After more than 30 years of working for corporate hotel brands that spanned Marriott International, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide and IHG, Robert Santucci took the plunge and announced his new soft brand Rockstar Hotels in January—just three months after launching his hotel management firm Rockstar Hospitality.
While the two businesses operate independently of each other, they are both built on the core philosophy of providing guests with an intimate “rockstar” experience. “Our goal is to redefine the role of a hospitality management company,” said Santucci. “We look at the product from the guest’s point of view at all times and while we’re aware that there’s an owner above us who has input, we feel that sometimes the guest gets lost somewhere in the middle of bottom-line strategies.”
The company is also willing to work with branded hotels, but Santucci favors independents for the flexibility that they offer. “These hotels usually have ownership that thinks outside of the box like we do and aren’t locked into such a rigid outlook,” he adds.
While Rockstar Hospitality operates entirely in the B2B space, offering primarily consulting services to clients in the hotel and restaurant industries, the company’s signature guest focus is evident at the 100-room Z Hotel, which the company fully manages. The independent property in New York’s Long Island City neighborhood provides guests with access to complimentary bicycle lending and hourly transportation to Midtown Manhattan.
“We take a very ‘unhotel’ approach to the business, by putting the guest first and foremost,” said Santucci. “We’re involved in every aspect of the property, from F&B to accounting and our managers are all groomed for those departments, but it’s the guest experience that makes the hotel successful.”
The trendy Z Hotel’s vintage look with a modern twist exemplifies the style of hotel that Santucci seeks out for the Rockstar Hotels’ portfolio—boutiques with highly personalized experiences that immerse guests in local culture, design-centric interiors, up to about 125 rooms and an F&B outlet. A member of Rockstar’s executive team will initially visit a hotel unannounced and if the property is up to par, a formal site inspection is requested. Only then, if requirements are satisfied during that second visit, is the hotel is invited to join the portfolio. However, Rockstar staff will continue to visit the hotel unannounced every 90 days to determine if the property is consistently maintaining standards. If not, Rockstar will discontinue its association, as has already been the case with at least one hotel.
The properties also have a unique story to tell, like Rome’s Palazzo Manfredi, which overlooks the ruins of a gladiator locker room or Paris’ Hotel Marignan Champs Elysees, which served as a private mansion and later as an embassy before becoming a hotel in 1920. Communicating these local legends to the traveling public is what sets Rockstar Hotels apart from other soft brands. “We search for properties that truly provide a unique experience that isn’t found anywhere else and history is one unique aspect that we look for in a property,” Santucci explains. “So if they have a story, I want to tell it.”
A hotel’s inimitable past is part of the experiential travel interest that is shared by
Rockstar Hotels’ two targeted guest demographics—a younger group consisting of Millennial and Gen Xers with disposable income and Empty Nesters free of financial constraints. Increasing the visibility of each hotel among these two audiences is a primary function of www.rockstar-hotels.com, which was designed to streamline the search process for users who Santucci feels have likely been frustrated by other soft brand websites where two hotels both rated as 3.5 stars have wildly varying prices.
“It’s confusing and we’ve eliminated that because all of our hotels are 5-star and we guarantee that they are all like-minded experiences,” he says. Hotels are categorized by country and upon clicking on any given country, a maximum of 10 hotels appear on the first page. Click on an individual property and hotel details are included on a single page. But what’s even more striking about the website are the individual blogs that Santucci has created for each hotel.
With assistance from the professional writer on Rockstar’s staff, Santucci has created a different, ongoing fictional story for every hotel. Updates are posted every six to eight weeks and each segment ends with a cliffhanger. The hotels have license to use the material, but are just as surprised as readers by the narrative’s unfolding. Santucci explains, “travel should be a fantasy that you can attain and so we get people into that fantasy mind-set and we get them talking about the stories both with us and with each other.”
Member hotels are guaranteed inclusion on Rockstar’s website and travelers who book through the website will also enjoy a complimentary service or amenity such as late check-out or a free upgrade. At select hotels, Rockstar also offers access to exclusive experiences such as a private fashion show hosted by a Parisian designer followed by evening cocktails in the designer’s home.
The hotels can also select additional sales and marketing and, even public relations services, from an a la carte menu that Rockstar offers. Some of the hotels are in fact members of other soft brands as well, including Relais & Chateaux and even Tablet Hotels. “Since many of these owners only have one property, they want to operate the hotel themselves, but where they do need help is with sales and marketing,” Santucci notes. “From the owner’s point of view, they want more business and I understand that.”