OYW Media Q&A: Reggie Cooper, General Manager, Salamander Resort & Spa, Middleburg, Virginia

A third-generation hotelier follows his entrepreneurial spirit to grow a successful career at some of the most sought-after independent hotels and resorts in the world.

How has your role in Hospitality Sales, Marketing and Revenue Management opened your world?

The people. The people I’ve gotten to meet by running high prestige luxury properties, whether it’s sharing coffee with a guest who is a former Secretary of State or having royalty come through. It’s really changed my world just in terms of how much I enjoy the individuals that you meet. And I’ve been fortunate in my career to work in the independent space and have had very unique, entrepreneurial owners that have allowed me to continue to try new things and develop new things.

How did you start your career in hospitality?

I’m a third-generation hotelier, so my grandfather ran the Royal York in Toronto. My father worked for Canadian Pacific and Hotels in their corporate offices and my mother ran our family restaurant. When I was 10, my mother didn’t have a dishwasher and I was put into service. I think that was where I started. I still think if I had stuck with it I probably could have been the best in the industry at washing dishes, but unfortunately, I kept moving forward. So, I think being born above a restaurant sort of predisposes you to find out what a fascinating industry this is and that’s what led me to become part of hospitality. Knowing so much about hospitality and really enjoying watching people interact with the employees and seeing what the guests get out of it was something that was attractive to me to pursue as a career.

How would you describe your day-to-day life as a General Manager in the hospitality industry?

I like to say it’s like a time traveler, because you’re working on things, like an event, that is not going to come until next year or the year after. Then you’re working with people who are coming in a couple of months. You’ve got events that are going to happen two days from now that you have to get ready for. Then you have the guest of the moment, the ones that are in house. And then you get to look back and say what did we do yesterday? Then we can close a month and you’ll look at the financial results, you get the Star report, you say how did we do last week against our competitive set? So, just defined as a time traveler where you get to cover about two-year span of time each day in what you do.

What would surprise people about your role as a General Manager?

I really enjoy watching the staff/guest interaction and to be part of that. It’s not uncommon for me to call my wife and say, “I haven’t had enough of it today. I’m going to be a few more hours before I get home.” That feeds my soul and my dedication to what I do. Just seeing that happen with our guests and with our staff members and how they how they really feel competent and proud of what they do.

What are some of the hidden benefits of your role as a General Manager?

For me, one of the greatest benefits is seeing people grow in their careers. I’m old enough now that I have a series of people I worked with when they were straight out of straight out of college and now they’re executives in other hotels and other resorts around the world. That’s such a benefit to be that mentor and pay tribute to all the people who mentored me growing up. And I really enjoy those relationships that we maintain outside of that. You know, it’s just a great industry and regardless of whether you’re competing with the property across the street, you still have a kinship and friendship with everybody that’s in that property. The other hoteliers that are in this industry might change properties, but we still have friendships and relationships and know each other’s families and spouses and that’s really unique. There’s not a lot of industries where competitors are that good a friend. We share ideas and ways that things are working for us that might help someone else. So, I think that is such an emotional return that we get out of doing this beyond just operating great hotels.

How would you explain the difference between the operations side of hospitality and the sales, marketing and revenue management side?

I think it’s evolved so much over time. You look at how robust that is now, all the data points and how much as a general manager we rely on that information to really design what you’re going to do tonight and the next week. The sales and marketing aspect of it really has evolved to be such a skill, whereas before, there was a lot of intuition. Now it ties to so many more points of view and understanding what consumer you’re trying to talk to and what messages are going to be the right ones to bring them in. In operations, you’re often using your physical skills and your talents to provide service. In sales and marketing, you’re in an intuitive role where you really have to learn what the product is that you’re offering, but then be able to slow down and think about how do you match what you have to what a consumer’s needs, whether that’s in the corporate space or if you’re to convince someone to come use your zip line tomorrow afternoon.

Individuals going into this this industry and into the sales and marketing arena have so many more distribution points than what we used to have. So, you really have to be able to keep up with current trends.  Where’s the social media? How many people are paying attention to what I’m posting? It’s such a dynamic industry and field compared to how it could have been looked at in the past. Now we see more people want to go into the social media side of what we do. And that’s encouraging to see more youth coming into it.

How would you characterize the importance of data for a General Manager?

I think yes everybody has a different tolerance for how much data they want to consume. I’m sort of a data junkie and so I consider my Director of Revenue Management to be sort of my pusher of constant data because each time you pull apart and look at something closer you’re going to find a nugget of business. So, every piece of data you can get, every little kernel of information that you can find is one that you can mine to find a way to develop a healthy business.

How much of your success is data-based and how much is people-based?

You want to have multiple facets of customers. We’re really trying to develop and grow new sources of guests coming in. To only think of yourself as having only one type of consumers coming through, you’d miss the other fringe. That diversity of guests who come through here and what they’re doing helps us drive what our offer is going to be in the future and what programs we should be offering. I really feel there has to be that connection to it and not just someone in a remote location looking at your books.

Can you tell us more about the role of Director of Revenue Management in the hospitality industry?

Typically, they have a very close relationship with both the sales and marketing department, but also with reservations, because that’s really the end point. Reservations is so much less now about who’s physically answering the phone as it is which portal is the reservation going through and what data do you have loaded. So, there’s a lot of analytics to it. There’re some incredible companies that have that have come to the forefront that allow you to look at that data, but then it’s making sure that you have the proper inventory available in various areas. So, it’s a lot of digging into numbers. Then, I try to really make sure that person is connected with the Rooms Division, the operations side of things, because they have an intuitive sense of who’s coming through. So, it doesn’t become just numbers and digits, it includes the emotional connections that people have. That individual is one that I put a lot of reliance on, because if you don’t have that working, then your property is probably not fulfilling its opportunities.

In your opinion, why should someone pursue a career in Hospitality Sales, Marketing and Revenue Management?

This is one of the greatest industries that you can find throughout the world. There’re amazing properties at all different scales and you’re going to work with people whose goal is to make people have an enjoyable experience. I can think of no other industry where you get that opportunity on a daily basis. And if you decide you want to live in a different country or in a different climate, there’s always opportunities available to you if your work hard and do good work. So, I think this is a very attractive industry to get into as one that that someone can do for their entire life.

What kind of person is a good fit for hospitality sales marketing and revenue management?

Someone who is willing to look at a big picture, that’s willing to be you know inclusive of other people’s opinions, and to be able to enjoy hospitality. I will often pull people out of the sales and marketing offices and have them come and on the floor. It’s not just making that reservation happen or they’re making that future booking, it’s about seeing the executives doing lawn Olympics, something you would never expect them to do, but they enjoying being here. So, I think the personality and the desire to see people enjoy the product is something that’s unique to hospitality sales, marketing, and revenue management.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out who wants to pursue a career in hospitality?

Just take everything. If somebody will let you do it, take it. Take that responsibility. Don’t worry about the recognition or compensation. All of that comes later. Just get every ounce of experience you can out of those first years in the industry and be inquisitive. I think often people feel like they have to put in their dues. No more dues in life, just dive into it. For me, with a father and a grandfather who work in a corporate hotel setting, they told me very early on that I would be well suited to work in an independent property because of my entrepreneurial spirit. That was something that I wanted to do as a competitive athlete. That’s what drives me. I think someone has to decide that early on: do they want to be in that independent space or are they okay working within a hierarchy of a company and the safety of a company? So, I think at first you need to know where you want to be. 

Can people transition into the hospitality industry from other career paths?

Sure. We’ve transitioned many people into this industry. We know a school teacher who had the right personality and drive and ability to complete work and after a short amount of time we were able to make them into a very successful salesperson. I don’t think you have to be your whole life on a direct course. All of those life skills, all of that personal travel, all of those unique interests that an individual has adds to what they bring to this on to this job. To be able to create those types of experiences is not something that anybody can ever come to too late to in life and, certainly, you can ever come too early to it. So, it’s a unique situation.