HOTELS Interview: Detert on boutique trends, new co.

Hotelier Yvonne Detert has been at the forefront of the lifestyle hotel trend since she opened Hotel Union Square, located in San Francisco, with her father in 1980.

Personality Hotels, of which Detert is president and CEO, now operates four lifestyle properties in the City by the Bay and she recently branched out and launched a new management company Engage Hospitality, whose current clients are from very different segments such as Holiday Inn Express branded hotels. Since last week’s announcement on the launch of Engage, HOTELS spoke with Detert about her plans for Engage and her thoughts on where the boutique space is headed.

HOTELS: What does Engage bring to the table that differentiates it from other management companies?

Yvonne Detert: The difference between Engage Hospitality and other management companies is our extensive skill set of hotel operations and experience. Our collection of innovative boutique hotels and 35 years of expertise defines and differentiates true hotel management. As we emphasize personalized service as part of our standards of hospitality at our hotels, Engage Hospitality offers flexible and personal service to our hotel owners and investors. We understand that the expectations of our owners, investors and hotel associates can vary, so we cater to their specific needs, achieving success and profitability. We achieve this with a flat corporate environment, where our clients have direct access to Engage Hospitality executives and decision makers, enabling us to make decisions thoughtfully and timely, anticipating and adjusting to sudden shifts in the market.

HOTELS: You’re known for boutique hotels — how do you go about providing services for say, a Holiday Inn Express, which is one of Engage’s current clients? 

Detert: We are a diverse company having many talented individuals in our organization with experience in boutique, lifestyle hotels and branded hotels.

HOTELS: Do you have any expansion plans for Engage outside of California?

Detert: Yes. Our next focus is Southern California and eventually the Midwest and East Coast. However, we will entertain most opportunities.

HOTEL: How is the Engage and Personality portfolio performing now, given the rocky California hotel market?

Detert: All of our hotels are consistently outperforming our competitive set. Because of our expertise, we are also able to maximize net operating income by operating efficiently without sacrificing service and quality.

HOTEL: What does the announcement about Engage mean for Personality Hotels? How are you planning on dividing your time between the two ventures?

Detert: Our endeavors with Engage Hospitality complement our efforts with the Personality Hotels Collection. Our goal is to build awareness of Engage Hospitality as an elite management company as well as continuing to expand the Personality Hotels Collection as a brand. Having a great executive team and senior leaders allows the vision to be realized without compromising either endeavor.

HOTELS: How has Personality Hotels kept up with the changes in the industry with channel distribution and social media marketing?

Detert: The Personality Hotels Collection recently partnered with Sabre Hospitality to deliver the best user experience on our website’s reservations booking system. Our partnership with Sabre also includes a private label GDS chain code, ‘MY’, further enabling us to build awareness of our collection of boutique/lifestyle hotels.

In addition, we believe many companies and hotels outsource their social media and marketing efforts, but we believe that our hotels will only benefit from an in- house marketing department that truly understands our brand and “personalities.” With our new partnership with Chatter Fly, a loyalty rewards application for mobile devices, we will be the first hotel group nationwide to offer social based rewards on smart phones. We are also taking a hands-on approach to Facebook and Twitter and becoming more interactive with our clients. This includes co-branded promotions with our partners such as the California Academy of Sciences and Ghirardelli chocolates, as well as consistent updates and posts to our profiles.

HOTELS: You’ve been at the forefront of the lifestyle hotel trend that has transformed design at hotels around the world. In what direction do you see boutique hotels going in terms of amenities, design, and F&B?

Detert: Boutique hotels cater to guests who want a different hospitality experience. Suppliers are introducing many different “green” products in fabrics, amenity lines, and products. The importance of being environmentally conscious is now a key component when planning a new design. I think more individuality and brand partnerships will be emerging in the future of boutique design. Anything goes with boutique hotels depending how far the leader or management company wants to think outside the box. For example, Hotel Diva has partnered with Perrier to redesign one of our lounges at Hotel Diva. This partnership stimulates new design, strengthens both brands and invites our guests to experience a different and original amenity when they receive a complimentary bottle of Perrier upon their arrival. I think the positive side to the tough times the hospitality world has undergone the last three years, will bring a new creative infusion to the future design of boutique hotels.

HOTELS: What do you think of the offerings of these boutique “brands” like Kimpton, Joie de Vivre-Thompson, Schrager’s Public, etc?

Detert: Each group offers their own style of management and vision for their properties. Collectively we all support each other and borrow ideas from one another. Each of these brands strengthens our presence within the boutique world.

HOTELS: What do you think of big boys like Marriott, IHG, etc. getting into the boutique space? Are they able to pull it off well?

Detert: The big boys moving in this direction shows that their guests have voiced a desire to experience a type of “boutique lifestyle” within these brands.

It can be pulled off as long as they partner up with the right visionaries; however, there will always be the “coated” feeling of a larger brand hotel because the boutique conception was not originated through the major brands.

Yvonne Detert
Yvonne Detert