HB ON THE SCENE: Davidson ‘pivots’ toward destination hospitality

CORAL GABLES, FL—Every hotel has its own story. Some choose to tell it by closing doors and keeping guests on the property (resorts with casinos come to mind). Others tear down walls by welcoming in surrounding communities and freeing guests from the shackles of the stereotypical branded hotel (the brand is the experience). With regard to Pivot Hotels and Resorts, Davidson Hotels & Resorts—a hospitality management company—believes its strategic approach to its lifestyle division’s properties fits into the latter.

In October, executives from Davidson and its Pivot division met with reporters at Hotel Colonnade Coral Gables, the newest addition to Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide’s Tribute Portfolio. The 157-room property recently completed an $18-million renovation.

Currently, Pivot has five other properties, two of which will be opening in 2018. Two properties have already opened. Destinations under the Pivot umbrella include Eugene, OR; Miami; Key Largo, FL; Nashville, TN; Chicago; and San Francisco.

Nearly one year ago, Davidson debuted Pivot with these core values in mind: commitment, integrity, innovation, equality and trust. And Pivot’s mission is to service the next generation of travelers by delivering performance from a new perspective.

Based on guidelines and tips, Pivot’s service delivery is “tailored, but it is largely based on intuitive service,” unlike the scripted approach in the “brand world,” said Albert Smith, SVP at Pivot.

Incorporating the personalized attention intentionally sets up the framework for a long-term relationship with the guest. “We need to build those emotional connections, and that’s what we believe in this stage of the game builds loyalty,” he said.

An example of this is a hotel receptionist handing a credit card back to a guest, instead of slamming it on the counter. “It’s the little things,” Smith added.

Paying attention to a guest’s body language is another example. Recognizing a guest has been through a long day and addressing that through the proper actions can change a guest’s mood for the better. “By the time they get to your hotel late at night, they just want to get up to the room. So, you have to know from their body language—maybe don’t talk them up as much as you would earlier in the day,” he said.

If a guest checks in and isn’t feeling well, then “sending up the chicken soup with a handwritten note from the chef” could help with speeding up a guest’s recovery, noted Smith.

This made-to-order experience also absorbs its surroundings, particularly the hotel and its destination. “We want to be known as a community partner, shifting the mindset in that direction to really show appreciation to the community for letting us be here,” said Caroline Dyal, recently appointed VP of operations at Pivot Hotels & Resorts.

Compared to a traditional branded hotel, a Pivot property isn’t the destination—the location it’s situated in is. For example, the destination for Hotel Colonnade Coral Gables is the city itself or South Florida. This wasn’t the case when the hotel formerly operated under the Westin brand. “The Westin was the destination,” Davidson President and CEO John Belden said. “Once they got you here, they wanted you to stay inside the hotel and experience Westin.”

“We want you to understand the neighborhood, most importantly, but we also want you to tie into the things that make the locality great,” he said, continuing to make the case for Pivot’s approach to the lifestyle market. “As we bring the outside in, we connect so much more powerfully with the customer. We’re trusting and expanding on a relationship with a customer by letting them go, as opposed to keeping them here.”

Having the connection with the community builds the story, which is how Pivot strives to stay true to a property’s history and culture. “People remember where they are because of the moments they get while they’re there,” said Thom Geshay, COO at Davidson. “We want the guests to have the experience that’s all around them.” These mutually beneficial relationships thrive as guests share their stories with their networks on social media platforms. “That word-of-mouth creates a connection to the area and that connection creates loyalty,” he said. “That loyalty and word-of-mouth is what spreads.”

Pivot prides itself on crafting a unique personality for each one of its properties, which creates unforeseen challenges for Davidson’s lifestyle division. “You have to manage all of those ‘children’—with their different personalities and relationships, and make sure the people working in the hotel are really delivering that story,” Belden explained.

“If you’re a brand, you have a program,” Geshay said. “You go into market with your program, and you make it happen—just in a different city.”

Thom Geshay Davidson Hotels & Resorts

Thom Geshay
Davidson Hotels & Resorts

While common business practices and philosophies tie Pivot properties together, they don’t brand them in the traditional sense—property distinction reigns indefinitely as an overarching theme. “There will not be any hotels that say Pivot on the sign of the hotel,” said Geshay. “Pivot is more of a collection of individual, unique hotels versus a brand in itself.” That being said, each property is “unique and right for its individual market.”

The ideal program for a property fills the gap within a market, and this can be done more easily when a brand isn’t attached. “This allows us to personally target what’s missing in the market. We’re hoping it resonates with businesses in terms of their lodging, and F&B needs,” Belden said. “It allows us to connect with the local businesses and promote their business, which, in turn, helps promote our business.”

For instance, take Hotel Zachary, the property being built across from Wrigley Field, which will be operated by Davidson. The sports-themed experience has flooded the Wrigleyville neighborhood itself, Geshay said. The new hotel is going to be “more like the living room of the neighborhood,” he said. “It’s going to feel like Wrigleyville. It’s going to be an elevated Wrigleyville experience, authentic to the neighborhood.”

While Davidson isn’t shy about letting the industry in on its expectations for growth, its strategy to execute on its vision is a bit more reserved. “We are definitely in the business of looking at acquiring other management companies,” Belden said. However, he also noted the company isn’t going to “buy growth just for growth’s sake.”

“It needs to be culturally aligned, and it needs to be something that spawns a unique growth opportunity for us, whether it’s a new geographic location we can leverage, a new product line or acquiring talent,” he said, outlining the hospitality group’s criteria for a potential buy. “There has to be a one-plus-one-equals-three element to it.” HB

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