Q&A: Top 10 Emerging Brand winner Ken Cruse, SCP

Ken Cruse, co-founder and CEO of Soul Community Planet Hotels (SCP), is operating in a sweet spot right now by creating holistic experiences to give travelers what they increasingly want today – community-based, sustainable and affordable stays.

SCP provides clean, fresh, energy efficient, low-waste accommodations, fitness and coworking.  It supports a range of causes that align with its vision through its Every Stay Does Good program and donates 5% of its profits to causes that share its core values.

In December 2020, SCP announced a strategic joint venture providing up to US$210 million of equity capital to pursue growth opportunities. The new investment, coupled with prudent levels of property-level debt, gives SCP upwards of US$500 million of capacity to grow its portfolio. Additionally, the new investment will provide strategic working capital for further brand advancement and competitive enhancements to existing SCP properties.

The initial SCP opened in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in 2018, and three additional properties have since debuted. SCP Hilo in Hawaii reopened on June 1 and the 137-room hotel on The Big Island has been going through a US$4.6 million renovation. It is also in the process of rebranding the Salishan Coastal Lodge in Oregon state to Salishan by SCP.

An industry veteran having previously worked in the industry at Sunstone Hotel Investors, Host Marriott and on the board of directors for Morgans Hotel Group, Cruse was was named one of HOTELS inaugural Top 10 award winners in the Emerging Brands category.

HOTELS asked Cruse to expand on his vision and what he continues to learn as he grows Soul Community Planet.

HOTELS: What is the biggest challenge you face today for growth?

Ken Cruse: Soul Community Planet is a Purpose-Driven Social Enterprise. Our vision is to make the world around us a better place by serving those who value wellness, kindness and this magnificent planet we all call home. The Soul Community Planet brand exists at the confluence of our collective skills and experiences, our values and passions, and the needs and desires of modern Conscious Consumers. We spend an exceptional amount of time working on our culture and ensuring our culture cascades through all levels of the organization. Consequently, our biggest impediment to growth today is our culture itself. If we fail to ensure that our culture is consistently embodied at all levels of our organization, our brand will not succeed.

H: What is your biggest opportunity to increase market share?

KC: The travel and tourism industry is huge – supporting somewhere around US$8 trillion of global economic activity. The industry is also very mature, being dominated by large legacy brand families. The U.S. is home to upwards of 150 brands. It seems that a new brand pops up every week or so. Most are design heavy, and soul light.  Our industry certainly doesn’t need more brands, but it definitely needs better ones. Our opportunity to increase market share rests with the nine out of 10 people who identify with the label “Conscious Consumer” and the four out of 10 people who will go out of their way and pay more for products or experiences that represent their core values. We serve a deep, growing and highly loyal segment of travelers who identify with the description of Conscious Consumers – our industry lacks brands that are founded on – and  live by – the core values of this segment.

H: Where do you look for and find inspiration today?

KC: Love this question! I am most inspired by two groups: our front-line team, and our guests themselves. To a person, our team is part of SCP for the right reasons – we all share the values of healthy, kind and green, and we’re excited to be part of building a new company founded on these values. Our team’s loyalty and enthusiasm for building from scratch a social enterprise that truly makes a difference is both humbling and inspiring.  With respect to our guests, we get to serve people who share our values, and our vision. This alignment of interests between business and customer is uncommon, and it helps make all other aspects of our business run smoother. Hearing how the SCP experience squares with the values of our guests, or how SCP has helped our guests to continue on their personal journeys while on the road is hugely inspirational.

SCP Hilo Hotel

H: What has been your biggest learn during COVID, and how you are applying it?

KC: Our biggest learning during COVID has been that unanticipated periods of turbulence expose huge opportunities. Our industry is massive, but we’ve become complacent and disconnected from the true desires and needs of modern consumers. Travelers make purchases they feel good about and that they believe help to define who they are or who they aspire to be. Similarly, individuals elect to take jobs that that help them remain true to their own core values. As businesses, we need to continually and thoughtfully evolve the products and services we’re providing so that they square with the values and behaviors of modern consumers, the needs of our communities and our responsibilities as stewards of our planet.

H: What are you reading today?

KC: Three books right now: “Awareness” by Anthony De Mello – it’s a pretty raw study of how reality works and how, by objectively observing ourselves and the world around us, we can better understand the factors that lead to true happiness. “Wisdom @ Work – the making of a modern elder” by Chip Conley – it’s a fresh look on how different age groups can better synergize, and how elders can most effectively impart valuable wisdom on all aspects of life and business. “Hawaii” by James Michener – I picked this up because we’re looking to grow our brand in the state of Hawaii, so it provides a fun (albeit fictional) framework.

H: How are you further differentiating from your bigger competitors?

KC: Today, there are no other hospitality brands that are founded on the core values of Soul, Community and Planet, that fact alone is a huge differentiator considering the size and purchasing power of the Conscious Consumer segment. At SCP, we do have pretty hip hotels, but we’re not about cutting-edge design, or hot bars, or excessive services. Our key differentiators are our Every Stay Does Good program through which our guests themselves – by choosing to stay at with SCP – effect real, measurable positive change in the world around us; our Peaceful Rooms, which have no phones, clocks, TVs or the usual distractions, but which have exceptional (and natural) bedding and calming zen features; our Seasonal, Local, Organic, plant-forward menus; our extensive sustainability, regeneration and net zero waste programs; and our Fair Trade Pricing program, which simply states that our guests themselves determine the price they pay for their stay based on the quality of their experience.

“We spend an exceptional amount of time working on our culture and ensuring our culture cascades through all levels of the organization. Consequently, our biggest impediment to growth today is our culture itself. If we fail to ensure that our culture is consistently embodied at all levels of our organization, our brand will not succeed.” – Ken Cruse

H: How has COVID changed you as a professional, changed your management style?

KC: COVID enabled us all to take a step back and assess what is truly essential in our lives. Many of us found that we were spending far too much time on things that really don’t matter and not enough time on the things that are truly important in life. Before COVID, SCP was already a family enterprise, co-founded by myself and my wife Pam, who now serves as our head of ABC (Awareness, Brand and Culture). During COVID my daughters, as well, became more involved in the business. So professionally, we definitely didn’t work less during COVID. I’ve actually further blended work, family, and life, and consequently we’ve gained balance as a family by all leaning into a common cause.

H: What do you want to accomplish not yet done?

KC: Aside from continuing to build Soul Community Planet into THE brand for Conscious Consumers, I’d like to win a gold medal as either an Olympic basketball player or surfer (or both).