Transitioning hotel operations and management
Transitioning hotel operations and management
03 APRIL 2014 6:43 AM

The transitioning of management and operations at the Hyatt Regency in Orlando, Florida, from The Peabody is a good example of the process done right.

While there still might be some guests wondering what happened to the ducks, The Peabody/Hyatt Regency ownership/management transition took place in Orlando, Florida, last year. It was one of the largest operation transitions you will ever see. I was at The Peabody in September and returned to the Hyatt Regency Orlando in November. As a guest who knew what had happened during the last two months, I was amazed at the seamless transition there appeared to be. 
It was my pleasure to talk with Tom Smith, area VP and general manager of Hyatt Regency Orlando, about what happened during this tremendous transition.
“First off,” Smith said, “The Peabody deserves a lot of credit for being such a successful, established entity in Orlando for the past 27 years.  We are grateful because it created for us a certain empathy to continue this fine reputation, now as a Hyatt Regency.”
Two weeks’ notice
Smith has been with Hyatt Hotels Corporation for 32 years. He said it is the Hyatt culture to make the employees feel like they are part of a family, well treated, uplifted and motivated.
“The opportunity to become general manager of the Hyatt Regency Orlando and manage the operations transition came to me in late August of 2013. I had never been to The Peabody before. Management transition was to begin after Labor Day. I immediately flew to Orlando. The first time I walked into The Peabody, it felt like I was walking into a Hyatt. The service team, front desk, the guest experience, the feeling in the air was all similar to Hyatt culture and values,” Smith said.
When Smith returned to the corporate global office in Chicago, he put Brian Comes, hotel manager, in charge of the leadership committee. As they began assembling the leadership team, asking them to relocate to Orlando in the next two weeks, “some initially thought we were kidding; it was a very quick transition.” Smith praised the flexibility the Hyatt people’s families demonstrated during this process. 
“The families deserve a lot of credit for their willingness to relocate and be uprooted at such short notice,” he said.
The two first priorities
I asked Smith what was his first priority in starting the transition from The Peabody to Hyatt. He said there were two first priorities:
  • To try to understand The Peabody—the current hotel. “We had never been there before. The Peabody leadership teams were unbelievably helpful.” 
  • To transition the Hyatt Regency team into what he called “the quality mesh.”
Both of these all while maintaining a positive guest experience from start to finish during the transition. 
“This took hard work. We brought in a Hyatt corporate transition task force who worked with the leadership committee members to aid them with staffing decisions. As is Hyatt’s culture, we promoted from within. Once Hyatt’s leadership was in place, they took to interviewing every former Peabody staff employee who wished to stay on and work for Hyatt. It turned out we retained 98% of the Peabody staff,” Smith said. 
Hyatt also changed a few things immediately to start establishing its brand standards, such as installing coffee makers with Starbucks coffee in the guestrooms. 
Smith also acknowledged the other Hyatt Orlando hotels. 
“We couldn’t have done it without them. They helped support our task force during this transition with rooms and staffing. Three of our leadership committee positions were filled from our Hyatt Regency Orlando hotels,” he said.
The big takeaways
“We wanted to learn what made The Peabody the success it was and what was the quality of service provided. We wanted to put ourselves in their shoes and learn what they knew after 27 years, of what is true and good,” Smith said. 
Carlos Cabrera, corporate senior VP, regional field operations, Americas, for Hyatt, gave tremendous support to Smith. Before the transition began, Cabrera said to Smith, “It is not ‘us and them’; it is ‘we.’ It will be a ‘we’ hotel.” 
“And we listened to The Peabody staff,” Smith said. “We changed as little as possible and only made logical changes. It was not disruptive, but it was the caliber of the former Peabody staff that made this possible.”  
IT operations systems
“The toughest part of the entire transition process was the transfer to Hyatt’s IT systems,” Smith said.
“First, we had to learn all the Peabody systems in order to keep the hotel operational,” he said. “The Peabody former employees shared with us where there was room for improvement, and we took that opportunity. We looked at everything. Then, we held four-week formal training programs for the former Peabody employees to learn the Hyatt systems.”
Smith acknowledged how well the transitioning Peabody staff managed themselves and their obvious desire to continue to be the best for their hotel.
“Going into this, the directive from the top was always to show empathy to The Peabody staff,” Smith said. “We aren’t going to teach them a heck of a lot. We needed to learn from them.”
Smith concluded, “From the Hyatt Regency perspective, it is our goal to be the preferred brand for our owners, associates and guests. With that goal we manage consistently in the best interest of all constituents, whether we own and manage the property or manage only. This was the perfect marriage of two cultures.”
Andria Goldin specializes in meeting marketing and hotel relationships. She provides collaborative, trusting partnerships with the corporate client in full meeting services and shared meeting knowledge training modules. Her specialty niche is marketing and managing a hotel renovation. Her Hotel Renovision™ programs are custom designed for the particular brand or boutique hotel. You can reach her at or
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