Customizing Hospitality

Hyatt Hotels and Resorts
Vice President Global Sales for the Americas

Hometown: Naperville, Illinois

College: College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, Illinois

“We are stepping into unchartered waters in the global arena with additional brands.”

As Hyatt Hotels and Resorts vice president of global sales for the Americas, Gus Vonderheide regularly visits properties and customers with his directors who manage the brand’s largest corporate and agency global accounts in North and South America. He’s comfortable jetting around the world, but when he returns home to Naperville, Illinois, Vonderheide enjoys a quintessentially American pursuit—tooling around on his John Deere tractor.

Vonderheide, who was appointed to his global position in January 2012, has been with Hyatt for 21 years. That is impressive in an era when many in the hospitality industry move around. He likes the friendly, family-oriented nature of the company. “Our CEO, Mark Hoplamazian, makes himself known to employees and customers. My co-workers are like brothers and sisters,” he says.

The 53-year-old has been in the hotel business for more than three decades. Over the course of his career, he has held positions in many operational departments. When speaking to young proteges, he emphasizes the value of that experience. “I tell them: This business has so much to offer—don’t limit yourself to one function. Work behind the front desk, in housekeeping or in purchasing. Learn all the moving parts.”

Vonderheide got his feet wet as a teen, landing a part-time summer job setting up banquet rooms at a nearby resort. It had a profound effect on his future.

“That job encouraged me to look into a school hospitality program. I enrolled in the College of DuPage in 1980, graduating with a degree in hotel/restaurant management. I have no regrets—it’s been a wonderful career,” he says.

During an 18-year period, Vonderheide led teams in St. Louis; Louisville, Kentucky; Dearborn, Michigan; Washington, D.C.; and Omaha, Nebraska, ultimately returning to his childhood home of Greater Chicago. An active force in the industry, Vonderheide is chairman of the Meetings Professional International Foundation Global Board of Trustees, and a member of ASAE and PCMA.

I am proud of my track record—the sales teams I’ve been able to create and develop over the years, and the outcome of where I have taken them,” he says. “Rallying a team around a common goal can be difficult.”

Vonderheide says one reason Hyatt is an industry leader is because it actively solicits customer input and uses it to inform business decisions. He cites free Wi-Fi as an example.

“We heard from our customers that the Internet is as important to them as oxygen,” he says. “Most other brands were charging for it in one way or another. We decided to offer free Wi-Fi in all guest rooms and were able to turn the dial pretty quickly on that. We rolled it out globally Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, as a way to show a little Hyatt love.”

According to Vonderheide, the brand is always exploring ways to delight customers, using some properties as test sites. The Hyatt Regency Belle-vue, Washington is near Microsoft headquarters, one of Hyatt’s biggest customers. “We are customizing the experience there. Numerous Microsoft products are available in the lobby. For example, communal tables in the lobby have been converted to large Surface tablets.”

Several new Hyatt initiatives are of special interest to meeting planners. One is the personal preference catering option, where attendees at galas can simply order their entrees that night, similar to a restaurant. Another is the group bill system, which packages all charges into a user-friendly, online format that planners can examine any time.

Vonderheide is excited about Hyatt’s future. “We are stepping into unchartered waters in the global arena with additional brands. We are partnering with Playa Resorts to offer all-inclusive products in Mexico and Jamaica,” he says.

Family-friendly Hyatt Ziva with ample meeting space has been introduced in Rose Hall, Jamaica, and Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos, Mexico. Hyatt Zilara in Cancun and in Jamaica are adult-only properties, with more limited meeting space

Hyatt is growing its portfolio with brands for every type of traveler and capitalizing on new locations.

“Our fastest-growing products are Hyatt Place for business travelers and Hyatt House extended stay properties,” he says. “We are having great success opening these hotels in second-tier markets outside of major U.S. cities, and in Latin America, China and India.”

When not traveling for business Vonderheide and his wife like to vacation—always at Hyatt resorts. “I like to experience the properties first-hand,” he says.

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