Mr. Kimball

Development & Construction

Five Successful Models of Incorporating Heritage into Hotel Development

By Larry K. Kimball, Director of Hotel Development, C. W. Clark, Inc.

Developers fortunate enough to have an opportunity to develop hotels in or near heritage areas have a duty to incorporate history into their project. Cultural heritage activities are one of tourism's biggest market opportunities but how to capture it? This article outlines five models to profitably attract and retain those visitors and their discretionary dollars:

  1. Select site with marketable and sustainable heritage attributes
  2. Integrate the hotel into the community
  3. Design heritage into the facility
  4. Develop a consistent visitor message
  5. Create heritage daily

The resulting historic hospitality will add to the richness of both the guest experience and the community.

Marketable and Sustainable Heritage Sites

Try to be picky about your site. A glossy brochure itself does not connote heritage so select a site with a documented past. For example, why does it take an act of Congress to get a National Heritage Area? Answer-that is how these historically significant areas are designated and preserved for future generations.

Since there are currently only 49 National Heritage Areas (NHA), it's understandable why they are not household names. Not to be confused with national parks, each NHA played an important role in the history of the U.S. According to the criteria to become a NHA, "the landscape must have nationally distinctive natural, cultural, historic, and scenic resources that, when linked together, tell a unique story about our country." Created through Congressional designation, NHAs are locally-managed and focus on heritage-centered interpretation and conservation that are grounded in a community's pride. NHAs by definition offer residents and visitors a gateway for immersion into history and the local landscape. That's why hotels in or near NHAs should pay tribute to the local area and incorporate heritage into the guest experience.

While the movie remake "3:10 to Yuma" was a recent commercial success, most people probably can not find Yuma on a map. That is surprising because Yuma has helped shape U.S. history for hundreds of years. Long the traditional homeland of the Quechan Indian Tribe, the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area is along the Colorado River on the California and Arizona border. Because of geology, geographically Yuma served as the key crossing point on the lower Colorado River in the 19th century and opened the southern route for expansion of the western U.S. Today, the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area's mission is to "conserve, enhance, and interpret the natural and cultural resources of the community through collaboration and partnerships."

Integrate the Hotel into the Community

One example of a NHA partnership is the realtionship of the City of Yuma, the Yuma Crossing NHA, and Clark-Lankford, LLC (Clark), commercial real estate developers. Clark is the riverfront redevelopment partner with the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area and the City of Yuma for Pivot Point Yuma. Named for the bridge that literally swung across the raging Colorado River on a pivot system to enable crossing from Arizona into California, Pivot Point Yuma is a $100 million redevelopment project that is anchored by a 150-key Hilton Garden Inn Hotel that opened in May 2009 and adjacent 19,000 square foot Pivot Point Conference Center. Future development components will include a 50 to 100-key boutique hotel, two office building, three restaurants, and various retail amenities. While the riverfront redevelopment project has taken over ten years to deliver it is not just a dream, the International Economic Development Council awarded Pivot Point Yuma the best Public-Private partnership project globally in 2007 for cities with populations between 50,000-200,000(1).

Another partnership example matches heritage and business. While Clark was developer of the Hilton Garden Inn and Pivot Point Conference Center, the Quechan Indian Tribe was brought in as the financial partner and co-owner.

Design Heritage into the Facility

Why was a Hilton Garden Inn selected as the right choice for Pivot Point Yuma? First, the upscale focused-service brand consistently earns the highest marks for customer satisfaction from J. D. Power surveys. Second, the Hilton Garden Inn's architectural design was appropriate to the riverfront location and the design was approved pursuant to the strict Yuma Crossing Heritage Area design guidelines. Lastly, Hilton franchisees benefit from Hilton's global reservation system which enables the hotel developer to make a financial return on its investment.

Clark's vision was to incorporate heritage into the Hilton Garden Inn design and guest experience. Variances from Hilton Garden Inn brand standards were sought and obtained to place historic photos in all guestrooms and corridors. Each public area in the hotel reflects a different time period from 19th century Yuma. The hotel's expansive front lawn acts as a function area which can accommodate heritage-themed events and it overlooks the future Pivot Point Interpretive Plaza.

The Plaza is a separate development by the Yuma NHA that is focused on the preservation of the original bridge pivot point which is adjacent to the hotel. Plaza amenities will include a 1907 steam locomotive and numerous interactive educational displays. The Plaza is also the hub that connects to over thirty miles of pedestrian and bicycle trails along the lower Colorado River.

The Pivot Point Conference Center is steps away from the Hilton Garden Inn and has its own heritage components. The focal point is a large historic mural of the late 1800s depicting the active riverfront landscape of riverboats and the Pivot Point bridge. Each meeting room is named for a historic event, location, or person.

Develop a Consistent Guest Message

Cultural tourists have money to spend so be prepared to mold their experiences and exceed their expectations. First, an October 2009 study for the U. S. Department of Commerce showed that heritage travelers contributed $192 billion to the U.S. economy spending an average of $994 per trip(2). Second, a community that has worked hard enough to have a National Heritage Area generally benefits economically from higher visitor spending. In 2004, Michigan State University conducted an economic impact analysis for seven NHAs(3). Their conclusion was that each visitor spent about $100, two-thirds of the spending and associated economic impacts would have been lost without NHA, and the largest economic impact was from overnight visitors.

Once an accurate and consistent message is developed, it must be integrated throughout the organization and become part of your identity through:

  • Employee Orientation
  • Collateral Materials
  • Menu Items
  • Employee Communications
  • Public Relations

Create Heritage Daily

General Managers ranging from focuses-service hotels to luxury resorts all know how to train their customer service staff to make guests happy. Since the first point of contact for guests is someone providing customer service, a positive guest experience creates ongoing goodwill.

The ability to make history relevant to guests on a daily basis is how to create heritage daily. We've all seen the newspaper section, On This Day in whatever year, such and such happened. Having a factoid of the day at your front desk by definition brings history alive and presents another opportunity to create a positive guest experience. In the online world of social networking, posts about positive guest experiences influence the buying decisions of countless others.

References:

(1) International Economic Development Council Economic Development Journal Volume 6, Number 4, Fall 2007, Pages 21-30
(2) http://www.culturalheritagetourism.org/documents/CHTStudyOct2009.pdf
(3) Economic Impact of National Heritage Area Visitor Spending; Summary Results from Seven National Heritage Area Visitor Surveys, Michigan State University, June 2004

Larry K. Kimball has over thirty years of hotel experience in development, finance, operations, and asset management at the corporate and operating unit levels. Mr. Kimball is currently Director of Hotel Development for C. W. Clark, Inc., a San Diego-based commercial real estate developer. In this capacity, he is responsible for the entitlement, design, financing, and asset management of several large public-private hotel and mixed-use projects totaling ~1,200 keys with combined development costs of $600+ million. Mr. Kimball can be contacted at 858-875-5146 or larryk@CWCLARKINC.com Extended Bio...

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