Chicago-based businessman Jay A. Pritzker bought this hotel in 1957, according to Fred Shea, vice president of sales, Hyatt Corporation, because he thought upscale airport business hotels had something of a future.
The resulting “oak” we see today is Global Hyatt Corporation. The broad-reaching branches bear names like Hyatt Corporation, operating the North American and Caribbean hotels, and Hyatt International Corporation, overseeing hotels from Afghanistan to Vietnam.
The Hyatt brands we’ve come to know in the last half century are Hyatt; Hyatt Regency; Grand Hyatt, typically featuring larger conference facilities and positioned for business travelers and groups; and Park Hyatt, distinctive properties with prime locations.
In all, the Hyatt universe encompasses 216 hotels and resorts in 44 countries around the world, a wealth of hospitality and real estate.
A little background
Jay Pritzker’s father, Nicholas, emigrated from the Ukraine in the early years of the 20th century. He mastered English sufficiently to earn a law degree and to prosper in real estate, according to Shea. Jay Pritzker, who died in 1999, was an aerospace engineer and a pilot (who bailed out Braniff International Airways in 1984); he never set out to be an hotelier. “Jay Pritzker and his brothers weren’t in the hotel business,” Shea explains. “They were in the entrepreneur business. They would buy undervalued manufacturing companies in growth markets, provide very good management and then, in many cases, would flip them down the line, doing very well in the process.”
It’s an approach that’s driven the hotel companies as well. “Hyatt’s been very entrepreneurial from the early days,” says Shea. “It’s not a company they wanted to flip; they saw it as their opportunity.”
Hyatt, which is headed up now by Jay Pritzker’s son Tom, remains a privately owned and managed company. “We own the real estate in a significant of number cases, or the hotels, or we manage the hotel for a third-party owner,” says Shea.
Distinctive architecture—now a Hyatt hallmark—actually provided the breakthrough opportunity for the Pritzkers in 1967 when pioneering Atlanta architect John Portman had an unusual hotel development project underway that was in trouble. “Portman needed money,” says Shea. “An atrium hotel didn’t fit with what hotels used to look like, so hotel companies weren’t interested.” But the Pritzkers were, and by purchasing the hotel built around a 22-story-high atrium inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Racine, Wisconsin masterpiece, the Johnson Wax Building, they launched themselves into the convention market and also into a whole new look for hotels.
“We went through a phase with a number of Portman hotels,” Shea adds, “but we believe in architecture and in fitting in, and the ways to do that change over time.” He cites the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego as an example of distinctive architecture but with an entirely different style.
Today, the family name is firmly linked with architectural achievement. Created in 1979, the annual $100,000 Pritzker Architecture Prize is the world’s premier award in the field, having been given to the likes of Philip Johnson, Luis Barragan and Renzo Piano over the last 28 years. It is not for nothing that this family hales from architecturally rich Chicago.
A sense of place
The Hyatt brand provides standards and consistencies across all their properties, notes Shea, “Yet we work very hard to provide unique hotels that fit in their destinations.
“Kaua’i is a great Hawaiian hotel (the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa); it’s a hotel that was designed and built specifically for the location it sits in. It’s not a hotel you can pick up and put somewhere else.”
Also located in Hawaii is the prototype for this approach, the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa. Built in 1982, The Maui Resort & Spa was, according to Shea, the first of its kind that really captured the feel of that destination resort.
For the city properties that epitomize Hyatt’s approach of blending in, Shea cites several examples around San Francisco, including the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport. “It has a different atrium than downtown. It’s a very good group hotel that fits well in the marketplace there.”
The Hyatt guest room
“We’ve always prided ourselves on the lobby, the restaurant and the meeting space, but now, the traveler wants something more residential in the guest room,” acknowledges. “Bathrooms have to have better lighting; they have to have a home feeling. You want a business room, but you don’t want it to look like you’re sleeping in your office.”
Approach to service
With Hyatt’s overall management model, the company can provide service training and procedures across the system to all employees. Their focus is on hiring people who have, as Shea says, the right attitudes, and then providing them with significant training both on the property and off-property.
Another advantage Shea notes is that once someone joins Hyatt Corporation, the pattern is to stick. “We have a lot of crossover employees. Our managers, especially, over their career will work in multiple Hyatt hotels, so they really have the opportunity to provide the best practices from their last hotel to their new postings. This system allows us to bring in people who are skilled, who have different backgrounds, going from hotel to hotel. Our average tenure of general managers is almost 20 years; it gives us great depth over a lot of hotel companies.”
Approach to groups
Fifty percent of Hyatt’s business comes from groups. “Our hotels are typically larger,” says Shea, “we have more meeting space, and we have a lot of large hotels in our network. It also applies to our resorts, although they’re not as highly skewed to the group market.”
Hyatt has a large national sales force, but only 128 U.S. hotels, so their people know their hotels well. Hyatt provides extensive training in convention services and catering. They have a consistent sales system in place that allows them to keep informed about their group customers, as they move from hotel to hotel. “All of our managers and our sales people have access to our database,” says Shea. “They know what has gone well and what has not gone well for the group.” This tracking can also allow for a one-time credit application.
Hyatt also has a standardized contract that is consistent from hotel to hotel. “The dates, the rates, the space are what have to be discussed. The idea is not to have to go back to renegotiate all the rest of it.”
Shea cites the tenure of Hyatt’s convention services and catering managers as another advantage. “We have seasoned people at our hotel,” he says. “They know how it gets done well, hopefully, being there for repeat business.
“Huntington Beach (the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa) is a good example of a resort hotel that does a lot of group business. These larger resorts have to have groups. Two of the three Hawaii hotels are very strong group hotels. In Scottsdale (at the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch), we added a ballroom. It’s a great leisure destination, but we do a lot of group business; it’s a nice balance between group and transient.”
Thirty-two more hotel properties are currently being developed, mostly overseas. However, the spectacular Grand Hyatt Las Vegas at the Cosmopolitan Resort and Casino—situated on a choice parcel right next door to the Bellagio—will be a standout worldwide.
This nearly 3,000-room, full-service, luxury condo hotel will open at the end of 2008. It will be notable not only for its prime location on the Strip, but also for its dramatic architecture by Paul Duesing Partners. The property’s pair of towers, at 59 stories high, will be the tallest buildings in Las Vegas. It will offer more than 150,000 sq. ft. of function space including a 35,000-square-foot ballroom.
On the West Coast, Hyatt just took over the Los Angeles-area Century Plaza and at the end of last year, the Santa Clara Hotel, both former Westin properties now placed in the Hyatt Regency stable.
“We are adding another hotel in Seattle,” Shea says. “It’s a condo hotel, and it’s with the same ownership group that we currently work with at the Grand Hyatt Seattle.”
Hyatt has not attempted to grow in numbers of hotels like many of their competitors, says Shea, “because we didn’t necessarily need to. However, we’re in the process of rolling out Hyatt Place (to be developed from the company’s purchase in January 2005 of the AmeriSuites chain) to compete with Courtyard (by Marriott) and Hilton Garden Inns.
“We are in this niche where we’re very successful, but more and more companies are becoming global, and more of them need different price points,” Shea explains. “When corporations are visited by our competitors’ sales teams, they can negotiate with one company and get high-end, mid-level and lower-level price point accommodations all in one place. The Hyatt Place brand will beef up the company’s menu of offerings. The plans are to expand dramatically. In June look for the first prototype, a young graft on the vigorous Global Hyatt tree.