Collecting the World’s Experiences

I leave for Europe in just 25 days, and preparations already are in motion. I immersed myself in Starwood Hotels over the weekend, learning all of their software and hotel management systems as well as their brands ands philosophies. It sounds like quite a daunting task, but I loved every minute of it. I always have been fascinated with the W Hotel brand, a sassy, trendy and holistic hotel brand that knows how to build a hotel for those travelers under 40. Now the Starwood company has launched a new brand that is even more urban but affordable called “aloft”. Think: IKEA decorated the room, and an ambient music DJ created the music which fills the lobby and hotel room space along with just the right scents, amenities and lighting. These hotels understand that the postmodern context, particularly for the “millennial” generation, calls for hotels to be more than rooms and a place to stay. They must create experiences for their customers (It’s actually been fascinating to see how the discussions I’ve been having with my students and church leaders about how faith must be experienced mirror what Starwood understands about how hotels must be experienced … and notice the word I keep using: experience).

It is this concept that also lies behind the branding of the Luxury Collection hotels, the brand of Starwood for which I am now a consultant. You may have never heard of the brand, and that’s intentional. Starwood has collected the largest assortment of independent luxury hotels in the world under one brand– you haven’t heard of the brand, but you’ve heard of the hotels: The US Grant in San Diego, The Danieli in Venice, The Phoenician in Scottsdale. That’s where I come in: My job for the summer will be to act as the guy from Starwood to assist them in adapting more to the Starwood brand philosophy and guest management systems.

Essentially I am teaching the brand philosophy then the software program that implements this highly personable approach to guest service. It’s called the Starwood Guest Recognition system. After two days of training, I feel decently competent in representing the company and the software. I had to give a presentation of the brand philosophy to the VP of Operations for Starwood, and she liked my presentation and seemed enthusiastic about my participation. The schedule is still in flux, but London in May is a definite, and 10 days in the Greek Aisles looks definite for June. There will be another 8-10 hotels in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

The question all of you are probably asking is: What the heck are you doing? Where did this emerge amidst your politician/ministry/lawyer/professor/film interests? Actually, it’s been an interest for a long time. Three years ago, I told my friend David when I was on a vacation, “Some days I just want to quit everything I’m doing and go to work for a hotel because I think I would love it.” Well, last summer, without even trying, that’s exactly what I did. I resigned my job at the church (not at Pepperdine), and I began working for $11 an hour for the Loews Beverly Hills, which then became the Tower Beverly Hills and managed by the famous European company Cipriani. I automatically was given a wonderful opportunity: I worked both at the front desk and as a concierge, a unique position that allowed me to learn all aspects of hotel operations. Then my association with the General Manager from Cipriani led me to the current opportunity. In just a few short weeks, I now have my own company, a new computer, an exhilirating summer job, and a new expertise.

There were so many nights where I wondered what the heck I was doing at the hotel. Why was I working at a hotel at this stage of my life for $11 an hour while others were relaxing at home, slumming at the beach, or working just one job? But I knew deep down that there was a reason, and I sensed it was going to mean new experiences and a new life for myself. And that’s exactly what is happening, and I’m really grateful.

Now it’s back to school …


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