By: Max Crampton-Thomas
4 min read December 2019 — Hospitality may be one of the most competitive industries in Florida, and in an economically thriving region like Tampa Bay the competition is only heightened. To rise to the top of this crowded market takes leadership that not only understands the local market and can easily adapt to change, but can also create a work culture that attracts the best and brightest. Invest: explored what it takes to be successful in this market with the general managers for two of the region’s most highly regarded hotels, Kevin Scott with The Epicurean Hotel and David Rowland with The Westshore Grand.
How do you ensure you are attracting and retaining the highest quality employees?
David Rowland: When we hire what we call our associates, we do not hire based on technical ability. We hire friendly individuals who we can train on the technical aspects. Every associate meets with me and usually I only ask them a couple of personality-based questions, like what they do for fun or about their worst day at work and how they overcame it. This is first and foremost a customer service business and you must have a personality that fits that.
Kevin Scott: Employee turnover in this industry is an ongoing challenge that does not have a clear-cut resolution, especially in Tampa where new hotels and restaurants are opening on a weekly basis. Our key to navigating this issue is to ensure that we create a safe environment where employees are encouraged to speak their minds, give feedback and relay their input without the threat of it affecting their jobs. We work to empower our leaders to lead by example and foster great relationships between their departments. We are also in a sweet spot because we are a midsized hotel with a staff that consists of around 150 people, which means that if one person suddenly calls off or quits, it is not the end of the world.
Do you believe the demand curve will stay strong enough to support the new inventory of hotels coming online in the region?
Rowland: I do, because the market is so strong right now. Tampa Bay is a great area and it is still growing rapidly. The airport is consistently ranked among the Top 5 airports in the United States, and the international hub that they are building is going to bring even more business into the region. We are a city where you can host massive meetings, relocate large businesses into and start a business within. The ability to get in and out of the city quickly is also a significant factor in keeping this new supply sustainable. Tampa has done a good job of making sure the infrastructure and the supply of hotel and businesses is grown at the same pace. The only danger is a hotel worrying about all the new supply so they drop their rates just to be competitive. If one person does that, it causes a ripple effect in the industry where we now all have to drop our prices.
Scott: Tampa as a market needs more hotel rooms to attract bigger conventions that bring more people to town. The challenge is that we are capped off at a certain number right now, which limits how many people we can bring into the city, but with so many new hotel rooms coming into the market in the next year or so, there is an opportunity to steal some share from Orlando, Miami and Fort Lauderdale for these conventions. It is the perfect time to capitalize on this opportunity; the updated urban planning is now in play, and the city has never been laid out better than it is now.
How is your hotel primed for continued growth within the region?
Rowland: We are a part of the Marriott Tribute Portfolio, which is considered its luxury tier, but we get to act as an independent boutique hotel. The hotel has 325 rooms, over 15,000 square feet of meeting space and 14 meeting rooms where people can work, network and convene. We are known for having the flexibility to tailor events in our event space to a customer’s needs. The nice part about being independent is we have a lot of leeway and wiggle room to do what we want to make our customers’ meetings the most successful they can be. We are also very fortunate that we sit inside the Urban Center building. We are the primary hotel for the over 2,000 tenants that rent office space in the building.
Scott: To stay economically sustainable in this business, especially in the instance of another recession, we focus on attracting more groups and business travel. We want people to be aware of our offerings whether they are our neighbors in Tampa or looking for a destination from across the country. Our advantages are that we are centrally located, and people will always love food and wine. Even in a recession, wine, beer and alcohol are always in demand, so we are ready to ride that wave when it happens. Overall, we feel strong about where the Epicurean stands as a hotel and historical landmark that Tampa can be proud of.
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