Q&A with Ryan Totaro: NYLO Hotels

With more boutique- and lifestyle-influenced options available to guests, hotel companies have had to up their game, delivering distinct and authentic experiences for guests. Here, Ryan Totaro, CEO of NYLO Hotels, talks differentiation, trends and the journey the company has been on since its acquisition in 2015.

All hotels want to be boutique or lifestyle today. How do you define that? It’s true—there are a lot of brands trying to lay claim to that space, so much so that the terms have almost lost their meaning. What’s more exciting to us is why those terms have become so ubiquitous. It’s not surprising that hotels are trying to position themselves in this lane because the data clearly shows a growing customer demand for this type of experience.

I believe in a few years we won’t even be having this conversation, since essentially all new hotels (outside of limited-service) will aspire to be boutique or lifestyle.

How can guests differentiate between truly unique hotels and an imitation? Today’s traveler is savvy, and access to information has made the industry more transparent than ever before. That being said, it’s far easier for a brand to create a hotel experience online than it is to consistently deliver that experience to the guest. And if their experience at the property doesn’t match the online proclamations, they won’t return. So we have faith that guests can ultimately distinguish the authentic from the superficial. 

How is NYLO raising the bar so that its offerings remain distinct? Since we acquired the company in 2015, distinction has been a primary driver of the NYLO vision, from both the brand and the management perspectives. An ever-crowded marketplace demands it.

For us, the first step was to assemble a team of the highest caliber creative talents to lead NYLO’s brand evolution. We intentionally sought hotel industry outsiders who were untainted by industry norms, but who, like me, shared a deep passion for the transformative power of travel. This alchemy gave us the best odds to create something truly differentiated.

Step two was to recruit a new generation of operational leaders to implement the NYLO vision cohesively across all of the guest touchpoints. They were vital to ensure that each component was distinctive for the right reason: enhancing the guest experience.

With these elements in place, we then leveraged our platform by partnering with brands and companies that we love. This added further depth to the NYLO ecosystem and additional layers of distinction. 

How do you see guest expectations and demands—and the industry’s attempts to meet those needs—evolving? Technology continues to transform the way we live our lives.  Today’s seamless connectivity has made us less tethered than ever to physical spaces like offices, and deteriorated the separation between work and life. For many, there is no such thing anymore as a business trip or a leisure trip. So in my view, in order to avoid functional obsolescence, hotels need to provide tools and amenities that enable the traveler to seamlessly toggle between business and pleasure. Said simply—more business meetings by the pool.

But, I’m also very interested in the divergent effect. This constant connectivity can be distracting, frankly overwhelming. This has made disconnection and serenity highly desired commodities. As hotels evolve, the ability to offer guests that proper balance of engagement and disconnection, vibrancy and serenity will be increasingly vital. It’s hugely important to us.

What do you feel is the most feasible, achievable goal for your company in the year ahead? To provide the best guest experience in the industry. A guest might book NYLO because the building photographs are beautiful, or because of an online review or their interest in our artist collaborations. But a guest will only consistently return to NYLO because they had a stellar experience before, during and after their stay. That’s our focus.

Any long-term goals you can share? We believe the efforts of the past two years have vaulted us back to the forefront of the industry. But companies rise and fall. Our goal is to retain the outsider spirit and entrepreneurial dedication that led us to this point, so that we remain at the forefront for years to come.

To advance this goal, the NYLO platform is comprehensive, including a management company, a brand, a creative team and select ownership of real estate assets. This insulates us from a lot of the inherent structural friction in the industry between brand, manager and owner, which often inhibits innovation. Our cohesion should enable us to respond quickly and effectively to changing market forces over time.

What is NYLO’s current growth strategy? Strategic or opportunistic? After acquiring NYLO, our strategic focus was initially internal, to build a best-in-class hospitality platform. Now, as we look outward at the expansion of the platform, we are decidedly both. 

NYLO is positioned to outperform in the largest and most competitive markets, as we do with our hotel in New York City. But our cost structures—both developmental and operational—enable us to look beyond the gateway cities and into lower RevPAR markets. Hotel options in these markets are often less than inspiring, which further accentuates the NYLO differentiation.

What do you consider as challenges to the industry over the next decade? The relationship between the OTAs and hotels continues to be a challenge. When used to absorb inventory on a daily basis, OTAs are expensive. But when viewed as a one-time customer acquisition channel, they can be quite cost effective. Once booked, it’s up to NYLO to interact with the guest in a way that it not only motivates them to return, but to do so via direct engagement through the brand channels.

The ongoing ability to adapt to advancements in technology will be a major factor in determining which companies succeed. Tech should be viewed not as a replacement for human service, but as a complementary tool to further empower your team in the quest for maximum guest satisfaction. If we can do that, we’ll stay ahead of the game. HB

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