Omni Hotels & Resorts President Shares Thoughts On Business Travel And 2021 Travel Trends
Peter Strebel knows a thing or two about hotels. He has 30 years of experience in the hospitality world and previously served as chief marketing officer and senior vice president of sales for Omni Hotels & Resorts before becoming president.
Strebel is responsible for repositioning Omni in the luxury hospitality space especially when it comes to developing brandwide property standards for its convention center hotels and resort portfolios.
He shares his thoughts on travel in 2021, the company’s growth plans and how to plot the way forward after a year of such turmoil.
Are you noticing any trends in travel right now?
Among growing leisure demand, we are noticing a large uptick in seniors traveling since many have been vaccinated. Using data from our senior discount rates and comparing the first two months of 2020 with 2021, Omni Amelia Island Resort in Florida saw a 137% increase in sales by “baby boomers” while Omni Hilton Head Oceanfront Resort saw a 25% jump in bookings. There are pockets of demand that are ready to travel now.
We are seeing our Texas hotels starting to experience an uptick in small meetings. Not by a lot but there is some upward movement. Arizona is also doing well – our Tucson and Scottsdale properties are seeing some spikes in group bookings. Southern states seem to be rebounding first when it comes to group travel.
What is Omni’s current growth plan?
We’ve been heavily focused on group and convention center hotels for over a decade now alongside building up our resort portfolio. As we emerge from this crisis, we must be forward-thinking about our brand strategy and portfolio offerings.
In an effort to deliver a consistent guest experience, we sold five hotels. Pursuing the potential sale of assets that no longer align with the direction of the brand was a part of our strategy pre-Covid.
In the past year, we have also added hotels in Minneapolis – Omni Viking Lakes Hotel – and in Oklahoma City – Omni Oklahoma City Hotel. And, we are opening a property in Boston late this summer – Omni Boston Hotel at the Seaport.
How is Omni approaching business travel now?
In the near term, we are predicting that 100% of our profit will come from resorts (leisure travel). Long term, we are seeing a trend in the right direction toward meetings.
The pandemic was challenging for group business, but it was an opportunity for us to be creative with our offerings and think outside of the box. “Here Comes Omni” from our sales team to test our Omni Safe & Clean protocols and stay connected with clients. During one week in October, the Omni team traveled 5,115 miles in an RV stopping at 15 Omni locations to show customers how Omni is ready to safely host meetings and events.
During that same month, we implemented a social distancing “filter” to the meeting and event pages on hotel websites, which allow users to book event space at Omni based on the number of attendees. Users can toggle between standard, moderate and strict settings while viewing new meeting space diagrams and enhanced visuals. Omni was the first hotel group to offer such a feature.
How is Omni addressing virtual and hybrid meetings?
We’re all at different comfort levels right now. The new “Ready, Set, Go Hybrid with Omni” program, designed via customer feedback, brings a new level of production quality and technology support for our customers’ presentations, small meetings and hybrid events.
How important is food and beverage for Omni?
Like our design process, it’s important that we’re tying into local cuisine and resources to ensure the highest quality and creativity. We’re proud to locally source food products where possible, too. For the launch of Minneapolis’ Omni Viking Lakes’ culinary program, we worked closely with Ann Kim, a Minneapolis-based, James Beard award-winning chef. Her menu is the highlight of the hotel’s Kyndred Hearth restaurant.
At our newest hotel, Omni Oklahoma City, we partnered with accomplished corporate chef and restaurateur, David Gilbert, who now serves as the executive chef there. Gilbert’s menus have turned heads all over the world in international competitions. The property has seven culinary offerings, all of which are regionally inspired, which includes Bob’s Steak & Chop House, already receiving rave reviews.
Why does Omni look for sport arenas and convention centers in new markets?
Leaning into large sporting facilities and event spaces – in addition to resorts – is our way of assuring continuous growth in multiple markets beyond business destinations. When we choose a city to build an Omni hotel, a professional athletic organization in town is the “cherry on top.”
These organizations allow us to bring our luxury hotel experience to the affiliated team’s mixed-use development highlighting a “live, work, play” model that has proven successful. These partnerships include Omni Frisco Hotel with the Dallas Cowboys (opened in 2017), Omni Hotel at The Battery Atlanta with the Braves (opened in 2018) and Omni Viking Lakes Hotel with MV Ventures, the development arm of the Minnesota Vikings (opened last year).
In May, we’ll also break ground on Omni PGA Frisco Resort, (slated to open in spring 2023), in partnership with the PGA of America and the City of Frisco.
What is the design process like for a new hotel?
Including regional culture in both new and existing properties is a part of the Omni DNA. Hotel decor draws inspiration from the landscape, the city’s current economy, as well as its history. We want locals to feel at home while those traveling from elsewhere get a sense of place.
In our newest hotel in Oklahoma City, every aspect of the design was pulled from the state of Oklahoma in some way, from the earth tones meant to represent the layers of earth, to the cowboy and oil-inspired features of the bar and lounge. The hotel’s Mokara Spa incorporates one of Oklahoma’s most prolific resources, cotton, into its design look.
What is Omni’s “Say Good Night to Hunger” program?
Omni is committed to helping the local communities in which we are located. The Say Goodnight to Hunger program, launched in June 2016, is our partnership with Feeding America that helps to provide one meal for every completed guest stay. To date, nearly 18 million meals have been donated, and all 60 Omni properties participate by supporting food banks and pantries in their areas.