Sunday, October 17, 2021

The Boca Interview: Daniel Hostettler

New Boca Resort President and CEO Daniel Hostettler wants to bring the golden days back

One of the biggest stories of the last two years has been the sale of the Boca Raton Resort & Club to MSD Partners, Michael Dell’s company, and its subsequent sweeping renovation (and we’re on only in “phase one”) that is changing the face of the property’s waterfront entirely. Boca Raton is used to new owners at the resort, new changes and multimillion-dollar re-dos, but this time around, the change is big. Very big.

The MSD ownership has played it close to the vest in terms of what’s coming, releasing only a rendering of the new waterfront—called Harborside—early on, and rolling out a campaign this summer heralding a new “golden era” of the resort. But perhaps the most important development was the naming of a new president and CEO of the resort this spring.

He is Daniel Hostettler, 52, married father of two and a longtime luxury hospitality leader. Hostettler comes to Boca Raton from the Northeast, after 12 years as president and group managing director of the Ocean House Management Collection (all Relais & Chateaux properties) that includes the five-star Ocean House in Watch Hill, Rhode Island, the three-star Weekapaug Inn in Westerly, Rhode Island, as well as the Watch Hill Inn in Watch Hill, the Inn at Hastings Park in Lexington, Massachusetts, and the Preserve Sporting Club & Residences, in Richmond, Rhode Island.

Before that, he worked at La Posada de Santa Fe Resort in New Mexico, Meadowood Napa Valley in California, and The Peninsula Beverly Hills. In addition to his job at the Resort, he will continue his role as North American President of Relais & Châteaux, promoting and working with 88 properties in the United States, Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean.

Hostettler agreed to grant us his first interview in Boca Raton, and give us an idea of who he is—and what his priorities are.

the boca raton
The Boca Raton (rendering)
Where he’s from and why he does it:

I was born in Switzerland (both my parents are Swiss), but I grew up Los Angeles. My father was CEO of an international electronics company, so he traveled all the time, and I would spend all my summers in Switzerland, so I went back and forth a lot. I enjoyed being in airports and hotels, and meeting new people every day; I found it very appealing. [As for the Swiss part], ‘everything in its place, and a place for everything,’ and I’m always on time. I’m stereotypical that way.

His general philosophy when it comes to directing a fine luxury resort:

I’m probably more hands-on than my predecessor. I’m a lead-from-the-front person. He was probably much more engaged with guests, and I am much more engaged with the staff. My philosophy in leading a luxury team is that it really comes down to human resources. You hire the very best people and then you train them and then you constantly support them, because those are the leaders that then are supporting the line level staff that have to take care of the guests and the members. Bringing a five-star level of service to a property this big depends on the servers and the housekeepers and all those people.

Values he imparts:

A culture of service—we hire for personality, and we train them for skills. In the old days you hired a waiter who had been a waiter for as long as you could [remember]. I prefer to hire for people with personality. I think I can teach you to carry three plates and serve from the proper sides and make the bed if you are a housekeeper, but you can’t teach someone to smile and want to be in the service business. That is something you really have to look for.

We don’t hire anyone on the supervisor and above level without them having a final interview with me. It’s my name on the door, so I want to make sure human resources are the most important thing I can do.

We’re adding an entire training division—we are hiring a director of training and three training managers underneath him. We’ve taken human resources from a team of five to a team of 15 in the last five weeks. … You have to take care of the team. They’re not going to take care of the guests if we don’t take care of them.

How the new team is different:

Two relative weaknesses in this hotel [have been]the level of service and [a] focus on hotel rooms—not hospitality, on real estate development over membership. To me it’s a club, and if you’re a hotel guest you’re a member for a short period of time while you’re in residence. I think that’s a complete shift from [when] it was all about the convention guests, and the members were over here—it’s a club, and if you stay in one of our hotel rooms you can join the club for two or three days while you are here.

Lake Boca Waterfront and The Boca Raton (rendering)
New Resort focus:

This was very much a convention hotel. The positioning [at other times] was that this was a really nice Hilton that happened to be by the water. … We are going back to be an independent luxury property with the goal to be one of America’s top five resorts by 2026—which is our 100th birthday.

That shift only happens if we look at it like a club and a place people come to on vacation that happens to do some conference business as opposed to being a convention hotel that happens to take guests and members.

[Conventions] were the big cash cow because of the volume, but when you start looking at smaller meetings and delivering a higher level of service it’s the same. Instead of a convention of 800-900 rooms a night taking the entire property and overwhelming the members and the leisure guests, we are looking at conferences of 200-400 rooms a night at a higher quality and a higher rate—that can be in The Cloister and not overwhelm membership.

Harborside Pool (rendering)
The new business model:

It used to be you were either at The Beach Club or you were over at what we [now] call Harborside, which are the other 800 rooms. [Our] business model says the resort is really five hotels.

• If you want the Four Seasons experience and you are in the 30-50-year-old range and want that very high contemporary level, you are going to go into the Tower, which is undergoing a multimillion renovation that is extraordinary; it’s a beautiful high-end product.

• If you’re a little bit older than that, but don’t want children underfoot, you are going to go into the Yacht Club, which is 110 rooms, and it’s going to be five stars and butlers on every floor and no children under 16 and every room has a patio facing Lake Boca. That’s a different kind of experience.

• And if you are the convention guest, or maybe you’re a history buff, you are going to stay at the Cloister, because that’s 400 rooms connected to the conference center and the spa. You are in the core of the resort.

• And then the Bungalows—which were maybe an afterthought before—are now being redecorated into all two-bedroom suites (60 total) with a kitchen, living room and dining room, and that’s going to be your long stay, because we’ve gotten requests from people who want to winter in Boca but they’re not ready to buy a house. They want to stay for two or three months. You are behind your own gates; you have your own swimming pool, your own lobby, your own staff.

• The Beach Club I compare to the Faena (in Miami Beach) or a One hotel—it’s sort of something young, hip, patterned after the French Riviera or St. Barth’s. That way you choose your lodging product, but you get use of the [entire] club no matter where you’re staying. Even pre-COVID, I don’t think anyone wanted to go to an 800-room hotel anymore. That’s not an experience. That’s why places like the giant Ritz-Carltons and Four Seasons are having challenges, because people want the boutique hotel. All I am doing is installing five lodging products and saying each one of them is a boutique hotel.

Benefits/drawbacks of managing such a large property:

The benefit and the challenge is that it’s a very large management team. You have the benefits of a large hotel and you have a manager for everything, but you have the challenges of disseminating your vision when it’s that big. You do that one bite at a time. I’ve been here five weeks now, [as of this writing—Ed.] and I spend three to four hours a day meeting individually with three or four managers until I’ve met all 175 of them to make sure they understand what the vision is and where we’re going.

And then you divide and conquer. You had a general manager over here that was responsible for the 800 rooms, and the reason he left us is that I don’t think anyone can do 800 rooms well. With the new model, there’s a general manager coming for the Yacht Club, there’s a general manager just for the Tower, a general manager for the Cloister and there will be a general manager for the Bungalows, and that way each of these general managers is responsible for their hotel within a hotel. You carve it up into small bites. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Rendering of the Resort’s new harborside pools
His community outreach:

The resort has always been part of Boca—it’s the reason Boca exists, as it were, so I think community is important. I think I will be less out and about than my predecessors because I am focused on delivering the level of service and the culture that we want. But I want the property to be much more involved in the community. By that I mean tree lightings at Christmas and Easter egg rolls at Easter—that you come to visit for a holiday. … How do we involve the community in some of these and open the ballrooms more to community events?

I always think when you are running a resort in a community there are only two things that happen: If you are not part of that community and your guests go into that community to shop at a store or restaurant and they get, ‘Oh that place, I’ve never been beyond the gates of the place,’ or ‘They’re all snobs there.’ Or you can take the approach I’ve always taken that you really need to be woven into the fabric of the community, and the community has to have several days of the year when they can come to this place. Because they should be proud of what they have in their community.

And the members:

From a member standpoint, we are bringing back all the programming that disappeared under the last ownership. For the last few weeks I have held a series of town halls with all the members—it was tough to listen to, but their questions and their comments were not out of line. I [was told] I was the first president in 25 years of membership that had ever had a meeting with members. They said, ‘Nobody knows my name. I dine in the restaurants with my friends, and nobody knows who I am.’ They were an afterthought. They just want to be recognized. They are a huge part of the fabric of this club.

They want to bring back the Friday night seafood buffet, the father-daughter dinner dance. I thought to myself, ‘I want all those things, too, for myself and my kids.’ That’s why you join a country cub—for Memorial Day and Fourth of July and all these signature events that you hang out at your club for. … I want to bring all of that back. Members are looking for experiences, too. We are all looking for the way it was in the day here, because that’s what a lot of these members bought into, and what a lot of new, younger members are also looking for. That old genteel South Florida. This was the place…

Dining at The Beach Club (photo by Thomas Hart Shelby)
And the new golden era:

We have to absolutely honor the legacy of what’s been here for 95 years. My favorite conversation was with a gentleman (who is a billionaire now) but he was telling me about the days when he came from nothing. He started a sales company and would go every year to a sales retreat—a Holiday Inn or a Marriott—but when they finally made real money they came down the mountain from North Carolina to Florida to have a sales conference, and they stayed at The Boca Raton. And he said it was the height of elegance and the height of sophistication and it was the place in America you wanted to go and see—it was on everybody’s bucket list—and that’s what I want to bring it back to.

What he thinks he’s good at:

I suppose I eat, sleep and breathe what I do. I really am one of those people who believe if you have a job you love it’s not work, and you’ll never work a day. … I love coming here and involving myself with the staff. I want to make sure I am every day in the trenches with them, articulating the vision and leading from the front—and explaining to them why this is going to be America’s greatest resort again in the next three or four years. That’s what success looks like.

The New Golden Era

Flamingo Grill (rendering)

DISTINCT LODGING EXPERIENCES

When the resort’s first phase is unveiled this winter, the sprawling campus will be redefined as having five distinct experiences:

Beach Club: The oceanfront luxury escape features three pools set on a private stretch of golden beach. The hotel’s Mediterranean dining concepts, Marisol and the Lounge, were recently launched in partnership with notable lifestyle guru Colin Cowie.

Bungalows: Ideal for extended stays, this residential hideaway features two-bedroom suites with full kitchens and furnished terraces or balconies.

Yacht Club: Embodying refined lakefront leisure, the adults-only luxury hotel features elegant suites with private balconies offering views of Lake Boca Raton and its yacht-lined promenade. The hotel’s private Commodore Lounge offers exclusive benefits and refreshments.

Cloister: An iconic landmark with grand architecture and expansive grounds, the historic property is being revitalized and will reopen with immersive new experiences, from rotating art collections to fashion brand collaborations.

Tower: Providing elevated perspectives for sophisticated travelers, the 27-story Tower is being reimagined to showcase contemporary accommodations, artful touches, bespoke amenities and butler service.

The Lounge at the Beach Club (photo by Thomas Hart Shelby)

DINING

Although the list of upcoming dining venues is still under wraps, the new Flamingo Grill (which was previously 501 East Bar & Grill) opened this summer, the first in a series of trendy, successful restaurants from Major Food Group (MFG). Over the next eight months, MFG—the company behind names like Carbone and Parm—will collaborate with the resort to launch signature dining concepts.

ONE-OF-A-KIND EXPERIENCES

Guests can choose from a curated selection of one-of-a- kind excursions, including a supercar racing adventure, a bespoke shopping day with a personal stylist, and private boat outings complete with snorkeling and live entertainment. Additional experiences will be introduced, including a speaker series with today’s thought leaders, aptly named ThinkBoca.

SPA RECHRISTENED

The Boca Raton’s 40,000-square-foot wellness oasis has unveiled a new name, Spa Palmera, and new treatments and services. This winter, Spa Palmera will also showcase a refreshed design and additional programming.

This story is from the September/October 2021 issue of Boca magazine. For more content like this, subscribe to the magazine.

Marie Speed
Marie Speed is group editor of all JES publications, including Boca Raton, Delray Beach, Worth Avenue, Mizner’s Dream and the annual publication for the Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce. She also oversees editorial operations of the company’s Salt Lake City magazines. Her community involvement has ranged from work with the Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce to a longtime board member position at Caridad Center. She is also on the George Snow Scholarship Fund review committee. She is a past officer of the Florida Magazine Association and a member of Class XVII of Leadership Florida. In her spare time, Marie enjoys South Florida’s natural world through hiking and kayaking, and she is an avid reader and an enthusiastic cook.

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