Michael Briggs in General Manager of Inn by the Sea.
How did you get into the industry?
At an early age I recall a family trip from Massachusetts to Ohio by vehicle, I must have been 12 years old. Arriving after a long road trip we checked into full service a Hilton property where a relative of mine was a catering sales manager. I was fascinated from the moment we checked in, everything from the lobby décor to the accommodations.
At age 14 I began working for a small family owned motel as a laundry attendant on a part time basis. Thereafter I worked through the departments ranging from maintenance to front desk/reservations and housekeeping. Since then, hotels have been the only field I have worked in, which is great!
Any emerging industry trends?
Specific to destination luxury resorts, what seems noticeably different today over a decade ago is seeing family travel coming together for an experience driven vs. a typical hotel stay. Family activities over parents sending their kids to a resort children’s program or sitter service has certainly changed for the better.
Hotels and Resorts are getting creative with both revenue and non-revenue focused experiences. For Inn by the Sea, we offer a nice variation of programming such as nature walks with the inns head groundskeeper, educational garden tours, family campfire nights with S’mores, and even the simplicity of playing a game of scrabble, monopoly or chess/checkers by the fire. As a busy parent it is refreshing to see us all take time away from the digital word that consumes us, as well as our children. In a previous resort I worked, we offered whale watching excursions, tuna fishing, pirate adventures, lobster catch instructional etc., at a fee that families were delighted to pay because the family experience was that meaningful. Ownership recognized the value in investing in a fleet of boats to help drive additional incremental revenues, while also setting them apart from the competition.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
The OTA channels, newer players such as Air B&B, Home away etc. have certainly proved to be disruptive to the hotel industry but by now hoteliers have learned to embrace it for what it is and work within their organizations to identify ways to reach the target audience and retain business through direct booking vs. third parties. As a smaller boutique inn, we today still see north of 80% of our bookings through direct call in or on the GDS, which is terrific. We remain interested in seeing how demand changes in our area with the new, non-hotel players in the marketplace.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
Our vision begins with our company’s core values, created by our amazing President CEO Kevin Mahaney which are broken into five categories: 1) Fun 2) Concern for others 3) Trust 4) Accountability and 5) Continuous improvement. From there, our values are really at the center of everything we do, every day. We will continue to operate under these values as we position Inn by the Sea as New England’s premier coastal boutique style inn. The mantra is so simple, yet applicable to every day scenarios in the work environment.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
Inn by the Sea’s ownership will be reinvesting in a large scale demolition and reconstruction of one of the premier cottage buildings set to begin later this month with a planned opening of late June 2017. The 12 two bedroom suites will undergo a complete reimaging with a coastal feel and modern vibe.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
Luxury comes naturally at Inn by the Sea with a unique approach to hospitality and marketing inspired by our natural coastal surroundings. We have been committed to both outstanding hospitality and environmental preservation, and have led the way for green hotels for over 15 years. We strive to blend luxury, service and an exceptional guest stay with sustainability, minimizing the impact of hotel and restaurant operations with of eco friendly initiatives and an appreciation of all things local.
Delectable dining at Sea Glass celebrates Maine, regional fare & sustainable seafood fresh from the Gulf of Maine. We served on the steering committee for a sustainable seafood program titled Out of the Blue collaborating with fishermen, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and other chefs to expanded markets for fishermen, and support the health of the Gulf of Maine. The program introduces abundant, but under loved and lesser known seafood to guests. The positive PR has been invaluable with articles in Forbes, Food and Wine magazine, and many more, over the years.
Guests are surrounded by indigenous gardens, and the inn collaborated with the Department of Conservation on habitat restoration, creating a “Rabitat”, a preserve with the perfect habitat for endangered rabbits adjacent to the Inn. Inn guests take garden tours on planting ever blooming gardens that also create habitat and food sources for local wildlife, beach ecology walks with a naturalist, and children enjoy “Bug’s Life” classes learning about eco systems from a bug’s vantage point- these programs all add value and sense of place to a guest stay, as well as having great success in achieving earned media.
The Inn has both a LEED® Silver and Maine DEP Green Lodging certification, as well as having won a legislative Sentiment as and Environmental Leader, and Preferred Hotel® Groups Sustainability Award in 2014.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
To date in my career, the most difficult set of circumstances faced was during the economic recession in 2008-2010. At the time I was working for Chatham Bars Inn Resort and Spa on Cape Cod, a luxury institution of nearly 100 years running successfully. We, like others were faced with some hard decisions on how to effectively reduce expenses while keeping up with a stringent list of minimum operating standards for that of a luxury property. Through the intelligence of the inn’s now retired managing director Paul Zuest, he arrived at abbreviating the off season schedule to a 4 vs. 7-day operation during the quieter months which in turn lumped all for the business into a tightly managed set of dates. The majority of the staff worked a 4-day week and were able to retain their job, full time benefits etc.
What I learned from this exercise was mainly that in business one needs to be prepared to be adaptable, and that there is no one size fit s all approach. Above all, through creative efforts and a more unconventional approach, we retained valuable employees and weathered the storm with success.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
Inn by the Sea offers the best of two worlds- a relaxing seaside retreat with a sand beach, but located just minutes from Portland’s vibrant Old Port with unique boutique shopping, cultural and water activities and a foodie destination like no other! On site, SPA is a tranquil harbor with treatments and therapies that give a nod to the coastal location with Sea Waves or Casco Bay hot stone massage. The intimate Sea Glass restaurant offers captivating seasonal cuisine, regionally sourced, and enjoyed with panoramic ocean views. A private boardwalk leads from the Inn through a nature preserve to a mile of unspoiled sand beach. A heated swimming pool and seaside lawn for daily yoga, games and family programming are is center of summer activities for families in high season. Off season, nightly firepits, the warmth of the fireplace lounge, and suites and rooms with private fireplaces offer cozy respite from snowy winter days and evenings. Packaging at the Inn focus on area highlights and includes an authentic cruise on a Maine lobster boat, visits to the Portland Museum of Art or Winslow Homer’s studio nearby, Foodie tours to some of Portland’s purveyors and producers, or excursions to some of the regions renowned micro brewers.
How do you motivate others?
I believe in a collaborative vs. dialogue driven approach with the team that allows ideas to be shared vs. one message. Having a clear message and set of expectations is important to set the tone (I often refer to our values mentioned earlier), however motivating a team comes really comes from the heart. If you yourself are truly passionate about what your role is, your team will likely follow suit. Those who believe in their leader, know what the vision is and subscribe to it, your business should be positioned for great success. Other simple, yet important traits that can often be overlooked are acts of kindness like saying thank you, hand writing personal cards to highlight various topics, stopping to learn and ask about your employee’s families, interests etc. It all goes a long way and doesn’t cost a penny!
Career advice to those in your industry?
Always keep work life balance in perspective. If both are in alignment you will likely find great success! Set measurable goals but be flexible on your timeline. Some goals are realized in short order while others take time and patience.