OYW Media Q&A: Adam Hawthorne, President of Travaasa, Vice President, Amstar

Discover how a dish washer developed a passion for hospitality that has taken him to the Mile High City to help guests experience hospitality in a whole new way.

Q: How has your career in hospitality opened your world?

I would say all-in-all it’s provided me with a great career throughout the years, I think one of my favorite things about the industry is that you can really start from any level even without a degree or without any previous experience. Start as a dishwasher or a waiter or a busboy or whatever it might be and make it to any level of the industry from that spot.

Q: How did you get from the very beginning of your career in the hospitality industry to where you are with Travaasa today?

Well, I was one of those folks that started as a dishwasher busser. That was my first job in the hospitality industry and I just kind of fell in love with it. From there I went into working the front desk at a small highway hotel in my hometown. I decided to go to the University of Denver and study further to advance my career. I ended up going to Chicago after that and working for Kimpton for a little while. And then with Hilton and their management training program, which is something I would really recommend for anyone that wants to continue their career in hospitality, is looking into a management training program that allows you to really touch each department within a hotel and start to learn operations. I went from Hilton to really wanting to get into working with independent hotels. I felt like Hilton and other brands are just a great place to learn the business. They kind of have the book written on it. But then as I wanted to advance out a little bit and try my own way, I went to independents. I worked out in Solvang, California, which is just outside of Santa Barbara. I worked at an independent hotel there and got a chance to be in a higher-level position and then a GM. And from there went to Preferred Hotels, which is another type of business that I really recommend for folks along their career path. That allowed me to get multi-property experience. I covered a region of about 50 hotels for Preferred, all independents, all that work a little bit differently. That allowed me to figure out both best practices, and things that are not just practices, and come to a better thought process for myself on what I thought was a good strategy for operating hotels. From there, I came to Amstar, which is the owner of Travaasa Experiential Resorts. We launched this brand over the last nine years. That’s really allowed me to do what I’m most passionate about, which is developing a space where people can do the activities that they love to do. So our team can do what they’re passionate about, whether that’s teaching someone how to mountain bike, or how to farm, or do yoga, or any of these things.

Q: What does a president of a resort group do?

My number one priority is creating a space for our team to be successful. That, to me, really entails giving them the space and time to do what they’re passionate about without a lot of interference. So if it is the person that’s out teaching someone how to mountain bike, that’s not something that I’m personally capable of doing or even teaching. I’m just not capable of doing that. But my role, hopefully, is giving them time and space to perform that function of their job. On the more technical side, there’s a real estate component to what I do. We’re consistently considering the value of the real estate and how the operation affects that.  And then from an operations perspective, making sure that we’re hitting financial results. Sales and marketing and revenue management are probably the most key components to that; kind of the engine that drives the ship.  It’s just ensuring that we’re constantly focused on those things. From an organizational perspective, you can lose focus on sales and marketing and revenue management and be thinking more towards expense control or even the H.R. side of the business or some of these more supportive types of departments. I think a big part of my job is ensuring that we remember that the revenue side of the business is what keeps us going. That doesn’t mean that it’s more important, but it means that we need to stay focused on it.

Q: Let’s talk about what makes a good hospitality professional. What skill sets and personality traits do you think particularly lend themselves to working in the hospitality industry, especially on the sales and revenue management side?

I think the great news is that almost any personality type can find a space within those various functions. I think each of them may take a different personality type. So if you look at sales, I would really look towards someone that is good at building relationships. I feel strongly that we’re not generally selling our hotel rooms, but the salesperson is in fact selling a relationship. They’re saying that they’re going to be here with the client throughout the process. That they’re going to be hopefully a friend first and then working with them on business. From a marketing perspective, I think that takes a creative personality kind of mixed with a someone who’s analytical because that discipline has moved so much towards analyzing the data that comes in to the ROI. And then from a revenue management perspective, you have to be very financially proficient, but a little bit of that mix of creativity from the marketing side, as well. Because the core function of that job is making the process for the guests as simple as possible to get to a booking.

Q: If someone was thinking of transitioning from one career path to another and wanted to hop over to hospitality, are there any particular other industries or careers or titles that would make for a nice fit with the hospitality industry?

I can’t think of many where someone couldn’t transition over. As we look specifically at sales, marketing, and revenue management, any of those functions in another industry are highly transferable to hotels. With revenue, anyone who has had an analytical function to their job can make that transition. But even if someone hasn’t, they can start somewhere like the front desk or reservations within a hotel. Generally, there’s going to be a lot of opportunity to move up within those departments and learn these different skill sets. 

Q: What do you see in terms of trends in the hospitality industry?

The most important trend when it comes to sales, marketing, and revenue is trying to transition more into a booking path for guests that is akin to what the retail industry has provided. If you go to the very biggest, Amazon, the simplicity that they have created for the consumer is something I think we’ve been missing for a long time in hotels. We continue to complicate that path with extensive packaging and rate structures that are complicated to understand for not only the guests, but even people within the industry. We’re going to continue to see the guests demand that that process to book a room becomes something that’s not stressful, that is more easily accessible, and really just simplified to the extent that the retail industry has done that.

Q: Would you recommend working at an experiential hotel for someone considering a career in hospitality?

It’s a pretty great space because you can come into it from even more disciplines than are normally passions available in the hotel industry.

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