BETHESDA, Maryland—Gaylord Hotels’ management operations now fall under the Marriott International umbrella, but that doesn’t mean the brand has lost its signature touch, and a brand executive says the brand will continue to grow.
Though Marriott’s assumption of Gaylord’s management operations happened within the same five-year span that the hotel giant also acquired Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Gaylord did not get lost in the shuffle, said Michael Stengel, SVP of Gaylord at Marriott.
“I think, if anything, we’ve gotten even more focused on Gaylord during the transition time, but we’ve used a lot of best practices we found in Gaylord, and we’re sharing those with Starwood,” he said.
Five Gaylord hotels are currently open across the U.S.—Ryman Hospitality owns the properties—and development is under way on the Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center, just outside of Denver, which is a project the team is proud of, Stengel said.
How Gaylord fit into Marriott
Before it bought the brand in 2012, Marriott didn’t have (with the exception of the Orland World Center Marriott) the kind of one-stop, convention hotels that Gaylord offered, Stengel said. Meanwhile, convention business was outgrowing the space at many of Marriott’s big-box hotels.
“The way the Gaylord sold multi-year business was an ‘ah-ha’ (moment) for us and continues to be great learning for us,” he said. “We’ve taken that best practice into Marriott.”
Stengel, who was previously the market VP of the Marriott and Renaissance hotels in New York, came on board to the brand and operation side of Gaylord about six months prior to the acquisition.
Company culture, he said, was another highlight of the deal. “(Gaylord) came with great values and great culture that was very close to Marriott’s culture,” he said.
Each of the 30 brands under Marriott have different swim lanes, Stengel said, and he works to make sure customers understand how Gaylord differentiates itself from the other 29 brands while also ensuring the ease of contracting with them and sharing customers.
Strong group business remains
Stengel said he’s seen Gaylord’s long-term booking strategy—putting groups on the books five to eight years down the road—strengthen each year. As a result, the brand is setting records for future roomnights, he said.
“That’s been really positive because we added some significant sized hotels to (Marriott’s) portfolio … the Houston Marquis, the new Chicago Marquis and we have the new Gaylord Rockies. We have pretty much most of the big-box hotels being built in the United States right now. … We can’t put those hotels out there without having additional business,” he said.
So far, he hasn’t seen any cutbacks in businesses booking multiple roomnights for meetings.
“People are still very cost-conscious … and make sure they’re getting value for their dollar when it comes to where they’re spending in hotels. But if I look at the calendar, (2019 to 2021) we have some of the strongest roomnights on the books,” he said. “I’m pretty optimistic about the next several years in our booking.”
Currently, the comfortable booking window for association business is between five and eight years, and group business is two to five years, he said.
Improvements to old and new builds
The new Gaylord Rockies is expected to open in late 2018, while some existing properties—such as the Gaylord National, Gaylord Opryland and Gaylord Texan—are being renovated. Stengel said the Rockies property is being built strategically in a way to maximize the use of space.
“We’ve taken everything that we’ve learned from the other buildings, and we’ve made even better improvements in this particular hotel,” he added.
For instance, Gaylord hotels that have accommodated large or multiple groups have found that the front-desk takes up too much valuable space, so the Rockies hotel will instead have portable front-desk pods.
“If we don’t need a front desk, we can put the pod, which looks like furniture, up against the wall and we can open up the lobby, for maybe even reception space,” Stengel said.
Other strategic features include a 500-seat, multifunctional food-and-beverage room. He added that the idea is to consolidate back-of-house space and put all revenue-producing space out front.
Future of the brand
Currently the Gaylord team is focused on business in the U.S.; however, if the right opportunity and location presents itself, the brand could look to expand internationally, Stengel said.
The hotels cost, on average, $850 million to more than $1 billion to build, he said, so care is taken to ensure that each project is viable. Another factor in choosing a location is the practice of rotating group business at Gaylord hotels.
“You rotate your business around the country—that way all of your attendees don’t always have to travel all the way to the east or all the way to the west. Customers really like that rotation strategy so we’ve kept that alive,” he said.
If and when more U.S. expansion occurs, he said, the brand will probably start with one or two hotels on the west coast, before looking further east. Cost of construction also plays into whether a location is viable or not.
RIDA Development Corporation, which has partnered with Gaylord for the Rockies project, has acquired the rights to develop a Gaylord hotel in Chula Vista, California. “We’re working with RIDA to develop that site, and that could possibly be the next Gaylord after the Rockies,” Stengel said.