A Covenant Of Salt
Nascent Hotel Brand Continues To Carve Niche Within Lifestyle Segment
Tuesday, September 12, 2017
We are on Twitter
David Bowd and Kevin O’Shea may be the only two hoteliers who are not anxiously scanning the horizon for the next wave of industry altering travel technology.
Both former executives at Morgans Hotels Group, the two are quietly building a hotel company that has the potential to be the industry’s next great disruptor.
Salt Hotels, launched in 2015, was born of a vision to marry the intimate service levels of bed-and-breakfasts and local inns with the modish design of lifestyle hotels. In 2013, Bowd, chief executive, and O’Shea, creative director, opened the first property, Salt House Inn, in Provincetown, MA.
“The plan was to have a complete change of pace—own and operate our own hotel—get a Labrador, walk on the beach every morning and chat with guests,” said Bowd. But Salt House Inn proved so successful that it quickly led to a second Provincetown property, Eben House, followed by The Chequit on New York’s Shelter Island and The Asbury Hotel in Asbury Park, NJ.
“During our personal travels, we really enjoyed staying in these small hotels that have a really high level of service and these were opportunities to take our professional experience into an area of hospitality that hadn’t necessarily had a boutique or design hotel before,” Bowd added. “With our backgrounds, we thought there’s no reason why these small properties can’t benefit from the same style of design as a major city hotel, and coupled with the experience and the service levels, we believe we’re giving our guests the best of both words.”
But chic makeovers are not the only benefit to properties that are part of the Salt Hotels portfolio. Bowd is driving revenue management at each Salt Hotels property by leveraging his experience not just at Morgans Hotels, but also as COO at Andre Balazs Properties and managing director at Ian Schrager Company, along with a variety of positions at Hilton and Marriott. Whether the property has less than 20 keys or over 100, Bowd approaches each hotel’s revenue strategy as if it were a 300-room hotel in New York City.
“We really focus on business levels, changing rates and optimizing different channels at different times and we use STAR (Smith Travel Accommodations Report) to benchmark our hotels,” he explained.
Distribution channels also include OTA partnerships. Although Bowd noted that while they help drive awareness for the properties, OTAs are also used selectively and typically, not during peak seasons when direct bookings are strongest. However, their reach is significant in shoulder and off-seasons.
Of course, repeat business is also a key component of Salt Hotels’ revenue management practices and to build that loyal guest following, Bowd again leans on his experiences with Schrager and Balazs.
While the mix of leisure and corporate business varies by property, the average target demographic for the four hotels ranges from professionals and creative types is in the mid-20s to professionals and heads of companies in their mid-50s. The age span also reflects levels of professional experience and thus household incomes and so, from suites to a room with four bunk beds in Asbury Park, Salt Hotels each have several room categories to appeal to different budgets.
Nor do any of the hotels try to overdeliver on technology; they keep it simple with high-speed broadband. Yet, Salt Hotels has no check-in time. Properties instead find out as much as they can about guests’ arrivals as far in advance as they can and manage operations accordingly. “It’s hard, but certainly doable and there’s nothing nicer than arriving at 11 a.m. and being able to go straight to your room,” Bowd said. “The art of hospitality is lost when you arrive to your hotel only to be told you can’t check-in until 3 p.m., but this can change a guest’s demeanor for the rest of the stay.”
Psychographically, Bowd described guests as sharing “a Millennial mindset” where they’re not looking for the consistency of branded hotels, but rather are always seeking a unique hotel experience that offers an immediate connection with the local surroundings through F&B offerings as well as destination knowledge.
However, Salt Hotels do not have brand standards as far as each property having some form of a restaurant outlet and bar. All of the properties do have full liquor licenses. Beyond that, dining facilities—or lack thereof—are determined on a location-by-location basis.
As an example, the two Cape Cod B&Bs include breakfast with the nightly rate, but on-site restaurants weren’t deemed necessary because the properties are surrounded by so many local restaurants, which are traditionally a draw for visitors. New York’s city dwellers will retreat to the Shelter Island hotel for a complete getaway and not leave the property until their return home, making a hotel restaurant obligatory.
Meanwhile, at The Asbury Hotel, Bowd and his team consciously decided not to include a restaurant in the hotel because the neighborhood where the hotel is located had long been struggling economically. “The hotel was part of a revitalization of Asbury Park and we wanted restaurants in the area to rise with us so everyone would become a little more successful,” he explained.
In fact, the hotel also works with five local catering companies to service the meetings and weddings that take place in the property’s 4,800 square feet of flexible indoor/outdoor event space and also refers guests to a local spa. Bowd elaborated on why the focus to drive year-round business to the hotel is also about local economic development: “rising tides raise all ships and so we also want to send guests to these local restaurants during off-season to make a difference in their profitability too.”
But The Asbury Hotel began giving back to the local community before opening its doors. As the first hotel to open in the destination in more than 50 years, Bowd knew that sourcing qualified staff would be a struggle. So he launched Salt School—a 10-week hospitality-training program that attracted 400 applicants who were required—not to submit any information about their professional experience, but simply to explain why they were interested in the program. Of the 160 candidates selected, 80 went on to join the hotel’s staff.
Now Bowd is planning Salt School 2.0 at The Asbury in order to further enhance the existing staff’s skill set. “We want to grow our own talent and the investment is more about time and the travel expenses [for some instructors],” he said, adding that expenditure is included in pre-opening or pre-development costs for properties that sign on with the hotel management company.
Salt Hotels is currently considering adding three new locations: East and West Coast hotels as well as an international property. In Bowd’s words: “We want to grow in a deliberate way, with hotels that fit in with our brand, our ethos and in the environments that we’re creating and that’s about working with partners who really want to create those independent experiences, whether they have hotels with 25 rooms or 130.”