Looking through the floor-to-ceiling windows of the newly renovated rooms on the 29th floor of the Seattle Hilton, a hotel guest can gaze upon the tranquility of Puget Sound or the dizzying Space Needle from the comfort of a newly renovated room.
This elevated perch is the result of a yearlong reinvention of top-floor public space into a more profitable executive suite of guest-rooms, says Seattle Hilton GM Heather McCurdy.
“Our building has always had this amazing panorama of Seattle from the top floor,” McCurdy says. “When we decided to do a full room renovation in 2019, we decided the top floor would generate more profit per square foot as hotel rooms rather than as we were using it, as a public space for a restaurant and conference rooms.”
With the addition of 16 rooms, the Seattle Hilton’s freshly renovated property sits in a plum position about a mile from the Space Needle and Seattle
In this week’s Q&A with Boxerbrand blog Recipe for Success, the Hilton’s Heather McCurdy talks about the unique position and challenges of manning the helm of a major hospitality brand in Seattle.
Boxerbrand: How did the addition of top-floor rooms on the 29th floor enhance the Seattle Hilton?
Heather: In hospitality, close to 100 percent of hotels around the world experience more profit per square foot on hotel rooms than in any other amenity in a hotel property.
A lot of public spaces, like fitness or business centers, generate no profit, and serve as amenities for the guests. Most food and beverage spaces are also more amenities than profit centers. And though banquet centers can be lucrative, a hotel room is very reliable and can be rented every night for a set rate.
Those rooms came online in 2021 and have been very popular with our guests. Visitors commend the hotel for its location and for the top-floor executive suites. One guest writes, “After booking I upgraded to an executive floor room —this was the best decision. The room was on the 29th floor with a great view!”
Boxerbrand: What has challenged the hotel world of Seattle?
Heather: We were one of the hardest hit geographic locations during the pandemic. We had a very different situation than in Florida, for example. My colleagues in Florida didn’t have mask mandates, for example, and Seattle was at one point an epicenter of the virus and we took it all very seriously. Quite a few downtown hotels were closed for several months, and some never reopened. Though we managed to stay open throughout the pandemic, we had to, at one point, severely limit services. Our housekeeping service was curtailed so that rooms were only cleaned after a guest checked out, instead
of daily during their stay. It was something everyone felt comfortable with because guests didn’t want strangers in their rooms, and our staff didn’t want to go into a stranger’s room. When I started here in 2021 there were four managers on board. Prior to the pandemic we had 26 managers. Like all hotels we faced challenges as we scaled back up to full service.
Boxerbrand: What staffing issues have you faced?
Heather: We’re a union property so that helped keep the structure of our staffing in place. As soon as employees got the call to come back to work they returned. But staffing is still a challenge. We have one of the highest minimum wages in the country, at about $19 an hour. Labor is expensive. With the higher wages and competition among wages we do see people hopping around more. But we’ve had legislation in Seattle that requires employers to publish pay rates in job advertisements, so that has helped us attract people because we’ve always paid well.
Boxerbrand: Who are your customers and how do you attract them?
Heather: First, we have a big advantage because of our affiliation with Hilton. When Hilton members started traveling again, our bookings filled up faster than we could handle it at first. For about two years it felt like we were running to catch up with all the returning business, and I’m happy to report it’s back to normal.
There’s a million social media tools we use to help drive foot traffic, but I’d say Expedia is one of the standout tools for us. This hotel in particular has been one of the stronger performers in the Hilton network, and that’s been our bread and butter. We have groups and conventions that frequent us because of our proximity to the convention center and being one of the only hotels connected to an underground concourse that allows conference goers to walk to and from conferences during our rainy winters without getting wet. We also participate with the visitor’s bureau, and this affiliation also helps bring in customers.
Boxerbrand: What has Seattle Hilton done to improve efficiency?
Heather: We’ve made a couple of changes that have made a big overall difference in cost and has helped us get back up and running. With our dining menu, we streamlined what we offered and this helped us return to normal. We also rolled out a digital key program that makes it possible for our guests to get their room key on their phone. We also revisited our pet policy. In the past we were traditionally not pet friendly. But during the pandemic, we started catering more to pet owners. In fact, we’ve had a few dogs who we’ve gotten to know pretty well, and now we keep our reception desk well stocked with doggy treats.
Boxerbrand: What makes you optimistic about the future?
Heather: I’ve been in hospitality for 30 years and I have a deep perspective. I remember the recession of 2008 and all of the business that fell off. At that time, there was a fear that business travel would never recover. But it did. And I’m optimistic now because I’ve seen that after the same fears came during the pandemic, with predictions that the world would stop traveling and use Zoom meetings instead. But I think it’s clear that people need to make human connections and that our conference center is back up and running and is quite busy again. People want to travel. And that makes me optimistic.
Boxerbrand: How have Boxerbrand’s in-room directories worked out?
Heather: I found Boxerbrand five years ago when I had you guys make sample menus for a restaurant I worked for at the time. I was so excited when I got to return to Boxerbrand and bring the product in here for our guest rooms. They’re beautiful, and a real upgrade to what we had before!
Seattle Hilton uses Boxerbrand’s Iridescents menu cover line in their hotel in-room dining.