question also go a long way. Role playing with team members is a good way to ensure standards are put into practice.
Hotel guest interactions are thoroughly evaluated during a QA inspection. These interactions can include the check-in process, housekeeping requests and a call to the front desk. Points are easily lost if team members aren’t attentive and responsive in a timely manner.
Respect the Audit Process
A hotel’s leadership knows in advance which paperwork the auditor will want to review, so prove a commitment to standards by regularly updating the paperwork to be ready at a moment’s notice. This practice helps the auditor to see that you respect the audit process by being as prepared as you can be.
Further, having the known variables prepared in advance supports the team should the audit fall during a less-than-ideal time, such as when the general manager is out of the office.
Celebrate and Recognize Success
Performing well on a QA inspection isn’t the result of the work of one person, but rather a hotel’s entire team. And that achievement is something that should be celebrated, whether commended at a team meeting, during an appreciation lunch or through incentives.
The recognition and results help associates to understand the audit process and its importance and reiterate the need for training and attention to detail when upholding a brand’s standards.
Your next QA inspection doesn’t have to be the nerve-racking and trying experience it might have been in years past. Instead, apply these best practices and operate as if every day is QA, and your hotel will pass with ease.
John Chisman is the GM of the Residence Inn by Marriott Washington Capitol Hill/Navy Yard and Greg Dietl is the GM of the Residence Inn by Marriott New York Manhattan/Midtown East. Both hotels are owned by Stonebridge Companies, a privately owned hotel owner, operator and developer headquartered in Denver.
By: John Chisman, Residence Inn by Marriott Washington Capitol Hill/Navy Yard & Greg Dietl, Residence Inn by Marriott New York Manhattan/Midtown East