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Uniquely Positioned

Novel job titles and responsibilities produce winning results for hotels and guests

Monday, November 11, 2013
Jeff Heilman
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Creating such innovative new roles as Chief Evangelist, the tech pioneers of the internet economy rewrote the manual on professional titles, with other sectors following suit. From Directors of Chaos, Awesome and Fun—or as some companies renamed their receptionists, Directors of First Impressions—to the Chief President Bear, Chief Information Bear and other executives on Build-A-Bear Workshop’s management team, job definitions will never be the same.

The hotel industry has introduced its own set of creative new employments. At San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants, for example, Steve Pinetti serves as the boutique brand’s Senior Vice President of Inspiration and Creativity.

“This unique role is a Kimpton brainchild,” explains Pinetti, a founding member of the company who started out as Director of Sales for Kimpton’s very first hotel in San Francisco back in 1981. “As a group of senior leaders reflecting on the original spirit of Bill Kimpton and what he stood for, we wanted to dial it up and keep his dream alive,” he continues, “and so we took a deep dive into what was vital in supporting and growing our cultural foundation of the company. I love inspiring employees, which combined with my deep-seated history as founder of the company, made it an effortless decision to create this role.”

Based primarily on activities including storytelling, brand road shows and ideation, the role affords Pinetti the opportunity to meet every employee in the company at least once a year. “In one sentence, my job is to keep our culture alive, challenge and encourage every person to think outside of the box and stretch their personal boundaries,” says Pinetti.

By way of example, Pinetti elevated the honey badger as Kimpton’s unofficial mascot. “As the most fearless animal in the animal kingdom, its battle cry calls for passion, focus and creativity,” he says. “I encourage employees to harness the honey badger mindset and be relentless in their pursuit for those qualities day in and day out.” Pinetti adds that, “doing my best to channel Bill Kimpton by connecting with guests and employees on a personal, relatable level, ultimately, I strive to inspire every employee to understand the essence and ethos of the Kimpton spirit and culture.”

Also in San Francisco, Hotel Abri, located on retail-rich Union Square, offers a Shopping Valet, while at L'Auberge de Sedona in Arizona, guests in the cottage-style suites can ring the Fireside Concierge to prepare their wood-burning fireplace and deliver specialty and seasonal drinks and snacks called “Fireside Delights.”

Even man’s best friend has gotten into the act. Edie in Pittsburgh and Marcie in Mont-Tremblant, Quebec are among the dogs serving as “canine ambassadors” at Fairmont properties throughout North America, while Dexter is Director of Pet Relations at Kimpton’s Hotel Palomar in Philadelphia. Many independent properties also offer their own version of the dog concierge.

Cute trick or smart move? As other hotel professionals reveal, specialized roles add much to the guest experience—and are great for attracting repeat business.

“Music is our number one brand differentiator, and so Hard Rock International created the position of Vibe Director as a brand standard,” says Matt Greene, vice president of operations at the Hard Rock Hotel San Diego. “Having a point person with music industry and branding experience is a way to ensure that music is incorporated into the guest experience in an authentic and credible way.”

With primary responsibility for creating and enhancing the overall vibe or ambience of the hotel through music and lighting, the role includes sharing knowledge of Hard Rock’s music memorabilia collection with guests. “Also the voice of our social media, our Vibe Director has a strong musical background and can lend his skills to corporate meetings, from teaching DJ lessons to customizing playlists for any event or gathering,” continues Greene. “Hard Rock Hotels play upon a sensory experience, so perfecting the ambience, what you see and hear, is critical to making each stay memorable.”

According to Greene, corporate groups especially appreciate the Vibe Director’s assistance in creating the “perfect” program. “No other hotel brand can offer someone with his expertise and it really helps us offer a unique and memorable experience,” Greene says. “From a transient perspective, guests want to meet the man behind the cool title. Many of our guests stay here because they love music, and having an expert on hand to answer questions or tell stories about the memorabilia we have on property is a plus.”

North of San Diego in exclusive Rancho Santa Fe, Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa is Southern California's only Relais & Chateaux property. As manager of the resort’s new equestrian-themed bar The Pony Room, Chris Simmons also serves as Tequila Connoisseur, curating a collection of more than 100 types of hand-selected tequila. Describing the program as “having a life of its own,” Simmons’ interaction with guests “is very different” than he experienced in more traditional roles. “Because of the scope of the program, which includes selection, staff education and implementation, I have become a tequila ambassador, not just for The Pony Room or Rancho Valencia, but for tequila in general,” says Simmons, who “enjoys debunking the many myths surrounding the spirit with our guests.”

Response to the “All Agave” program has been spirited, to say the least. “It has been a wonderful fit for our restaurant as well as the resort in general,” continues Simmons. “In an age when people are constantly measuring you against what others are doing, we enjoy having a special identity that sets us apart.” Noting that he has been “busier than ever turning repeat guests into tequila enthusiasts,” Simmons says the program “gives people yet another reason to come enjoy their stay with us while experiencing some amazing spirits.”

Entirely different spiritual encounters with horses are found at the just-opened Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg, Va., about 30 minutes outside of Washington, D.C. Offering such innovative programs as Human/Horse Synergy Rides, Mindfulness Trail Rides and the Equi-Spective Experience, Equestrian Director Sheryl Jordan also serves as the resident Horse Whisperer.

“Since Native American times and before, horse whisperers are individuals who have spent significant time with these beautiful creatures and who have learned to speak and understand their body language, feelings and emotions,” relates Jordan, who first established her unique programming at another resort some 15 years ago. “As people increasingly recognize the therapeutic benefits that horses have to offer, including physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and in leadership development, horse whispering is emerging as a real trend in the equestrian industry,” she continues. “Interacting with a horse can teach you a lot about your authentic self, and our guests have been thrilled with what we have to offer.”

Guests saddling up at Tanque Verde Ranch in Tucson, Ariz., the largest working dude ranch in the country, can call on Cowgirl Concierges Kelly Hoffman and Kelsey Anderson for horseback rides and other Wild West adventures.

“The cowgirl concierge role has allowed us to provide each guest with a more personalized, one-on-one experience,” says Hoffman, who traveled the globe with the U.S. Air Force before joining the ranch earlier this year. While she specializes in ranch activities and Tucson adventures, Anderson, formerly in event planning and passionate about horses since childhood, splits her time between wrangling and providing horseback riding experiences. “We are really able to focus on helping guests plan their schedules to meet their goals, and the feedback has been great so far,” she says. “You get a real personal connection with the guests when you're out on the trail with them.”

Challenged in love? At the Mediterranean-inspired Royal Palms Resort & Spa in Phoenix, Director of Romance Jenna Goss creates personalized experiences for guests who are in need of a loving getaway. Like Simmons, she too says the position has significantly enhanced her connection with guests.

“In my prior roles as front desk agent and concierge, I would only skim the surface, but now I am immersed in our guests’ time with us, starting with a pre-arrival discussion of what they are looking for,” says Goss, who also celebrates “the amazing opportunity to work deeply within many departments” in planning the romantic moments ahead. “Now I have the luxury of being able to say yes, to almost anything,” she continues. “An intimate picnic atop Camelback Mountain? Ten dozen candles on your patio? Fireworks timed to the start of “your” song? I never have to wonder if something is possible--I simply start to figure out how it will be executed.”

That’s real customer service—personalized, responsive, meaningful—which can only accrue to satisfaction, loyalty, and bottom-line benefits. Does your hotel have specialized roles?
Jeff Heilman
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division
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