The year was 1978 and Britt Mathwich was in graduate school. During that time his father had taken ill and the young New Mexico native decided to help out by taking time off from his studies to tend to his father’s restaurant. “I did that for about a year and then went back to graduate school,” he recalls.
During that year, Mathwich took in his first experience in hospitality. With a hands-on approach, he ran the restaurant before heading back to school. Following completion of his graduate studies he found himself making another entrepreneurial move. “I opened my own business and ran that for eight years,” he says.
But the hospitality industry beckoned and he found himself taking a position with a small independent lodging company. It was a move that would lead him to a life as an independent hotelier and, ultimately, an advocate for small and independent hotel properties across the United States.
“I’ve always been an independent,” Mathwich says.
Eventually, Mathwich’s employer became Great Inns of the Rockies, of which he now serves as president and CEO. In 1986, Great Inns of the Rockies purchased The Homestead Resort in Midway, Utah, and began running two independent resorts. Mathwich had oversight of both properties. The company sold The Homestead Inn in November 2010 and now runs one hotel.
His experience with The Homestead Resort led Mathwich to get involved with the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s Small and/or Independent Property Council, which he now chairs. “I was asked by a former employer to get involved with industry associations and I got involved with the associations in New Mexico and Utah and started going to the national conventions,” he says of the start of his involvement with the council. “I just slowly started getting on committees and my involvement built from there.”
As chair of the council, Mathwich works as an advocate and adviser for small and/or independent properties around the country. He believes there are several issues that independent hoteliers must deal with regularly.
“I think one of the biggest issues we have is being able to market our properties, particularly the smaller properties, to be able to compete with ones that are either branded or have some sort of affiliation,” he says. “We’re sort of isolated. We have small budgets. There are things that we do to try to compensate for that.”
So how can independent hoteliers work to compensate for that lack of support? “We try to co-op. We try to take the local convention and visitors’ bureaus’ marketing plans to use a lot of their research and demographics. We kind of develop our marketing plan to piggyback off of what they are doing. We also develop relationships with them to help host tours to try to get our name out there.”
He says the Internet has also helped in marketing. “We’ve moved a lot toward social media,” he says. “That has really helped get exposure without tremendous cost.”
During his time running hotels such The Homestead Inn, Mathwich has had success marketing his properties. “It’s certainly doable,” he says. “It’s not only doable, but also independent and the boutique properties have a certain appeal to them that maybe brands don’t.”
One of those appeals that Mathwich has taken advantage of is the fact that his hotels are also historic. “We try to include the history and the uniqueness of the property,” he says.
Mathwich says there are advantages to being an independent. One, he says, is the ability to be quick on your feet. “Being able to have decisions made within minutes sometimes is a huge advantage,” he says. “You don’t have a lot of the bureaucracy that you have with the franchises.”
He says being an independent is much like going back in time when the industry was different. “When I first started most of the hotels were independents,” he says. And for Mathwich, things have stayed that way.