Appointed senior vice president of operations in October 2017, Brian Sparacino brings more than two decades of hospitality experience to Interstate Hotels & Resorts’ lifestyle-focused division, INTRIGUE Hotels & Resorts. He recently shared with LODGING his thoughts on the rise of soft-branded hotels and how they are poised for a future geared toward technology-savvy, “brand agnostic” travelers whose use of technology sets them apart from brand-loyal travelers of previous generations.
What made Interstate want to launch
This is a good story. A group of us from Interstate were in a Manhattan coffee shop talking about how disjointed the boutique lifestyle segment in our industry was. We felt no one had really mastered the space. Yet, realizing that with 50 independent lifestyle soft-branded hotels, we were within 50 of the number Kimpton manages, and using just a sheet of paper then, we started to put together a cool collection of independent hotels using our significant advantages, including a global platform, purchasing power of over 430 hotels, electronic distribution, and having a dedicated team of independent luxury people who are experts in their discipline.
What differentiates INTRIGUE customers?
From our legwork and review of case studies, we saw the future of the hotel industry as being rooted in a new kind of consumer. We saw a surge in OTAs and recognized that consumers were becoming more “brand agnostic” than ever: They liked choice, but not predictability or being channeled into any one brand. They didn’t want to deal with the traditional front desk routine—having their credit card swiped, being handed their room key, and then being pointed to the elevator banks. This younger demographic viewed the front desk as unnecessary and punitive, saying things like, “We would rather have everything already done and automated, walk into hotel and use phones to check in and not have to speak to anyone until we get down to the bar and lounge.” In other words, as much as they didn’t want to interface with staff to get to their rooms, once they were settled in, they did want a downstairs environment conducive to socializing, working, exploring the city, and having access to knowledgeable, personable, friendly, and welcoming staff.
How does INTRIGUE accommodate this demographic?
Part of our toolkit is represented by the technology aspect of what we’re doing. We find that newer travelers entering the workforce want information delivered to them in the format in which they’re accustomed to communicating—mainly, text messaging. There are different options. You don’t need to speak to anyone unless you want to. For example, when you make the reservation, you can set your smart phone preferences so you can bypass the front desk and go directly to your room; the room key—actually, a QR code that comes to your blue tooth enabled phone—is already set to unlock your room. You can also choose to check in via iPads in the lobby. The staff functions more like a “storyteller”, someone who creates the guest experience—sharing unique features not just of the hotel but also the location
Of course, for those not comfortable with technology, there is an engaged person available to walk the guest through the process with their phone—or bypassing it—and getting down to the business of making the stay in the hotel and city pleasurable.
How did you get into the industry?
I actually planned to become a lawyer through a program where police officers could have their legal education financed. But then there was a moratorium on the program. So, after receiving my police training and working briefly as an intake officer, I took a job as a food and beverage supervisor at what was then the newly opened Taj Mahal hotel in Atlantic City, and fell in love with this industry. It turns out, that was what now-President Trump was looking for in an operations manager. I think the regimented skill set of going from police background into operations translates well to hospitality. You need to be a strong manager and able to deal with people in a diplomatic fashion, but also firm when you need to be.
What do you like most about hospitality?
I like the creative part, figuring ways to truly enhance people’s stays. But I also like the diversity—how ever-changing the climate and landscape is. We in the hotel business joke around, saying when you walk through those front doors, you never know what is going to happen.
Fast Facts about Brian Sparacino
Title: Senior Vice President of Sales and Operations
Time with company: 11 years
First hotel industry job: F&B manager at the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, N.J.
Hotel must-haves: Great people, a great environment—including a vibrant common area for work, socializing, and eating—and excellent, high-speed wireless internet.
The best advice he ever got: A Taj Mahal CEO told me, “If you want to rise to the top someday, you need to seek promotions every two or three years; once you’ve mastered your job, apply for the next one.”