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January 2011
Tradition of Excellence
By Carol Gifford

     Location, location, location is the mantra of residential real estate, but it is also key to commercial real estate success. Location plus top-notch amenities and first-class service equals a great guest experience at the Hampton Inn & Suites SouthPark at Phillips Place in Charlotte.

     “Embedded in a shopping center” is how Greg Panos describes the 124-room hotel’s location at 6700 Phillips Place Court, anchoring the end cap of the development. “It’s our competitive advantage and our clients really appreciate being close to fine restaurants and upscale shopping.”

 

Booking a Success

     Panos is one of the hotel’s five partner/owners along with Peter Pappas, Johnny Harris, Pat Clayton and Miriam Taylor.

     “You can stay in our hotel and you don’t need a car to get around and have fun,” says Panos, as he proceeds to rattle off area merchants including the Palm, PF Chang’s, Dean & DeLuca, Café Monte, Lions Jewelers, Restoration Hardware, and Taylor, and Richards & Conger.

     It’s a great place to house out-of-town guests who don’t know the area and are not likely to rent a car to explore, says Panos.

     “You can bring Aunt Mary and Uncle Joe—who don’t know anything about Charlotte—here for the weekend,” says Panos, “and rest assured that they’ll have things to do. They can go to restaurants, shop or see a movie, all within walking distance.” The hotel shuttle is available to take guests to SouthPark Mall or to other places within a five-mile radius.

     Hampton Inn & Suites, part of the Hilton family of hotels, may not have the cache of a Ritz-Carlton or a full-service Hilton, but guests who’ve stayed in top luxury hotels say the look and service at Phillips Place rivals those hotels. Locally, the hotel competes with the Marriott SouthPark, the Renaissance SouthPark and the Doubletree by Symphony Park, all full-service hotels. Rates are all are comparable.

     Hampton Inn & Suites is a luxury hotel without food and beverage, says Panos. It’s not necessary because of the variety of dining options available outside its door.

     “When we first opened, Hilton wasn’t sure what to think. They got a little touchy with us because we break the mold, but now we’ve become a benchmark for what other hotels are reaching for,” says Panos. Hilton regularly chooses the Phillips Place hotel to host company seminars such as Hampton’s mandatory Lighthouse Training meeting series.

     “We’ve had customers walk in the lobby, do a double-take, and go back outside to look up at the name of the hotel,” says Panos. “We took the Hampton Inn & Suites from a roadside hotel to a first-class operation.”“It’s beautiful. It’s so clean and there’s great service,” says Louise Roth, a sales associate at Lions Jewelers who has referred several clients to the hotel. “I have clients come in from South Carolina, Florida, even Arizona, and they really enjoy staying there.”

     “A couple recently visited from the mountains and the husband had just had surgery,” says Roth. “He got such great service that he wrote me a note about it.”

     The hotel guest list includes CEOs and top executives, celebrity visitors and sports figures. Business people choose to stay at the Hampton Inn & Suites over other full-service hotels both nearby and in uptown Charlotte, says Marcel Hebert, general manager.

     Hampton Inn & Suite’s revenue per available room, a measure of how well a hotel competes with its competitors in a designated area, shows a market penetration of 135 to 150 index (where 100 is an entity’s own market share), says Hebert. That means the hotel has an above average market penetration even though it is small and contributes just 12.8 percent of the total rooms in the area, according in the monthly survey conducted by Smith Travel Research.

     After experiencing a decrease in its average daily rate (ADR) in the last quarter of 2008 and a leveling off in 2009, occupancy rates at the Hampton Inn & Suites moved upward this year, according to Fay Gibson, director of sales and marketing. She predicts the ADR will continue on the upswing in 2011.

     “I refer out-of-town guests, customers and vendors who are in Charlotte on business to the Hampton Inn & Suites,” says Richard Pattison, business partner at Taylor Richards & Conger and TRC W, who has been sending the hotel referrals for five years. “Hampton Inn at Phillips Place offers outstanding service and superior customer service. We’ve had multiple vendors visiting Charlotte for an in-store promotion, and the hotel has been extremely helpful in accommodating all of our guests’ needs.

     “Our guests are from New York or Europe and I’m certain they have stayed in numerous high-end hotels throughout the world,” adds Pattison. “From their feedback, I think the Hampton Inn Phillips Place is on par with some of the best hotels anywhere.”

     Panos says one guest, a frequent business traveler, was booked at the Phillips Place location and turned up her nose at the thought of staying at a Hampton Inn & Suites after she had come from the Ritz-Carlton in Dallas.

     “By the end of her first visit, she said she had never enjoyed a stay more in her life,” says Panos. “She’s a regular at our hotel, staying here every time she visits Charlotte.”

 

Celebrating Success

     In October 2008, says Panos, the hotel celebrated its 10 year anniversary with a $3.2 million renovation that stripped the inside down to the concrete studs. It was replaced with a new, upscale look and furnishings with top-notch amenities including televisions embedded into bathroom mirrors.

     Refrigerators, safes and microwaves are available in all rooms. Radios have preset stations and are marked so guests can easily choose to listen to classical, jazz, country, easy listening, or other types of music. The hotel offers free wireless throughout the property and guests often choose to work in the great room. The hotel has a full exercise room, an outdoor pool and courtyard and whirlpool tubs in some rooms.

     Each day, guests can enjoy the Hampton’s signature “On the House Hot Breakfast” in the great room with different hot entrees, cereals, fresh fruits and assorted beverages, complimentary with each room.

      “We want to make sure that each guest is treated the same and receives superior service,” says Hebert, who has been at the hotel for six years. “Little things make a difference. We engage our guests so we can notice if they have a need and take care of it.”

     Service is the key to a luxury hotel and Hebert says it is something that is always top of mind for the Hampton Inn & Suites’ 35-member staff. Most staffers have been with the hotel for several years; the head of housekeeping has been at the hotel since it opened in 1998. Hebert says there isn’t any turnover in the staff and even during the recent economic downturn, no employees were laid off.

     “Our employees are the real strength of our hotel,” says Hebert. “We reward them for excellent service. They receive bonuses each month the hotel comes in at or above budget. During this year, we gave out bonuses in nine out of 11 months so far.”

     By letter, in person and through surveys, guests have told the Hampton Inn & Suites that it has superior service. Hilton provides surveys and feedback to the hotel and through a special General Manager challenge, several Hampton Inn & Suites franchises in the North Carolina market started a “competition” with each other to see how guests ranked them.

     “Every 20th guest receives an online survey to rate his experience at our hotel,” explains Hebert. “We compared our survey scores with our peers in five regions around the state and, at first, we found our scores were lower than expected.”

     Employees decided to do “whatever it takes” to improve the guest experience and really stepped up their service, choosing to engage and meet guest needs whenever possible, according to Hebert. Their efforts paid off.

     “We were ranked 13th out of 1,800 Hampton hotels nationally in Property Loyalty for December 2009 to November 2010,” says Hebert.

 

The Successful Dynamic

     On Monday to Friday mornings, says Gibson, the hotel serves mainly corporate guests.

     “By Friday afternoon, you see a changeover,” says Gibson. “We become a family hotel. On Saturday mornings you’ll see families and children at breakfast and in the lobby.”

     While most hotels experience a decline in the number of weekend guests, that’s not the case for the Hampton Inn & Suites, says Gibson, because of its location.

     “Shopping is the number one thing tourists do when they are away from home,” explains Gibson, and the Hampton Inn & Suites caters to those interested in shopping in Charlotte, particularly at high-end retailers in SouthPark such as Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and Crate and Barrel. Guests also shop at Concord Mills and other locations around Charlotte, in addition to the shops at Phillips Place.

     Gibson says the hotel accounts for 20 percent of all sales at Phillips Place retailers.

Hotel packages include: Shopping and Rejuvenation (includes spa and massage), Couples Night Out (includes dinner and movie tickets); Romance Package (with champagne and chocolates) and Wedding Packages for both the wedding party and the bride and groom.

     The hotel’s largest meeting space is its great room, located directly behind the lobby. It is used to serve breakfast each day and can also be reserved for weddings or private parties, seating up to 75 people. According to Gibson, the hotel hosts 75 to 100 weddings each year. It is also the site of an area bridal expo each spring that features a plexiglass pool covering so guests can visit with the exhibitors in that area and also see how it could be used as a reception area.

     “Our clients who want to host luncheon or dinners can choose from one of three meeting spaces ranging in size from 308 to 1,000 square feet,” says Gibson. “We help arrange the food service from one of several caterers we work with and it helps the client control the cost of the food.”

     Guests receive a first-class room with all the luxuries without having to pay for the overhead of room service, says Monte Smith, owner and operator of Café Monte French Bakery and Bistro, who first met and worked with the hotel management 12 years ago when he was the manager of the Palm restaurant next door to the Hampton Inn & Suites.

     “I refer all our corporate clients who come to Charlotte to the hotel,” says Smith.  “Everyone is very pleased with the service they receive.

     Smith has worked with the hotel in catering meals, wedding parties, bridal showers and other events. He also works with the hotel and a client on a program to host medical recruits and their families while they are in town for interviews.

     Last week, he got a call from the front desk asking him to make some chocolate-covered strawberries for a guest due in later that evening, an example of the way Hampton Inn & Suites caters to its guests.

     “It’s almost as if all these things are at your fingertips,” says Smith. “Guests at the Hampton Inn & Suites have all these great options and everyone is very pleased with the service.”

Carol Gifford is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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