It’s not every day that you meet a hotel executive that counts how quickly technology evolves as one of his favorite aspects of the industry, given that the speed often leads to headaches for companies trying to keep up. But Brian Sparacino likes the pace just fine.
And that’s a good thing for the industry veteran, who recently became charged with spearheading Interstate Hotels & Resorts’ new lifestyle division, Intrigue Hotels & Resorts by Interstate, which the SVP of operations calls, first and foremost, a technology platform. Dreamed up in a coffee shop and incubated for nearly one year, Intrigue is meant for independent hotels. But, Sparacino stressed, it’s definitely not a brand. “Because of our size, always the question is this: Is Intrigue a brand? If you’re able to connect the dots of 40 some hotels, is it a brand?” he explained. “The answer is no; it’s a technology-driven platform with a reservation system [integrated with a consolidated revenue management system], a guest reward system, a call center and a specialized collection of team members who work in this space and understand it. We’re very respectful of our brand partners because we’re a large preferred manager of Marriott and Hilton hotels, and we don’t want to confuse the two.”
The addition of the lifestyle division gives investors more options, Sparacino said. “The Interstate side is well respected—been in business for almost 60 years—and we’re the comfort food of certain investment groups. And then you have the alter ego of this creative, edgy side, the part of the company meant to seek out people’s curiosities,” Sparacino said. “But, at the end of the day, when it comes to purchasing power and procurement, we’re able to share in both. We’re both utilizing the same tools.”
With a focus on both technology and creativity, Sparacino seemed a good fit for Interstate’s new venture. “I come from a sales, marketing, revenue management and distribution background; in the land of independent hotels, you have to really understand distribution,” he said, noting he has operational experience as well. “And then there’s the creativity piece, too. You have to be able to understand how to paint the picture and build the culture.”
Expanding on his background, he said, “For the past 10 years, I’ve been leading the Blackstone division in sales and marketing. Within that division, it’s a very entrepreneurial, results-driven company, and with the experience you’re able to garner, you’re forced to think about your business a little differently. There’s a lot of unconventional constitutions that help shape your personality and your career path to forge forward with figuring out solutions and coming up with cutting-edge, best-in-class services. That was a great training ground leading up to where I am today.”
And Sparacino, for one, is excited about the possibilities. “You see some of the other larger management companies spinning off a lifestyle division and what makes us so unique is we didn’t rush to market,” he said. “We took all of those 15 months to figure out a comprehensive 360-degree hotel echo system; with being able to provide a reservation system, call center, a customer reputation management and database solution, a cross-selling mechanism to sell all hotels universally, it makes it a pretty compelling case of why you would choose Intrigue to manage your hotel.
“Our plan is to own the space,” he continued, noting that Intrigue is focused on a property that “just dangles above that four-star rating, 4.3 or 4.4, in a gateway city such as NYC, Los Angeles, South Beach Miami, downtown Chicago and even international—in Mayfair or Soho in London.” Apartment-complex conversions and large portfolio owners would also be welcome.
And, certainly, there should be plenty of opportunities to add to the portfolio. “When you look at the way the industry is heading with the next-generation traveler, which is the millennial moving quickly to dominate the space, you’ll see that it’s a brand-agnostic customer. It’s somebody who doesn’t want the predictable experience, somebody who wants the unique lifestyle boutique hotel that’s indigenous to its community,” Sparacino said. “It’s not standardized; it’s not stuffy; it’s not your grandfather’s Buick.”
Reflecting on the name, Sparacino noted that Intrigue is a perfect fit for what the company has created. “It embodied the right type of mindset, psyche, to be able to add a certain mystique to what we do and be able to explore a lot of activity and to create a sustainable DNA that will help us build this platform and, hopefully, grow it exponentially over the next year or so,” he concluded. HB