I’ll Take Manhattan

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Building a Global Flagship: Mark Hoplamazian, president & CEO of Hyatt Hotels Corporation, is shown here at Park Hyatt New York, which opens this summer.
Building a Global Flagship: Mark Hoplamazian, president & CEO of Hyatt Hotels Corporation, is shown here at Park Hyatt New York, which opens this summer.

Mark Hoplamazian, president and CEO of Hyatt Hotels Corporation, slowly enters the model room of the Park Hyatt New York, eyeing the details of the walls, the flooring and all the furnishings in between. He turns his head to the large bathroom, complete with sleek slate floors and a stark white stand-alone tub, and asks what we think of the lighting. As we give him the thumbs up, he’s already perusing the rest of the chic yet residential-style room. He takes in a very blue, abstract painting over the bed and finally fixes his gaze on a spacious seating area with a gray fabric-covered settee and a large, simple work desk accented by a silver bowl with green apples in it. What’s outside the floor-to-ceiling windows is worth its own stare; Carnegie Hall and the Russian Tea Room are literally across the street. Central Park is a quick stroll away. Talk about a sense of place, talk about living like a local.

This is the first time Hoplamazian is seeing this model room for Park Hyatt New York, which opens this summer as the global flagship for the luxury hotel brand. He saw an earlier version set up in nearby Long Island City, but this is the real deal, and the stakes are high financially and for the public perception of the brand. Upon completion, Hyatt will own two-thirds of the hotel in partnership with Extell Development Company; that adds up to approximately a $253 million investment for the overall $375 million project. The hotel’s general manager is among the best in the business; Walter Brindell, who is also an area vice president, has been with Hyatt for 26 years. Hailing most recently from Park Hyatt Chicago, in 2011, he was named Hyatt’s General Manager of the Year.

The physical aspect of Park Hyatt New York will generate consumer buzz, as it sits on the first 25 floors of the iconic, 90-story One57 skyscraper, whose sheer height has already altered Manhattan’s skyline. That’s not something that happens every day, nor does every luxury hotel company enjoy the opportunity of opening a new flagship in New York City, though most will tell you that’s their utmost fantasy.

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“Park Hyatt New York really establishes a new standard-bearer for the brand because it’s in a prominent location in a prominent building in arguably the most important travel city in the world,” Hoplamazian tells Luxury Travel Advisor.

The hotel is not just a game changer for the brand, it’s meant to shake things up in Manhattan. “The goal is to make it the best luxury hotel in New York,” he adds.

Indeed, standard and deluxe rooms at Park Hyatt New York will be among the largest in the city at 475 and 530 square feet respectively, on trend with affluent consumer demand for plenty of space. Of the 210 rooms, nearly half are suites, clearly aiming to please the upscale traveler, and interior designs are by the famed team of Yabu Pushelberg (think St. Regis in Bal Harbour and San Francisco; the Public Chicago; and the new Four Seasons Hotel Toronto).

Hoplamazian is not only concerned about the “stuff” in the room (there’s a neat bureau designed as an old-fashioned valise that hides the room’s safe and storage for guest slippers and reading material, and the subtly shimmering drapes are made of seemingly miles and miles of silk); he’s also especially intent that the overall design sends a subliminal positive vibe to the guest, who will pay an average $1,000 rate for the privilege of staying in an entry level room category.

He explains his close scrutiny. “It’s to determine if the room looks better and better the closer I look, or does it look worse? I’m happy to say I have a good impression, looking at the simple things, like the alignment of the pictures to the ceiling and all the product-related stuff. That all creates an expectation, a sense of place for the person who picks up on these visual cues passively and forms an impression of the experience they are going to have. The guest might not be a design expert, but they’ll elicit a sense of comfort and confidence from the decisions a designer has crafted for the look of the room and how it’s been executed,” he says.

That Hoplamazian has such an intuitive sense of design is notable considering he cut his teeth on the investment side of the business before taking the helm at Hyatt in 2006. Raised on the Main Line of Philadelphia, Hoplamazian graduated from Harvard as an economics major (his thesis was on lesser-developed countries), spent a bit of time at the London School of Economics and worked in Manhattan as an investment banker before heading to grad school at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Being in the Windy City brought him the opportunity in 1989 to work for the wealthy and philanthropic Pritzker Organization (TPO), run by Chicago’s most famous family. There, he essentially ran the family business, investing capital for its many entities. In 2006, Chairman Tom Pritzker asked Hoplamazian to serve as interim president for one of TPO’s companies while a search for a new CEO was underway. That company was Hyatt Hotels, and Hoplamazian, after four months, liked the job quite a lot. “I was smitten,” he tells Luxury Travel Advisor. “I really fell in love with it. I fell in love with the people. I fell in love with the industry.”

Melding Park Hyatt with the Arts: Katherine Melchior Ray creates a cultural connection for each hotel.
Melding Park Hyatt with the Arts: Katherine Melchior Ray creates a cultural connection for each hotel.

That didn’t mean there wasn’t much more to be done that required his intense business savvy; Hoplamazian led Hyatt through its 2009 initial public offering and has grown it to a multi-branded business with $4 billion of annual revenue and a $9 billion stock-market capitalization. Since the IPO, the company has grown from 399 hotels to 529 hotels, entering more than 70 new markets, including Mexico City, Amsterdam, Costa Rica, Tanzania and Kuala Lumpur. New brands, such as Hyatt House, Hyatt Ziva and Hyatt Zilara, have been added; the former is an extended-stay product, the latter two are all-inclusives.

Consider the growth in New York alone. Before 2009, Hyatt, as a then-privately held company, only had one hotel in Manhattan, the Grand Hyatt, and now has seven properties, including Andaz Wall Street, Andaz 5th Avenue, Hyatt 48|Lex, Hyatt Union Square, Hyatt Times Square and Hyatt Place Midtown-South.

The luxury side of the business has also been well tended to. In 2009, there were 25 Park Hyatts; today, there are 32. Significant growth is planned, with Park Hyatts set to open in Los Cabos, Mallorca, Zanzibar, Bangkok, Marrakech, Guangzhou and Phuket.

All, like New York, will have a strong sense of place; Park Hyatt Vienna debuts June 1 as the only hotel in the city’s Golden Quarter in a 100-year-old building that housed the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy Bank. Ceilings are 14-foot high and guest rooms will be among the largest in Vienna, ranging from 430 to 1,830 square feet.

Such expansion for any luxury hotel brand is news enough, but know as well that the goal for any Park Hyatt is to be the top performer in its market, the best in its locale.

“A significant proportion of our Park Hyatts have number-one or number-two positions in their respective sets,” says Hoplamazian. “It’s really important for us from a financial perspective to ensure we’re able to operate at the top of the respective market.” That’s done by deliberately determining if there is a demand from the company’s customer base. When that’s confirmed, it’s noted whether there’s a possibility to create a strong sense of place by working closely with local cultural establishments and artists.

Hyatt’s relatively small size as a hotel company enables it to be quite strategic with every addition. “Every incremental hotel is quite important to us. It makes a big difference to us. We don’t need to go and spray and pray and just add for the sake of adding,” says Hoplamazian. For that reason, Park Hyatt doesn’t seek to simply be in gateway cities; it scouts sites whose locales have a strong voice, or, according to Hoplamazian, that have “incredible centuries of history and magnificent cultural aspects. The property itself is unique and has its own history, where everything about our ability to express the brand can be fulfilled.”

Case in point: Park Hyatt New York will allow the best local artists, chefs, interior and fashion designers, musicians and collectors to showcase their specialties. Park Hyatt Washington, D.C. is more about Americana and the American craft tradition. Because Tony Chi designed the hotel, there’s a tea bar and other elements that evoke an Asian flare. The arts in Park Hyatt Chicago are also on full display. The famed Gerhard Richter piece, Domplatz, Mailand, which had long graced its lobby, was sold at auction last year for more than $37 million, but plans are to replace it with something of a similar stature.

It’s clear Hoplamazian is passionate about developing the cultural aspect of each Park Hyatt hotel throughout the world, and he further upped his commitment to the cause when he hired Katherine Melchior Ray a year ago to serve as the vice president of luxury brands for the company. She brought with her 20 years of experience, working for such fashion brands as Gucci and Louis Vuitton in Asia. Her task is to ensure that each Park Hyatt is intensely local, to thread the personality and characteristics of each destination into each hotel. Sounds daunting, considering the number of hotels in the portfolio, but she’s crafted a formula comprised of three common tenets that bring each property together: art, food & wine, and service.

It took some doing to cultivate the strategy, says Melchior Ray. When she asked where Park Hyatt came from, how it was derived, there was no set answer. So she visited Tom Pritzker, who explained that in his time, his father, Jay, had had a lot of friends who frequently wanted to stay with him. So he bought a hotel on the same site Park Hyatt Chicago is located on and developed it as the optimal place where he would want to bring his own friends. That concept became the model for Park Hyatt going forward.

“He invested in what he loved, which was great art, great food and wine, and people who would know him and his friends, which was basically customer service,” she says. Hence, Park Hyatt today is comprised of staff that treats its guests as an extension of its family or friends, creating a “home-away-from-home” environment.

“That gave us a symbiotic understanding of who we were and served as a guideline for how to build the brand,” she says. Park Hyatt was already inherently focusing on these tenets, for example, The Masters of Food and Wine series takes place at each of its hotels every season, with locals and guests getting up close with Park Hyatt chefs, sommeliers, local farmers, chocolatiers and craft brew masters. There’s also a fundamental belief in the arts at Hyatt; like Park Hyatt Chicago, many of its hotels house multimillion-dollar pieces of art. The Pritzker family in 1979 founded the Pritzker Architecture Prize; Christian de Portzamparc, who designed Park Hyatt New York, is a recipient of that honor.

“Once we got the very clear vision of what the brand was, it was much easier to hold all of the things that we do together. Now we have the story that wrapped around it,” Melchior Ray adds. Accomplishments since she came on board last year include a collaboration with Sotheby’s that provides exclusive promotions, as well as events and curated experiences to guests. She’s finalizing an agreement with Carnegie Hall for a global partnership that will most obviously benefit Park Hyatt New York but will extend to other hotels throughout the brand.

Another successful launch is ArtPhaire, an online publication that aims to engage Park Hyatt guests by providing interviews with visionaries and collectors in the art community, as well as spotlights on art shows and museums around the world.

“ArtPhaire has been a wonderful way to elevate and connect the Park Hyatt brand to the fine art world. Katherine’s really made a big difference in a very short period of time,” says Hoplamazian, adding that he and Tom Pritzker have also spent time on the art acquisition front for hotels throughout the company, in many cases commissioning pieces from local artists who will become collectible over time. “We’re supporting them now,” says Hoplamazian.

It’s this expression of luxury that helps each Park Hyatt have a pretty strong shot at being the best hotel in every market it’s in. Of Park Hyatt New York, Hoplamazian says the luxury offering extends beyond the large room sizes and the carefully curated art program, which will include 350 gallery-worthy pieces of art on property.

That luxury offering also includes engaging the guest, an engagement that, interestingly, begins with that keen attention to the aesthetics of a hotel that Hoplamazian displayed in the model guest room at Park Hyatt New York.

“If you go to the Park Hyatt in Buenos Aires or Shanghai or Tokyo, the more you experience them, the more you appreciate exactly how things were presented to you. That’s my experience with them,” says Hoplamazian. “We need to ensure that people know that we are actually caring for them through that sense of commitment to the details.”

After that comes a service mantra that’s “deep and authentic, sincere and emotionally based, as opposed to a highly scripted master-servant kind of relationship,” says Hoplamazian. That’s really the direction that’s being taken for the Park Hyatt brand overall, he says. Team members are encouraged to bring a piece of themselves, a sense of their personalities when providing service.

“That has a place in how people think about luxury today,” says Hoplamazian.

Bottom line? People will leave Park Hyatt New York “feeling more fulfilled, more engaged, and part of the city while they were here,” he says. “That’s the mandate. Internally, Park Hyatt New York has taken on a great importance for the brand. The combination of all this will set a new standard for the experience of being in a luxury hotel. That’s the goal.”

Park Hyatt

Parent Company: Hyatt Hotels Corporation

President and CEO: Mark Hoplamazian

Vice President, Luxury & Consortia, Global Sales Organization: Tristan Dowell

Vice President, Luxury Brands: Katherine Melchior Ray

Hyatt Hotels Portfolio as of March 31, 2014: 554 properties in 47 countries, comprising the Park Hyatt, Andaz, Grand Hyatt, Hyatt, Hyatt Regency, Hyatt Place, Hyatt House, Hyatt Zilara, Hyatt Ziva, Hyatt Residences and Hyatt Residence Club brand names.

Park Hyatt Portfolio as of March 31, 2014: 32 hotels comprising 6,374 rooms in 19 countries

Park Hyatt Ambiance: “Sophistication with distinctive regional character. Highly attentive personal service in an intimate environment.”

Headquarters: Chicago

Online: www.parkhyatt.com

Advisor Insight

Tristan Dowell, vice president, luxury & consortia for Hyatt Hotels Corporation, very much sees the travel advisor as a true partner for Hyatt, and as such is a big believer in education. There’s perhaps no greater lesson than letting a luxury travel advisor experience a Park Hyatt to “get” what the brand is about. In March, Park Hyatt Chicago played host to Luxury Travel Advisor’s Ultra Summit, where advisors got to spend several days at the hotel. “A number of the advisors that I met at Ultra said, ‘Wow, I didn’t expect this from a Park Hyatt. I didn’t realize it was so design led and had such a focus on the arts,’” says Dowell, adding that each of those advisors has been invited to stay at the Park Hyatt New York when it opens. “We really want the travel agency community to give us their thoughts on the hotel,” says Dowell. “Our ultimate goal is to have them further validate the Park Hyatt brand, especially Park Hyatt New York, which will help us take the brand to the next level.”

Taking Home the Prize: Tristan Dowell is shown here with Luxury Travel Advisor’s John McMahon and Ruthanne Terrero as he accepts the Luxury Travel Advisor Award of Excellence for Park Hyatt Siem Reap, which won “Top Asia Hotel Opening” for 2013.
Taking Home the Prize: Tristan Dowell is shown here with Luxury Travel Advisor’s John McMahon and Ruthanne Terrero as he accepts the Luxury Travel Advisor Award of Excellence for Park Hyatt Siem Reap, which won “Top Asia Hotel Opening” for 2013.

Dowell says listening to travel advisors is vital. “We very much want to make sure that we’ve got our finger on the pulse of the travel agency community. What’s happening in their world is all so dynamic. Everything seems to change so quickly, and we want to make sure that we are part of that change as well.”

Dowell and his team are always on hand to help the luxury travel advisor provide an excellent experience for their client. “We can give them access to a general manager, or we can help process that VIP request. Or perhaps we can think about how to create something memorable for their stay.”

Dowell has a team of five luxury directors; each has a portfolio of accounts that focuses on all the top luxury agencies. Hyatt also hosts showcases in a variety of locations, bringing all of its brands to a specific city for brand educational sessions and one-to-one meetings. Hotels from around the world are encouraged to participate.

Dowell finds travel advisors to be a dynamic group: “They want to know what’s unique about each hotel, whether it’s the Andaz Liverpool Street or Park Hyatt in Paris. They want to know what we can do as a hotel to give guests a behind-the-scenes tour. Can we get them into the Chanel factory? They’re hungry for unique experiences.

“They’re also the ones who can help sell the suites,” he says. “I always laugh when I read articles that say, ‘The affluent are going to be booking more and more online.’ If I’m buying a $30,000 holiday, I’m buying a memory that I hope is going to last forever. I want someone who can help deliver that and make sure that that memory is a pleasant one.”

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