Friday, September 07, 2007

Hotels Were the Center of Early American Settlements

I've been blessed with great hoteliers. While only 3% of Durham's visitor-related stakeholders, they can often be the bane of a Bureau's existence. It is aptly said that hotels worry about today, CVBs about tomorrow.

According to historians like Daniel Boorstin, hotels are a uniquely American innovation. At one time, hotels were the center of our early settlements, and owners and managers were the most involved in the community; their lobbies were the original "civic meeting places," many the epitome of civic pride, the place where events took place, the center of the community.

Today, hoteliers are more often tethered so tightly by chains or franchise flags, if not owners, that they come and go every two years, three if a community is lucky. Often they don't even live in the destination where the hotel is physically located, which can make them even more detached. Their companies rarely give them time to be outside the hotel and often schedule visits or meetings without regard to a hotelier's commitments locally. With a few exceptions, regional and national overseers drop in at a minute's notice and demand hoteliers drop everything.

Fortunately a good friend, Richard Green, a VP at Marriott, is working with other chain counterparts to try and shift that paradigm.

But Durham and DCVB have been blessed. People like Martino, Hunter, Philbrick, Pokrass, Dempsey, Lile, McGhee, Teber, Wagner, Adams, Vickery, Defeo, Book, Simpson, Koll, Spencer and many, many others have come through Durham and taken a strong role in teaming with DCVB to build the Durham brand.

People like Ron Hunter started at entry level and worked up to general manager, while raising a family in Durham and giving back to the community in a way that has brought his hotel untold millions in business.

Mike MartinoMike Martino (pictured here) at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel and Convention Center is extraordinary. His hotel was built in the late '80s by a developer two towns away in nearby Raleigh. Early on, it probably wasn't clear the hotel knew it was located in Durham. But Mike's been here as long as I have. (We both had gray streaks in our hair until it all began to turn gray.)

Mike is upbeat, always can do, courageous, willing to stand up for what's right and never, never self-serving. He's bonded the hotel with Durham. He's supervised the property's contribution to Durham charitable causes, most recently running a can drive to support Durham Rescue Mission following a disastrous fire that wiped out its food supply.

Hotels are only 3% of the visitor-related businesses in Durham. They are virtually dependent on the destination (the very first decision any traveler makes is "where to go," not "where to stay").

But hotels can work with other visitor-related businesses, restaurants, shopping, entertainment, performing and visual arts, historic sites, sports clubs to forge a destination… or they can hijack a destination for special interests or they can hold a destination back.

Durham has been blessed with great hoteliers, and it has accelerated the community's evolution as a destination.

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