Since joining Spire Hospitality in 2018, Dawna Comeaux has risen to COO of the company. Comeaux has extensive hospitality experience, holding various positions at Pillar Hotels & Resorts, Archon Hospitality (a Goldman Sachs company) and Prism Hotels & Resorts.
Hotel Business caught up with the industry vet about her time in hospitality and her plans for Spire during a global pandemic. Although COVID-19 has affected Spire as it has the entire industry, Comeaux remains confident in the management company’s abilities. In fact, Comeaux shared that the trials brought on by the pandemic have proved Spire to be a hands-on company with workers who always go the extra mile to serve its guests.
What entices you about the hospitality industry? The hospitality industry is incredibly exciting in that I have had a chance to work with some great team members all over the country and clients and guests from all over the world. Every day is different, and no two are the same. Over the course of a week, you might have the opportunity to coordinate and execute a wedding, major social event or corporate meeting. You also have the responsibility to set business strategy, analyze financial performance, participate in sales calls to local businesses and at times a Fortune 500 company. I have been fortunate to have worked with some great owners and investors throughout my career. I have also had the pleasure of working side by side with some of the best talent in the industry.
One of the most fulfilling parts of my job is that I get to hire, train, inspire and develop new team members and have an impact on someone’s career or job experience. I have been able to engage in teachable moments with team members, roll up my sleeves, and wash dishes, or even make a bed and talk to guests whether traveling on business, vacation, relocating to a new city or visiting family members. Hospitality is truly one of the few industries that offers opportunities for diverse skillsets.
How has COVID-19 affected Spire? Stating the obvious, fewer guests in our hotels. Additionally, and more importantly, the crisis has allowed us the opportunity to see the depths of our team. We have witnessed more dedication and creative thinking in the last four months than I could have ever imagined. We challenged each of our hotels to run slim from a staffing perspective so we could keep the businesses operating with the goal of bringing our team back together when occupancies return. I love hearing stories about a chef preparing breakfast in the morning and cleaning rooms in the afternoon or a guest-service agent running the laundry department. I have even had a general manager and sales manager power wash and touch up their pool. It is truly an “all for one and one for all” mentality.
What challenges do you expect for management companies for the rest of the year and going into 2021? Hitting the breaks after the first quarter in 2020, which no one was prepared for, created opportunities to think about our business differently. If I had been asked this question earlier in the year, I would have said that our three biggest challenges heading into this year were staffing, staffing and staffing.
My answer today would be depleted revenue, increased costs, clean and safe work environment and above all, instilling trust in travel and our industry. Increased confidence in air travel will most certainly have a positive impact on hotel revenues. Our business has shifted from fly markets to drive markets and from heavy group and corporate travel to more social and leisure guests. Social-distancing standards have created the need for more meeting space or fewer attendees—therefore less revenue per square foot. Additionally, the surge in Zoom and similar platforms shows that meetings can be accomplished virtually.
Rising costs are always a concern, but I imagine we are going to see greater increases than in recent years in areas like workers’ compensation, liability insurance, group insurance and family leave. We absolutely support the need for increased cleaning standards, recognizing these do come with incremental costs, both in product and productivity, which will negatively impact our margins.
How do you plan on overcoming those challenges? Stay alert, be nimble and adapt quickly. With fewer touchpoints, both our sales style and guest-service approach must be flexible and innovative, creating unique, personal experiences for our clients and our guests so they are eager to return and bring their business associates, friends and families to our hotels. In the current environment, transparency is more important than ever. We need to communicate more frequently with our team members, our guests, our ownership groups, our vendors and the brands we represent—leveraging a team approach to restoring and improving value in the assets.
What’s your five-year plan with Spire? What goals do you have? My goal is to continue to build Spire’s reputation as a premier hospitality management company. Our style of management is very hands on, collaborative and responsive. This is true of our approach with our team, guests, clients and owners. Through consolidation, many companies have grown tremendously to their credit. The team at Spire, although looking to grow our business, is focused on the high-touch, overly communicative style that has brought us success through the years.
In my last job, I had direct operational responsibility for 260 hotels and 8,000 employees, which made it challenging to be as close as I wanted to be. At the end of the day, it’s about results for our owners and investors and creating a great place to work for our team. I believe that our team at Spire is well-positioned to add more hotels to our portfolio, build more institutional relationships with new investors and be well regarded within the industry.
I look forward to being a part of our growth and further creating value for our owners and career opportunities for our team. Whether we have 15 or 100 more hotels in five years is anyone`s guess, but our commitment to our owners’ and investors’ results, and to employee development, will always be our priority. HB