Isidro (Sid) is an expert in the entire real estate development cycle of hospitality projects, large-scale master-planned communities, and mixed-use and residential developments with hands-on experience in all stages of the process: site selection, project conceptualization, feasibility, financial underwriting, design, permitting, construction, sales & marketing, operations, asset management and divestiture.
He is currently Regional Vice President for Coldwell Banker in Northeastern US and previously occupied several senior-level positions in major real estate companies around the world. So, with more than 20 years of hospitality experience from the outside looking in, last year Sid decided to purchase The Escape Inn and, since then, has been learning the ins and outs of the hospitality industry…from the inn-side.
In this hospitality industry webinar, Sid sat down with Micrometrics Marketing Lead, Dave Hale, to share his top insights as an industry outsider…what he has seen work well now that he is immersed in the day-to-day operations of his property and where can the industry find room for improvement?
The beginnings of The Escape Inn
Sid is a self-proclaimed real estate junkie and he spends a lot of his time on Zillow and Realtor.com. He came across The Escape Inn during one of his morning searches and he and his wife jumped on the opportunity. Sid exclaimed to his wife “this is gonna be fun. I mean it’s Cape Cod, which is great, not too far from home so why don’t we experiment on this. This is like having 20 Airbnbs one next to the other.”
Before taking possession of the hotel and working in the day to day operations Sid was nervous about guest interactions and potentially having to deal with unpleasant people. He explains, “I won’t say that I was expecting for people to be unpleasant but I thought they were going to be more demanding and you know the experience with guests has been fantastic, we get along very well.” Sid and his wife wanted to make sure that they were really focusing on their guest relationships and so they looked at some of the routine guest interactions at a hotel and tried to make them more like an Airbnb. For example, instead of having a standard check-in and check-out process that you would have standing in line at a hotel they have online check-ins, smart locks on hotel doors, and payments made upfront instead of at the end of the stay.
The guest experience
Instead of using their time and energy for the check-in and check-out process, they use technology to do that for them and instead they spend their time brand-building through tangible guest experiences. “The first time we see people, where we make a conscious effort to be, is during breakfast,” Sid explained. “People are in a good mood and naturally conversation comes up so we have great breakfast conversations with a ton of guests. I think that is our best marketing tool. I mean, you really establish a little personal relationship with the people, not with all of them but a good percentage. So that comes back to you in very good reviews. I think that it’s a pleasant two hours that you dedicate in your entire day to doing these PR efforts which is enjoyable. I’m not just doing it because of PR, I do it because I like to talk to people.” He continued to say that the size of the property lends itself very well and easily to create those types of interactions, something that could not be done in a 200 room property.
Dave went on to ask Sid if there were any other areas of operational improvements or enhancements that he and his wife thought of when they took over the property. Sid expressed how hard it was to hire staff to work in Cape Cod during the summer since it can be very expensive to find a place to live so they had to get creative. They installed Roombas in every room to help with room turnovers and to minimize the amount of energy and time that goes into cleaning the rooms after a guest’s stay. They also decided to install Alexa’s in each room to act as an alarm clock and so that guests could listen to music and even watch a TV show or movie.
Plans for growth and expansion
Dave asked, “so, you do business development for a living and it’s all about growth. It’s about how to grow market share or capture new skill sets or whatever it is you need in that job. At the Escape Inn, what is that you plan to do moving forward? Are you going to do more of these? Is it about maximizing revenue or improving guest experience? What is your focus moving forward?” Sid answered that there are plans for a potential expansion and future development on the property since they have about an acre of land that is undeveloped so far but since construction costs are so high right now that has been placed on the backburner. He goes on to say that “a 20 room hotel is what I call a sour spot – it’s too small to have this infrastructure but large enough to bring a lot of headaches. So if I can, we’re planning to do clusters. If I can’t do it in the hotel, which would be ideal because then you can dilute a few fixed costs, then definitely in the area, something that I can cross-pollinate.”
“If you could summarize the number one lesson learned since taking over a small property what would you say it is in terms of solid operation, improved guest experience, sales, marketing – what is the number one thing you’ve learned?” Dave asked Sid. Sid went on to say that buying The Escape Inn was like buying a job. “It’s not yet to the level of an investment, it’s just we bought ourselves a job, a summer job, and an excuse to be in Cape Cod. I have a sailboat so I take the guests sailing so for me it’s a bit of a vacation but I don’t spend all my time here, my wife does. My experience has been very positive. For a property like this people need to feel that you’re into it and you’re enjoying it. If you want to be a hotel investor you need at least 60 rooms and up because that allows you to create a little bit of infrastructure, but being a seasonal property it allows you to enjoy it.”
Sid explained that the hotel is normally open from mid-April to the end of October but this year they are going to experiment with keeping it open during the weekends until Thanksgiving. He went on to say that “mid-June to end of September is the very busy season and during that time it works very well and I’m happy with the numbers. I had a goal and I had a stretch goal so we went above that stretch goal, obviously with pent up demand from the pandemic so let’s see how it is next year. It used to be that 25% off of the guests were international, we don’t have any now but that’s compensated by all the local travel that picked up significantly. So we are very happy numbers-wise and experience-wise.”
A member of the audience asked Sid which hotel brand he would want to own in his portfolio and he answered that he would choose a lifestyle brand, more specifically a Four Seasons hotel. Sid explained that it is “the gold standard and what I believe is the most successful hotel brand in the world, definitely well I’m not very original what I’m saying. But what impresses me about Four Seasons is the brand loyalty I mean Four Seasons guests are Four Seasons guests, period. So that’s where they go and it doesn’t matter where the Four Seasons is, they will still go there and they can create any destination. They are very good at picking destinations and running with them.”
Dave then asked Sid to expand on what lessons can be applied to The Escape Inn from the Four Seasons, especially around loyalty and getting guests that are staying with them this year to come back again. Sid replied, “well, Four Seasons or any of the luxury brands actually – it’s not about buildings. In my experience, a four-star hotel or a five-star hotel have similar facilities but it’s all about the guest experience. One of the things that they spend a lot of time on, at least from what I saw, is figuring out how to create that personal connection. They’re not making the person feel like a number but like a guest. We are never going to be a luxury property that’s the first thing. It’s escaping it’s not a luxury property and we love it. We have a professional class of people that visit and we have a good time so we want to keep it that way. Our price point is on the low end for the Cape but it does allow us to give that guest experience. Training people to give the guest experience is extremely expensive but when you’re the owner that’s easier. When I go to a property I like the effort that they put into giving you the sense that you are at home, you appreciate the effort that they make.”
If you’re interested in hearing the whole conversation including even more details and anecdotes click HERE.
As a reminder, Micrometrics believes that businesses should create more meaningful connections with the people they serve by enhancing face-to-face interactions and creating connections with guests at scale. Our hospitality clients leverage powerful messaging automations to improve customer experience and operational efficiency at their properties. You can learn more about us at https://www.micrometrics.com/hospitality/