Taking a closer look at a lifetime of service to the industry and the invaluable experience gained along the way with Vinay Patel, Principal, Head of External Affairs with SREE Hotels
Vinay Patel: The hospitality industry is the only industry I’ve worked in. During college, I bartended and waited tables when I was on campus, and when I was home for the holidays I worked in all the different roles within a hotel, including houseman, housekeeping, sales, and even management. After college, I worked for Days Inns of America in Parsippany, NJ, as a franchise services manager. I learned the day-to-day basics of hotel operation while in college, but it was at Days Inn where I got the chance to learn the franchisor side of the business. As I learned and grew, I became the lead franchise services manager, later getting promoted to director of field marketing, eventually becoming the VP of marketing for Knights Franchise System. In 2009, I was afforded the opportunity to become the VP of marketing and brand manager for Microtel.
WHAT HAS KEPT YOU HERE?
VP: It’s pretty simple, actually. I love the industry, so that’s why I’ve stayed. Our business brings something new every day. I’ve told our team, and I believe it as well, that the day you think you know everything there is to know about the hotel industry is the day you find a different industry to be part of.
CAN YOU TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT SREE’S MANAGEMENT PHILOSOPHY AND THE IMPORTANCE OF BUILDING A STRONG TEAM?
VP: We are a lead-by-example organization. Everyone in leadership has been in the trenches and will never ask anyone to do something he or she hasn’t done or isn’t willing to do. We refer to our GMs as the CEOs of their hotels. They know they’re in the role because they deserve to be in the role. And we don’t mind someone making a mistake if they learn from it and don’t continue to repeat it. I don’t like looking over shoulders, and our team is in place because they deserve to be. The philosophy is, if the ball drops, pick it up and keep moving. If it drops and breaks, pick it up, fix it, and keep moving. If it drops, breaks, and you can’t fix it, ask for help, and we’ll fix it together and keep moving. At every management meeting, I stress the importance of our line-level team members. Our industry’s success comes from the bottom up. If our line-level team members are happy and feel respected, they will in turn do what it takes to ensure a guest’s satisfaction and return.
WHAT PATTERNS HAS THE SREE TEAM IDENTIFIED DURING THE PANDEMIC THAT MIGHT PROVE USEFUL FOR FUTURE PLANNING?
VP: Our biggest discovery was learning how efficient we can really be. We’ve learned how to better cross train our teams to ensure people can perform more than one function at the hotel. We also learned as an industry that we don’t have to give everything away as we have in the past. And this wasn’t just brand driven. We, as owners and operators, were part of it as we thought the practice would give us a competitive advantage. The airlines took the opportunity after 9/11 to take back some control of their industry, and we now have an opportunity to try to take back some control as well.
CAN YOU GIVE ANY ADVICE ON PLANNING AHEAD FOR POTENTIAL FLUCTUATIONS IN REVENUE DUE TO ECONOMIC SLOWDOWNS?
VP: We have to be creative, not only in the way we sell or seek out business but also in how we run our operations. You have to be nimble and, most importantly, have a good team. At SREE, we didn’t lay off any of our salaried team members during COVID as the culture we worked tirelessly to build over the years would have been extremely difficult to reestablish quickly. This also built loyalty within our team and helped energize them during these trying times.
ARE THERE ISSUES IN THE INDUSTRY THAT HAVE BEEN IGNORED AS HOTELIERS HAVE DEVOTED THEIR ATTENTION TO THE PANDEMIC FOR ALMOST TWO YEARS?
VP: I don’t think we’ve ignored things as much as deferred a great number of items. We sometimes forget we’re in the experience business. To some extent, that approach has taken a back seat during the past few months. Experience doesn’t necessarily mean we have free offerings. It’s about how guests feel when they’re at the hotel and after they leave.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO A HOTELIER STRUGGLING TO STAY AFLOAT?
VP: Build a great team and do what it takes to maintain it. We are a very resilient industry and we will rebound. In my mind, travel is a birthright for Americans, and we’ve seen this in the rebound in leisure travel. Business travel will come back to a new normal, whatever that will be, but we’re convinced that travel and face-to-face meetings will remain a necessity.
Zoom works when you have an established relationship, but you can’t build a relationship on Zoom.
WHAT TRAITS HAVE YOU SEEN IN SOME OF THE BEST LEADERS THAT OTHERS MIGHT CULTIVATE IN THEMSELVES?
VP: Empathy and a willingness to listen and act are critical for leaders in our industry. And you must love people. Arne Sorenson was a perfect example of a leader who personified all of these traits. I’ve always said that our business isn’t rocket science. All you need is an attitude and work ethic and you can find success in hospitality. I can teach you what to do, but I can’t teach you to smile and to want to work.