History can create unique experience at hotels
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Staying true to a hotel’s history, whether through hotel design or sales-and-marketing opportunities, can create a unique selling proposition for independent hotels, sources said.
The 130-year-old Grand Hotel is one such property that sticks to its roots. The hotel is located on Michigan’s Mackinac Island, which was the second national park established in the U.S.
“A big part of our experience is the traditional resort experience from back in the day,” said EVP and Managing Director Ken Hayward, adding that the hotel is one of the last family-owned seasonal resorts of its kind.
“Our historian tells the story that there were 1,200 of these types of hotels built back in the day, and there’s less than 10 left standing,” he said.
Hayward said the hotel’s tradition weaved into everything done on property. For example, gentlemen are still required to wear jackets and ties at dinner. Live music plays throughout the property from noon until after midnight, and live bands or orchestras will accompany dinner along with dancing. Afternoon tea is hosted every day.
“The interesting thing is the more we stay true to what we feel is our traditional resort experience is, really the more unique we become because it’s so different from what people do nowadays. And people find it refreshing,” Hayward said.
The family-owned Washington Square Hotel is another example of an independent hotel grounded in history. The 152-room boutique hotel, located in Greenwich Village in New York, has been a port for writers and artists, hosting such names as Albert King, Ernest Hemingway, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan, among others.
Marc Garrett, managing director at the Washington Square Hotel
, said the history goes all the way back to the turn of the last century, adding that the hotel is in “a place that embraced different thinking, artists, musicians, poets, writers.”
“The Village drew all these people to it. Because we’re right in the heart of The Village, right on Washington Square. We were always a magnet for those artists,” Garrett said. “And that’s part of our history. It’s part of the history of The Village. It’s important to us not only as a hotelier, but also as a member of the community.”
Leveraging history for today
For these types of properties, history isn’t just a thing of the past. It’s something independent hoteliers can use when welcoming present guests.
Although the Washington Square Hotel has hosted musicians and writers for decades, that past is something property owners leverage today. Recently, the hotel hosted a slam poetry event with renowned poet Rudy Francisco.
When presented with the opportunity to host the event from a partner, the hoteliers had two weeks to promote the event. There were 100 free tickets available. By the time of Francisco’s visit, every ticket was spoken for thanks to social media posts as well as an email blast sent to 40,000 people in the hotel’s database that saw a 20% open rate.
Francisco performed four segments comprising 25 people each. Then, Francisco invited two to six guests for another 10-minute poetry reading in a guestroom that was labeled the “Artist Room Project.” The guestroom was set up like a writer’s room, with papers thrown about, an unkempt bed and wine bottles.
“The feedback was amazing,” said CEO Judy Paul. “People loved the experience. They loved him. And we were excited because it’s back to the roots of what this hotel means, what it means as a property and the larger context of The Village.”
Paul said that although the tickets were free, the event was still a revenue generator. With the guests meeting at the lobby bar, it helped to drive revenue in that outlet. Paul and Garrett said the occasion was such a success that they are planning their next opportunities for similar events.
Hayward said the Grand Hotel
’s has been a destination for decades for people on the national political stage. The property still hosts many political events, but the political history can be seen throughout the hotel today.
For instance, the hotel takes the presidential suite to a whole new level, boasting seven “First Lady Rooms” designed for the first ladies they are named after.
Hayward said the idea for the guestrooms came from the hotel’s interior decorator, Carleton Varney, who had decorated a wing in the White House during Jimmy Carter’s presidency. Varney also designed the private residences of Barbara Bush and Laura Bush. Varney consulted with the first ladies—Rosalynn Carter, Lady Bird Johnson, Jacqueline Kennedy, Barbara Bush, Laura Bush, Betty Ford and Nancy Reagan—and asked how they would design a hotel room. Then, the seven resulting guestrooms were created.
“They consulted on color and items that they like. A couple of the rooms have letters back to Carleton Varney from the first ladies with their advice,” Hayward said, adding that the rooms are popular among guests.
The First Lady Nancy Reagan Suite at the Grand Hotel is dressed all in red, according to Reagan’s tastes. (Photo: Grand Hotel)
Additionally, every year a history weekend is hosted at the property. Each year brings a different focus for the weekend event. A couple years ago, the weekend focused on the building of the Mackinac Bridge and included a tour. Last year’s event focused on the island’s cemeteries as well as Victorian burial and funerals.
To get the word across about the hotel’s history, Hayward said any press materials for the Grand Hotel
include historic timelines with documented significant events that happened at the property. Also, the property’s website is filled with historic photos for would-be guests to peruse.
Hayward described the experience as “staying in a living, breathing museum.”
“You walk the hallways and see the things on the walls, the people who visited and you’re almost in a museum … and that’s important to us,” he said.