Hospitality skills are being sought in numerous new verticals as other industries are focusing more on service. Doug Rosen looks at some of the more unique projects that have come his way recently.

With all due respect to the common hotel (and the common company for that matter), some are inherently more interesting and complex than others. Consider Sir Richard Branson's ambition to develop the first space hotel. I can imagine being retained for the VP Design & Construction search and having to pitch that role to potential candidates...

Me: We are working with Virgin on an important role. 
Candidate: Where is it based? 
Me: The moon. 
Candidate: Um, what's the school system like?

Back on earth I have reflected on some of the more unique projects we have worked on in the past few years. C-Suite searches are innately dynamic, but it was some operational roles that stood out because the asset is so unique. We are seeing the hospitality skill set in demand in new places (eg: assisted living, airports, residential real estate, shopping malls and health clubs), and with that come both opportunities and challenges.

A few years back we were retained by a non-profit foundation started by a prominent American family. They had bequeathed one of their estates to the foundation. Why did they leave it to the foundation, and why did they need our industry expertise? World politics was weaved throughout the family's history. Because of this they envisioned the purpose of the estate to serve as a meeting ground for the United Nations to host negotiations. They believed if diplomats and dignitaries were to meet in a resort setting, easier compromises could be brokered. The individual who had been running the estate for numerous decades had passed away and they needed someone new to take charge. It was going to take a very special person who knew how to facilitate high level meetings, had political and diplomatic exposure, as well as the requisite leadership and hospitality skills. Many of the people we spoke with possessed some but not all of these traits. In some ways this role was too daunting for people to truly embrace; more would be at stake than simply RevPAR and ADR. After a search that took us several months, we were able to identify and place a candidate who had experience handling these very specific guests.

More recently we had the opportunity to work with a real estate developer from Beijing looking to develop a private business club. Their mission is to help foster Chinese-U.S. business relations. Oh and by the way they are the first tenant of the New World Trade Tower, occupying an entire five floors. Numerous stakeholders are involved in a project of that magnitude, and its location makes it even more special. The project contains meeting rooms, business centers, food & beverage outlets, a spa, and event space. Our client came to us because they believed the person who has the skills to develop this type of club would have to be from hospitality industry; specifically a luxury hotel general manager. One component was conspicuously absent though; there were no rooms. And in selling and marketing the opportunity to GMs (while the story was compelling enough), it not being a traditional hotel was a drawback. Some were also concerned about having to step outside their career track.

Through our process were able to secure a candidate who was the right fit (and had private club experience to boot). I asked that candidate, Jonathan Heath, about his take on these non-traditional hospitality assets. He remarked, "There are no preset rules so development companies can really strive for the best. Secondly the hospitality experts are re-educating the development companies and making them aware that it's not about short term ROI on the operations front, but about creating a brand along with tenant/guest loyalty ultimately leading to positive results and growth."

Sometimes the uniqueness of the asset is not the purpose or geography, but literally what it is made out of. The now famous Ice Hotel in Sweden comes to mind. These innovations in hospitality are challenging the parameters of what a hotel is or can be. You may also consider what happens when the box of your "out of the box" idea is made out of canvas? I spoke with Luca Franco, the principal of Luxury Frontiers, who are leading the way with the Luxury Under Canvas concept. They are partnering with existing luxury resorts or resorts underdevelopment and giving them extra inventory and marketing power by concepting and executing their Luxury Tented Resort development. Operationally no additional talent is needed as they can leverage the existing resort staff and infrastructure. It is an innovative out-of-the-box solution for hotel asset maximization capitalizing on experiential travel trend.

Hospitality skills are being sought in numerous new verticals as other industries are focusing more on service. Concurrently the hotel industry will continue to try to innovate, going beyond boutique to develop the next big trend. As a consultant this makes my job that much more fun. On one side I need to effectively message an opportunity that a candidate has never even dreamed of, and on the other side educate a client whose expertise lie outside our industry.

Speaking of fun, I can't wait for my space suit fitting with Sir Richard.