Excelling at management means keeping your best people

With any flagged property arrangement, the invisible partner that the guest never considers is the management company, which both protects the owners’ interests and upholds brand standards. It’s a fine balance, and there are only a handful of companies that have the expertise to grow RevPAR and asset value while keeping the guest experience ahead of the ever-growing traveler expectations.

New Castle Hotels and Resorts (NCHR) is one such company. And as you will learn in this interview with Vince Barrett, the company’s vice president of F&B and managing director Provender, succeeding in this particular line of work – as is the case with so many other aspects of hospitality – comes down to hiring and retaining the best people. Beyond this, Vince offers a few pointers on where the industry is headed and some of the prominent threats we will soon face.

Vince Barrett, New Castle's vice president of F&B and managing director of subsidiary Provender
Vince Barrett, New Castle’s vice president of F&B and managing director of subsidiary Provender

Tell us about your background.

I have been in the industry for nearly 44 years now, and have an extensive background in operations, purchasing, construction and the development process. I started off in the culinary field then worked my way through purchasing and eventually became a GM. At one point, I owned my own consulting and hotel company before joining New Castle in 1996. Everyone on the leadership team at NCHR has been with the company an average of 18 years, and we all wear many hats. While my focus is mostly F&B, rooms and purchasing, because we all have insight into multiple disciplines we can move faster and more effectively than other companies.

What are the greatest challenges facing management companies?

First is talent. Finding good talent at all levels is probably one of the greatest challenges we all face, particularly at the line level positions like housekeepers, stewards and line cooks. Second would be managing rapidly changing brand standards and mitigating the impact of the additional capital that comes from brand mergers.

As cost savings get harder to find, what are you doing to bolster profits?

Hire the right people. Train them and provide them with the tools necessary to do their jobs. They will feel better about themselves, their job and the company, and will provide better service to your guests. Next, reducing turnover can save tens of thousands of dollars, not just in the cost of processing, on-boarding and training, but also in the efficiency of the hotel operation. If you are constantly hiring and training due to turnover, it will negatively impact all of your productivity matrixes, service scores, associates’ opinion surveys and market share. Fix your turnover so you can focus on service delivery to drive higher revenues.

Are you a proponent of such cost savings as allowing the guest to eliminate housekeeping?

We are in the hotel business, which is the people business. The housekeeping department, and room attendants in particular, are now key to the guest experience. It used to be that the front desk associates were the “gatekeepers,” but now with express checkout and the new technology of keyless mobile entry applications being offered, housekeepers now own more of the guest experience. We actually see that guests now interact with the room attendants and housekeeping department more than ever before.

Has the sharing economy affected your business?

Companies like Airbnb have had an impact on the RevPAR index in several major and even secondary markets from Boston, New York, Chicago and San Francisco to Portland, Maine. This is especially true during citywide events where you can truly see and feel the impact that Airbnb is having. It is difficult to quantify due to their lack of reporting, but you can see this trend continuing. We just need to level the playing field.

Apart from alternate lodging providers, what other business threats are on the horizon?

Brand consolidation is an issue because there are markets where one brand’s share can exceed 60% of capacity. As more consolidations occur, consumers could be left with only two or three brand families to choose from. Next, oversupply is becoming a problem in some markets, but this will likely level off.