Karla Keskin: GM of Westhouse New York Hotel

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Over 15 years in the hotel industry in New York City and internationally, her luxury hotel background stems from executive level positions in Sales, Rooms Division and Communications at the Mandarin Oriental, Swissotel Raffles and the New York Palace Hotel respectively. Her diverse expertise also encompasses the best of lifestyle hotels, handling Revenue and Operations at 6 Columbus, W New York, and the Gramercy Park Hotel under Ian Schrager.

Karla also opened and launched London based Crosby Street Hotel as Hotel Manager. She joins Westhouse directly from Hampshire Hotels and Resorts, where she also opened Dream Downtown as the Hotel Manager and was responsible for Night Hotel as General Manager and the Director of Brand Operations. During her tenure at these esteemed properties, she was involved in high-level projects, including re-branding and re-organizing hotel operations, and supervising all facets of multi-million dollar projects.

How did you get into the hospitality industry?

I began my career in hospitality as Corporate Sales Manager at the Mandarin Oriental in Manila. I have since worked with leading hotel names including Gramercy Park Hotel, The New York Palace, and Raffles. I also opened Crosby Street Hotel, and Dream Downtown. I joined WestHouse New York as General Manager in May 2013, and guided the property through its opening in December 2013. I immensely enjoy the challenges that come with opening a new hotel in New York and very excited to be leading WestHouse.

Tell us about Westhouse New York. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the hotel?

Designed by Jeffrey Beers International, WestHouse New York is an entirely new hospitality concept that blends the elegant residential comforts of a New York City townhouse with the luxurious ambiance of a refined hotel environment, creating a one-of-a-kind “house away from home” experience.

In conceptualizing WestHouse, we took inspiration from neighboring Carnegie Hall and its iconic stars from the 1920’s, like Mae West and Jackie Gleason. While the hotel has a number of Art Deco and old Hollywood glamour elements, we ensured the overall ambiance and design of the hotel is fresh and modern.

We envision WestHouse becoming the most distinguished, luxurious and fashionable boutique hotel in mid-town West. We recently opened The Den, a private lounge open to hotel guests and their guests only that embodies the spirit of a classic speakeasy, and provides a timeless oasis in the heart of Midtown. Since the opening, we have seen an exciting change in energy and a number of non-hotel guests have been asking for special access to the lounge. 

What strategic partnerships/marketing strategies have you implemented that have attributed to Westhouse New York's success?

We are the only hotel to exclusively partner with the leading online retailer Net-A-Porter to provide the most luxurious in-room shopping experience. Each guestroom comes with a direct line to a Net-A-Porter personal shopper, and if you stay in one of our 16 suits for a minimum of three nights you will receive a $500 gift card.

We have also created exclusive partnerships with DayNa Decker, Sferra Linens, 12.29, and ghd so that our guests can enjoy a curated, unprecedented portfolio of amenities and services to satisfy their every need.

What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?

With so much hotel openings lately, the focus on service and amenities have been revitalized and re-energized. There is so much competition out there so I’m seeing more and more innovative ways hotels are looking to gain interest and attention both from the guests and from the media. What’s really vital, however, is that decisions that are made are timeless and can be appreciated by any age group and demographic. Here at WestHouse, we really tried to understand what guests need and want and elevate those necessities. Also at the end of the day, it’s the human touch that makes the most difference, and I’m fortunate to work with a team that understands and embodies that.

Life Motto?

“Follow your Bliss.” I really believe that if you do something you love diligently and conscientiously, things usually fall into place. 

Westhouse New York's Motto?

Treating each guest as if our only guest.

Your greatest success as GM of WestHouse New York? Most difficult moment-how did you overcome and what did you learn?

Through dedication and leadership, I have ensured WestHouse delivers classic New York hospitality with an enthusiastic dedication to providing thoughtful and unexpected touches of home.

One of our most difficult moments was the launch of WestHouse in December 2013. Opening our doors during the Holiday period meant we had to prepare for the one of the busiest times of year in tourism travel. To help guide our team, I made our guests our number one priority. Thankfully the opening went relatively smoothly and I learned that remaining calm, focused and firm are strong leadership skills necessary in running a hotel.

Your advice to an aspiring hotelier?

You really need to have a passion for the industry because it can be challenging and certainly not an easy lifestyle – i.e. you work on weekends, the holidays, during calamities and of course the business is 24 hours, 7 days a week.

I also believe that if you think like an owner and see things from a guest perspective, you tend to make the right decisions.

Describe the ideal experience at WestHouse New York.

We have blended the refined privileges of a luxury hotel with the residential comforts of a New York townhouse to ensure our guests have a one-of-a-kind “house away from home” experience.

How important are architecture/design to the success Westhouse New York?

Jeffrey Beers International brought to life our concept of “house away from home” by designing the WestHouse as a boutique hotel that feels like a well-appointed luxury townhouse from the 1920’s.

How do you motivate your employees?

I believe that each employee contributes directly to the growth and success of WestHouse, and I encourage pride in being a member of the hotel’s team.

I also really believe in mentorship, everyone wants to learn so I try to ensure that each leader at the hotel prepares their respective team members for the next step in their careers.

I think if a department falls apart when the leader is not around, then the leader hasn’t taught their team well, I believe as leaders, we are here to teach and guide.

One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?

For my last drink, I would choose WestHouse’s first signature cocktail, The Oldie But Goodie. Inspired by the classic Old Fashioned, the cocktail is an exclusive collaboration with Solbeso, the world’s first spirit made from 100% fresh cacao fruit, and 18.21 Bitters, hand crafted premium bitters from Atlanta, Georgia, and was created by acclaimed NY-based mixologist Rael Petit.

If there is one dish I would eat over and over again, it would be the Lobster and Kimchi Fried Rice Dish from Tao.

What literature is on your bed stand?

I am currently reading the “The Untethered Soul,” by Michael A. Singer.  

Role model - business and personal?

I really admire Oprah Winfrey, both as an individual and as a business woman.

My personal role models are my great grandparents, Dr. Sixto Orosa and Dr. Severina Luna Orosa, they were both pioneers in their field of medicine, and have received tremendous accolades for their work and dedication. Recently, National Hospital Week was named after my great grandfathers birthday.

Current passion?

I love playing tennis. It makes me really happy and centered when I am on the courts.

Favorite travel destination?

Paris and Istanbul

What's next for WestHouse New York?

We are focused on associating WestHouse with leading New York art museums and fairs. We are very proud to have recently become an official hotel partner of Frieze New York, and we are offering a special three nights stay in one of our suites that includes VIP access to Frieze Art Fair & Private Viewing Party, a luxury round-trip car service to Randall’s Island, complimentary champagne upon arrival, and the must-have Frieze New York 2015 catalogue.

We have a number of other art driven collaborations in the works and we look forward to announcing them in the near future.