Q&A with Andrea Mue – Aqua-Aston Hospitality

After a long career on the financial side of the hotel industry, Andrea Mue was elevated to managing director of Hawaii-based management company Aqua-Aston Hospitality. Hotel Business caught up with the California native to discuss her new role and the company’s expansion to the continental U.S.
—Adam Perkowsky

What did you want to be when you grew up? How did you get your start in hospitality?
During my childhood, I thought about being a marine biologist. Growing up on the Monterey Bay in California, the ocean and all that it holds intrigued me. However, on a snorkeling adventure in the Hawaiian Islands when I was about nine, I recognized that while the ocean was intriguing, being face-to-face with some of the marine life might be just a little too close.

My first exposure to hospitality was applying for a part-time job in college in the reservations department of the San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito, CA, which was an Auberge hotel at the time. I was majoring in business economics at UC Santa Barbara and had never previously thought about hospitality, but this role was the beginning of falling in love with the industry. I have been hooked on the industry ever since. I enjoyed the guest interactions, being part of the team and the leadership team at Auberge allowed me the opportunity to learn and experience several different positions during my time there.

Why are you passionate about the hotel industry?
My passion for the hotel industry is fundamentally rooted in a belief that through the guest journey, we, as hoteliers, can deliver experiences that emotionally touch people and leave lasting memories. I believe it isn’t what guests do or see, but how they feel during their stay that will carry with them. This stems from genuine and authentic hospitality.

What has your career journey been like, especially as a female in the industry?
I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with an amazing group of leaders and mentors in the industry throughout my career. My time at Kimpton Hotels really helped to shape the leader that I am today, and I am so grateful for the opportunities that were given to me. As a woman in the industry, it is important that you be “you” and don’t try to be something that you aren’t.

You spent most of your career in financial roles. Why did you decide to take that path?
As mentioned, I was a business economics major in college and after graduation, I worked for Ernst & Young. During my time there, I quickly gravitated towards hospitality and real estate clients. Hotels and restaurants became my calling, so when I looked to transition out of public accounting, the transition felt so natural over to Kimpton, which I had the pleasure of working with for my last few years at E&Y. From there, my career has remained focused on the finance side of hospitality.

How has your role changed now that you are managing director of Aqua-Aston Hospitality?
I joined Aqua-Aston Hospitality in December 2018 as SVP/chief financial executive. In that role, I spearheaded a transformation in the company’s financial strategy, implementing substantive changes to enhance the company’s accounting and financial operations, including budgeting, financial reporting and audit functions.

In my new role, I lead a specialized team of strategic operations and commercial specialists to support Aqua-Aston’s diverse business model. In steering the company’s approach to investment opportunities, deals and risk management, I ensure the delivery of exceptional value for guests, residents, partners and owners. One of my biggest passions is challenging the status quo, while prioritizing the human side of the business, and leading with values, such as integrity and honesty, accuracy in reporting and a commitment to strategic agility.

Aqua-Aston spent many years focused on properties in Hawaii. Why did the company decide to expand to the continental U.S.?
This move allows us to tap into larger and growing markets, access new customer segments and increase revenue streams. It also helps diversify our geographic presence, reducing the risk associated with being too heavily concentrated in one area, providing stability and resilience against unforeseen events that can have significant negative impacts, including natural disasters, pandemics and other large-scale threats.

What is the growth plan for the company?
While acquiring new management agreements in Hawaii and in other markets is a strategic priority, we are equally committed to nurturing and growing its longstanding vacation rental business throughout the Hawaiian Islands, where we have operated since 1948.

To do this, we have prioritized innovation in our business centered on our core values and geared towards meeting the needs of our stakeholders, including our associates, our community, our guests, our condo and hotel owners, our industry partners and our extended family of Marriott Vacations Worldwide colleagues. Our growth strategy is grounded in a commercial approach to how we do business, including the evolution of our operating model, our marketing and distribution strategies and a firm commitment to prioritizing company culture and talent development.

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