As the founder and CEO of Albuquerque, N.M.-based Heritage Hotels and Resorts, Jim Long has created a collection of distinct properties that draw upon the Southwest’s unique and colorful heritage. The distinct historic experiences delivered by Long’s boutique hotels have proven popular with guests to the tune of more than 8 percent year-over-year total revenue growth from 2011 to 2012. Long attributes much of the success of his company to a regional development formula that dates back to the late 19th century.
Long, whose New Mexico roots go back more than 400 years, founded the company in 2005 with the intention of showcasing the history, culture, and traditions of the local communities. His vision draws inspiration from the authentic experiences that hospitality entrepreneur Fred Harvey created for travelers across the western United States more than 100 years ago, in a series of restaurants and railroad-side hotels with names like the Montezuma Hotel in Las Vegas, N.M., and the La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe, N.M.
Heritage has six hotels in Albuquerque, Las Cruces, and Santa Fe, plus a resort in Rio Rico, Ariz. A yet-to-be-named project is in the design stages and will open in Albuquerque in 2015. “This particular hotel will share the story of Native American spirituality,” Long says. “We’re seeing an interesting kind of architectural opportunity best represented by the work of our contemporary Native American artisans. We’ve engaged a number of those artisans to work on this project.”
Prior to launching Heritage Hotels and Resorts, Long started American Property Management Corporation in 1991 to run hotels for such brands as Hilton, Marriott, and Sheraton. While there, he created Heritage as a way to return to the sort of regionally focused experiences Harvey had created (Long still retains a 50 percent ownership stake in American Property Management). “Today, the hospitality industry is largely made up of a hotel brand approach that is highly uniform and, at times, not culturally distinctive,” he says. “While we believe that approach gives customers a satisfactory experience, it’s rarely memorable. So we’re always looking to create something with a unique soul and DNA.”
At Hotel St. Francis, one of the oldest hotels in Santa Fe, Heritage shares the story of the Franciscan missionaries in New Mexico. “They brought with them a tremendous knowledge of agricultural and textile traditions, furniture making, winemaking, and architecture,” Long says. The first thing guests see as they enter the lobby is a baptismal font, which contains water blessed by the local Franciscan priest. “When you walk into the hotel, you’re walking into an experience that almost has a monastic quality to it,” Long says. “It’s very much a sanctuary.”
Long points out that his uncle was a Franciscan priest, the last to preside over Santa Fe’s Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi before its acquisition by the diocese. The historic landmark is just a short walk from the hotel. “The Franciscans lead an uncomplicated existence and this hotel is about simplicity,” he says. “By stripping away a lot of unnecessary things, we were able to create a hotel that feels spiritual and special.”
Long is so committed to both preserving and advancing ancient traditions that a portion of each room night’s revenue is donated to nonprofit organizations in their respective communities. “Every Heritage Hotel has a distinct cultural cause,” he says. For example, the Nativo Lodge in Albuquerque has a partnership with the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA). Once a month, the hotel hosts a gathering of young, up-and-coming artists, many of whom work in emerging media such as tattoo art and graffiti. Their works also inspire the décor in the Nativo’s guestrooms. Beginning this month, guests will have the opportunity to book one of four rooms designed by SWAIA Native-American artists.
“We’re not caricatures of a community’s soul,” Long says. “There’s a lot of authenticity and depth in all our projects.”