Appointed as President and Managing Director during the resort’s development in 2009 Daniel A. Hostettler, a hospitality executive with 20 years of luxury hotel and restaurant industry experience, has been instrumental in the development, growth and management of, as well as the service delivery within, the Ocean House and its sister property the Weekapaug Inn. Hostettler’s responsibilities include overseeing day-to-day operations as well as the long term strategic vision for the properties.
His distinguished career in international hospitality includes the development and management of hotels, restaurants, residential components and private clubs; including overseeing leading landmark hotel and resort properties across the United States and Europe.
How did you get into the hospitality industry?
When I was young we split time between growing up in California and summers in our native Switzerland. In addition my father was the CEO of an international company, so he (and we as an entire family) traveled frequently, which led me to fall in love with hotels at an early age.
I think I enjoyed the people watching and the glamour of grand hotels and fine restaurants, and I wanted to be a part of that. Little did I realize at that point the tremendous amount of work that goes into creating, maintaining and servicing a grand luxury hotel behind the scenes – it is truly a labor of love by a dedicated group of professionals.
In such a competitive industry, how does Ocean House stay so successful?
First and foremost are our people. Anyone can design and build a beautiful building given enough financial resources; however what truly sets apart the great hotels are the people that work there. They are our single greatest asset.
We dedicate a tremendous amount of time, effort and financial resources toward human resources. We believe that the single most important thing that senior management does is select, support and develop great people.
I see perhaps 10-20% of the guests who stay with us on a daily basis, however our associates see 100% of our guests, and it is these individuals that have built our reputation as a world class hotel. So our primary job is finding great people, giving them the best training we can and then supporting them on a daily basis.
We say that we ‘hire for personality and train for skill’ here and we live that belief. We can teach you to wait tables, or work a front desk if you have never done that before, however we can’t teach you to be charming, outgoing and want to serve – so these are the things that we look for in the interview process.
Following hiring, we have a myriad of systems in place to constantly be speaking to our associates and finding out from them what we can do to make their jobs easier, or to improve the experience of our guests.
We empower our associates and believe in their intelligence and we find that more often than not, they will rise to the occasion and do something sincere and personable that reflects their own personal style and our own.
What partnerships/marketing strategies did you implement that attributed to the success of Ocean House?
Strategy is a function of vision, it’s the way of executing that vision; it’s the plan. People enact plans but they struggle to articulate the vision, which I believe that we do well here.
At Ocean House, we clearly understand what our vision is for the guest experience and for our future, and while strategy and budget are important, they are just functions of the vision. So we set a vision when we created our first property to ‘Aim for the Stars’ and everything we do is in support of this vision to be the best Five Star properties in the world – the people we hire, the way we train, the services we add, the experience we create for guests are all in support of this vision.
How important is location selection to the success of your hotel?
I think location is important in any hotel, people have to want to come there, but I do not think that location alone is what makes us successful. There are many more well known locations on the New England coast that we have to compete with – The Cape, Martha’s Vineyard, The Hamptons and Newport – and there are great hotels in all of those locations.
We have been able to create an experience for guests that surpasses our competitors, despite the fact that they have more well known locations.
There is a quote from the famous hotelier Cesar Ritz: “A guest should never have to stir outside the hotel.” And at our properties, it’s true. Once you check in to this rejuvenating oasis, you have everything you need; so we try to create the destination within the hotel.
What qualities make a 5 Star Hotelier?
Complete dedication to one’s craft above all else, sometimes even family I am afraid. The hotel business is a 24/7 business, our properties are always open, and we cater to an extremely discerning group of individuals; therefore the job demands that we never rest on our laurels – that we never revel in the awards for more than a moment, because we need to continue to push ourselves to be at the top of our game, to revaluate our properties, to check every detail and then check it again in our constant pursuit of a perfect experience for every guest.
Describe the ideal customer experience at Ocean House?
Everyone has his or her own definition of luxury, but the guest determines what luxury is, not the hotel company. It’s not about brick and mortar anymore. Luxury is how well you deliver the guest experience to that individual guest.
An example I use in training our associates is that of a woman and her young daughter who stayed with us at Christmas. The bellman asked her what she was going to do at Ocean House, and the little girl replied that she wanted to bake Christmas cookies. Her mother corrected her and said they would be doing that at home, as this was a hotel, and that wouldn’t be possible.
That bellman, without any intervention from management or being asked by the guest, arranged with the pastry chef to invite the little girl into the pastry kitchen, suited her up in a chef coat and hat and baked cookies with her. We created a memory for that little girl, and for her mother, which they will probably never forget. THAT is the ideal guest experience for that particular guest – we want to create an experience like that for every guest who crosses our threshold.
I have two – ‘Do the best. Be the Best. Being secondary is not motivating’ and ‘When you love what you do, you’ll never ‘work’ a day in your life.’
Favorite travel destination?
Role model - business and personal?
Business is Ali Kasikci, currently Regional Managing Director at Belmond (Orient Express) who was my mentor at the Peninsula in Beverly Hills, perhaps the finest hotelier in the country, if not the world – dedicated, passionate, detail oriented and tireless in his pursuit of perfection and constantly reinventing his product. I hope that I am half the hotelier that he has made himself.
Personal is my father, who taught me many things growing up, first among them was that you never ask anyone to do anything you would not do yourself, and I am reminded of this on a daily basis when I am helping associates park cars or carry luggage, that part of great leadership is making sure that your team knows that you support them 1000%.
What literature is on your bed stand?
I am a voracious reader so there are always three things – first is a stack of magazines (about 46 a month when I last checked) which all relate to our guest demographics so they range from travel, to culinary, to business and regional magazines in our target market (Greenwich Magazine, Serendipity, etc) so that I can be reading what is influencing my guests.
Then there are always at least two books going at any one time – one for pure mindless pleasure, and one for business. Currently – Heads in Beds by Jacob Tomsky and Global Brand Power by Barbara Kahn.
What's next for Ocean House?
In many ways our future will always be about our past, because of our heritage and history, what we do better than most is bridge generations, and we are very focused on being sure that we resonate among guests of all ages.
Even our very young guests have an insatiable desire to learn about our legacy. We have been very careful to build upon this foundation by being innovative, and introducing mindful design updates, while remaining true to the history of the property. So we will keep reinventing ourselves and the guest experience in order to be exceeding expectations.
Of course, if another iconic property that matches our portfolio presents itself we would certainly take a hard look at adding it to our growing collection.