How losing the chains of the cookie-cutter hotel industry allowed The Redwood Riverwalk Hotel to offer guests a one-of-a-kind experience deeply rooted in its beautiful surroundings
Seven years ago, Jeff Durham and Joe Wolosz embarked on an adventure that would take them through the ins and outs of the hospitality industry, landing them at precisely 1859 Alamar Way, Fortuna, California, California; the address of The Redwood Riverwalk Hotel. However, when their adventure began, this property felt nothing like it does today.
Instead of the reclaimed wood wainscot of the lobby and the art pieces of traditional tobacco pipes and marijuana tax stamps from 1937 which all pay tribute to the vast history and the hotel’s local surroundings, if you had entered the property even just two years ago you would have found yourself in an unremarkable Holiday Inn Express.
Jeff, one of the hotel’s co-owners, got into the business because of his love and passion for hospitality. Along with owning and operating The Redwood Riverwalk Hotel, Jeff and his business partner, Joe, also operate a hotel brokerage firm and a Napa Valley boutique winery, Gentleman Farmer Winery. “I just truly enjoy interacting with people and making sure they are happy with their experience, whether I’m selling wine at a restaurant, selling hotels or hotel rooms.”
When he and his business partner decided to purchase the Holiday Inn Express in 2008, they quickly saw an opportunity tap into their service-oriented roots and provide guests with an experience he wasn’t able to offer as a part of a franchise hotel chain. With the recognizable name comes a great deal of oversight and demands that made Jeff and Joe consider the possibility of delivering the service they knew their guests wanted, but on their own terms.
They decided in 2012 to do just that and took their hotel from a chain to the independently owned and operated hotel and have never looked back. “I only wish I had done it sooner,” said Jeff.
To do this, Joe and Jeff began the lengthy process of purchasing the property from its management group and refurbished the front lobby into the iconic setting it is today. From the linens and pillows to the décor and brownies in the lobby, everything was thought through to best reflect the hotel’s incredible surroundings to create a “sense of place,” as they so proudly proclaim across their website.
Some of the changes were even made to serve multiple needs, including the selection of their built-in soap dispensers to lower costs for guests and reduce waste produced as a result. All of which, would never have been possible under the previous ownership and name.
With this change, Joe and Jeff were finally able to offer their guests a truly memorable experience from the moment they spot the hotel off the highway, which inevitably stands out amongst its commonplace neighbors like Best Western and Super 8. This experience is felt within every interaction a guest has with the hotel and is reflected in the comments and reviews you’ll find on any review site such as TripAdvisor or Hotel Tonight.
“When we were Holiday Inn Express, we had no control over the comments and feedback we were getting from our guests. We had no elevator and rooms were accessed from an exterior corridor and we couldn’t change that. Once we took the hotel independent, we stopped getting these complaints entirely,” said Jeff. “The expectations change when you’re independent. We’ve made our hotel our own and people know what they’re getting when they stay with us and are fine with that.”
The change has also made Jeff a better hotel operator than he ever could have been before because he has to learn about every single aspect of his hotel. “I know more about linens and towels than I had ever wanted to know,” he said. “And because of that, we have really great linens and our guests love them!”
What’s most important in the story of this property’s success comes down to a shift in how people travel and what they want in a hotel. Review sites and booking sites have enabled travelers to become informed consumers in the industry and have allowed for incredible hotels such as The Redwood to be able to compete with multinational hotel chains in a way they never have before.
“20 years ago, no one would know who I am and what I’m about and I could never have gone independent,” said Jeff. “Now, I get to engage with people who leave reviews on TripAdvisor and as a result, guests are more educated and can make the right choice for their trip. They know what experience they will have so we only get guests who want to stay with us and will be happy to do so.”
Along with this knowledge, Jeff knows consumers won’t be fooled by chains like Hilton and Best Western attempting to mimic what his hotel offers by launching hotel chains under the names of Canopy and Vib, respectively.
“Just because it doesn’t have the name ‘Hilton’ across the building doesn’t mean a guest won’t know they’re in a franchise when they walk inside,” he said. “You might not realize right away, but people don’t want to be fooled and will make the conscious choice next time to support the smaller, independent hotels for the authentic experience they’re seeking.”
“Companies like IVH Hotels, that really allow us to embrace our independence while offering many of the resources a brand would, are exactly what we need at this time in the industry,” he said. “Not only do I want my hotel to be mine, but our guests want that too and in the spirit of hospitality, we want them to be happy with their experience.”
Website : www.theredwoodhotel.com
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