The Soul of a Hotel | Mark Harmon | TEDxWilmingtonSalon

Translator: Ivana Krivokuća
Reviewer: Mile Živković I love hotels. I love hotels because they’re
living, breathing enterprises. A hotel holds the promise every day
of adventure and romance, intrigue, mystery, betrayal,
affairs of the heart, dangerous liaisons. Where else can you find that
but in fiction or in film? Today, I want to speak to you
about the challenge of creating a hotel that has both life and adventure,
and also is a place with a soul. I think we’ve all been to a hotel
that didn’t have a soul. It may have been a hellish experience,
or it may have been that, perhaps, it just didn’t live up to the expectations
you had for this wonderful getaway, and you were disappointed. I’ve been a part of building a hotel
that didn’t have a soul. It’s no longer part of our collection, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort, but things happened in the process,
during the design, during the development
we made compromises, and at the end,
the hotel just didn’t capture the imagination and the magic
of the setting, and I was bitterly disappointed. Taking that to heart,
I’ve become a student of hotels. I vowed that would never happen again,
if at all possible. I’ve grown up around hotels, and we’ve built a number of hotels
from the ground up – by that I mean from the very first idea
of what a hotel might become – through design, through construction,
through opening and operation. Today, I’d like to share
those ideas with you about how to create a hotel with a soul. A soul is defined as something
intangible, not physical. It also suggests a connection
to a greater spirit. So if a hotel has a soul, it would have to
have a life beyond its physical walls. Let’s call that soulfulness. We’ve identified four elements
of soulfulness: great design, a sense of place, a connection or being a part
of the community in which the hotel is located, and finally and most importantly, that the hotel inspires
great affection or love through and for the people working there. What do we mean by great design? Great design can be big, it can be small.
It can be luxury, not luxury. It could be modern,
it could be not modern. In the best of possible worlds,
the hotel fits in with the surroundings. It lives in concert with a natural
landscape or the cityscape; it feels like it belongs there. A hotel that feels like it belongs
in its surroundings also typically would feel
that has qualities that are almost human-like. It can be charming, it can be intimate,
it can be charismatic. Those things are the things that make it
feel a part of the destination, like it belongs there. When we did our first hotel
from the ground up, we were in Los Cabos, Mexico, and I stood on this piece of ground
overlooking the ocean. You could see the fish swimming down and the tropical fish
swimming below and the reef. The seabirds were circling overhead. My first thought was,
“Please, can’t mess this up.” How to enhance the natural setting here to make this hotel feel
like it belongs here? They say that the door handle
is like the handshake of a building. We naturally gravitate to those hotels
that have a human scale, that feel like they embrace you, that sometimes you feel at home,
but other times not at home. Because you can leave your worries
and your checklist behind you. Ideally, think about the possibilities. Think about changes
you may want to make in your life. Think about how you might
become a better person. All that’s inspired by the warmth,
the beauty, the character of the hotel in its surroundings. In an ideal setting, a hotel also is efficient. The designer Philippe Starck said, “A great hotel combines intelligence,
culture, efficiency, comfort, and always a touch of poetry.” Hemingway famously stated, “The requirement for a great hotel
is a bar somewhere on the premises.” (Laughter) Our next topic is sense of place. What do we mean by sense of place? That the hotel becomes somehow identified
with the culture, the region or the city. Take for example the Ritz in Paris, the Oriental in Bangkok, The Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong. These are hotels that in their grandeur
command your attention and have defined luxury
at the highest level in those destinations, in those cities. Or it may be a tree house lodge
in Costa Rica that brings you closer to one of the richest and most diverse
ecosystems on the planet. Today, one of the most talked about
trends in travel is immersion into the destination, into the culture,
into the environment. The role of the hotel
has really been transformed into that of a guide to the destination. In the best instances, the hotel staff curates
and creates unique experiences that bring the guests
closer to the destination and closer to themselves. I have an example
from our property in Costa Rica. There we have a number
of adventures and activities, including flying in an ultralight
over the mountains and the ocean, taking a horseback ride up to an organic
coffee cooperative in the mountains, hiking in a nature preserve
along a pristine stream, or picking produce from an organic farm. When I rode in this ultralight, we’re skimming over the tops
of the waves on the ocean and coming back up
to the hacienda up in the mountains, the pilot of the plane, Don Alberto,
the owner of the hotel, pointed out these little tufts
of clouds in the distance, and you’re in an open-air cockpit, and he says, “Mark, reach out
and touch those clouds.” What do we mean by a hotel
becoming a part of the community? Today, building hotels
can be about building community, in much the same way
that hotels in the past were traditionally places
for gathering, for work and for play. Today – that paradox
of digital connectivity – we’re becoming more and more disconnected. Hotels offer a space to connect us all. In some cases, the most innovative
and urban hotels have begun to define their neighborhoods. Take, for example, the ACE hotels
in New York and Portland. They’ve woven into the social fabric
and the local community. In the best instances,
they bring people together through art, through music,
and through content. We had an opportunity in Aspen, Colorado, to renovate the hotel Jerome
several years ago. The hotel was originally built in 1889,
and it needed a renovation. We were fortunate enough
to be tasked with doing that. In the process of doing that,
we took this hotel, which was built in the height
of Aspen’s silver boom, it opened in 1889
and had become an important part of the business and social life
of the community. We went back to every period
of the hotel’s history. We took artifacts and photographs
and flags and objects, even a whiskey flask
from Hunter S. Thompson, who was the sheriff in Aspen
in its wilder days, and combined all those things in sort
of a modern, contemporary environment that we loved because
it brought back the character. What was most exciting
was that we were in a position where the town embraced
our revival of this landmark and said, “Thank you for bringing back
periods of the hotel’s history and important periods
of the town’s history as well.” The hotel Jerome
was a wonderful experience, and what the most important element
of creating a hotel with soul will always be is having a staff
that creates those stories that bring you closer to the destination and create the moments
that connect all of us. Ultimately, the inspired acts of the staff are the things that bring us
closer together, and they’re most responsible
for creating soulfulness. If hospitality is defined as the act of being generous, friendly, and bringing in guests and strangers, then what better paradigm
for us as hoteliers to be known as warm,
generous and hospitable? The important ways that we bring together
these elements of soulfulness are as follows. First, we create a culture of possibility for the staff, for the people
who work there. Second, listen to the designers,
the creators who can inspire, create these transformative places, that bring artistry and poetry
into the design of the hotel. Use natural resources
and use local resources, local artisans. Work harder to create
sustainability for the property. But above all, create
this culture of possibility for the staff, for the people
who work for you, and allow them to create the stories
that brings us closer together. Hire for passion and commitment, embrace and allow and encourage
your people to tell those stories that bring the guests closer to themselves
and closer to the destination. The desired result is that the lives
of those people who are the guests and those that are
the people working there and of course the community
are enriched. I’ll leave you with this final thought. Why shouldn’t all places of business
strive to be soulful? Thank you very much. (Applause)


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