|By Wayne Heilman, The Gazette (Colorado
Springs, Colo.)McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Oct. 21, 2012--After spending three years living on the French Riviera while he was in middle school and seeing some of Europe's top hotels up close, Alex Francis decided to pursue a career in the hotel industry.
The Alaska native grew up largely in Seattle and spent more than 10 years at several hotels in the Seattle area before Driftwood Hospitality Management put him in charge of a company task force this year that takes over and turns around hotels the company has been hired to manage. Driftwood named him general manager in August of the 500-room Crowne Plaza hotel, the second-largest hotel in Colorado Springs, for which the company was named a receiver by 4th Judicial District Judge Gregory Werner at the request of the hotel's lenders.
Francis received a bachelor's degree in English and hotel/restaurant administration from the Washington State University College of Business and Economics. His first hotel job was as a room attendant and he was later promoted to bellman and to a front-desk job. He also worked in a restaurant for three years as a dishwasher, pastry chef, sous chef (second-in-command) and head chef as well as a server and bartender. He also was assistant food and beverage director for a small company that offers cruises in the Seattle area.
He has held various management positions with The Roosevelt Hotel, the Pan Pacific Hotel, The Hotel Max, the Red Lion on 5th Avenue and the Sheraton Hotel Bellevue, all in the Seattle area.
Francis recently answered some questions about his new job in an e-mail interview.
Question: What attracted you to this job?
Answer: The hotel and the area: I have always been a big fan of Colorado and the IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group) brand. This was a win-win for myself and my family. It is a tremendous opportunity to be a part of such an amazing team and I look forward for the years to come.
Q: What opportunities and challenges does this hotel present?
A: Our opportunities are our challenges: our size and location. Although the facility is large and may seem spread out, it is actually quite conducive for conference and meeting groups. It allows multiple groups to be in house at one time without feeling they are being overshadowed or infringed upon by another group. The space is primarily on one level, making it very accessible, and having separate parking entrances at both the grand ballroom entrances and the convention center entrance makes for convenient and easy access for local attendees based on where their event is taking place. Our specialty rooms such as the Summit Ballroom and the hospitality suites are strategically located on upper levels for privacy and "exclusiveness." We are also lucky to be positioned directly off Interstate 25 which allows accessibility, but at the same time we are positioned away from the downtown corridor, which impedes our corporate business.
Q: How has the hotel performed since Driftwood took over management?
A: Driftwood is a leader in streamlining operations, controlling expenses and optimizing profit margin. Since Driftwood took over, we have implemented staffing changes, sales strategies and revenue management strategies that are already showing growth year-over-year. Most importantly, the staff seems optimistic in our direction and happy to be aboard as we bring this hotel back to 2011 numbers next year. Driftwood offers a true spirit of entrepreneurialism throughout the facility by empowering our team members to better serve our guests. Our commitment to customer service is very important to us and sets us apart from other venues and management companies. Driftwood is very progressive and values people as well as the bottom line. That reflects in our associates' performance and commitment and carries through to the service they provide to our guests.
Q: Does Driftwood plan any major changes at the hotel, such as remodeling, renovations or a change in affiliation?
A: We have many changes in the works, but none that I can offer insight on at this time. Stay tuned for some exciting things on the horizon. We will be completely revamping our linen program over the next two months, a daunting task in a 500-room hotel.
Q: The Waldo Canyon fire dealt a major blow to the tourism industry this year; what does the industry need to do over the next year or so to win back lost business?
A: We are educating our customers and guests that although the Pikes Peak region suffered a devastating fire this past summer, overall our community and the attractions that draw so many visitors to Colorado Springs remain intact. Our community takes great pride in the natural beauty and tourist attractions in our region and have gone to great lengths to protect and safeguard those areas so we can share them with visitors from all over the country and the world. It is important that as an industry and as a city that we get the word out that all these beautiful sites are still here and open for business. We also need to continue to increase accessibility to the city through the addition of non-stop flights while staying competitive in cost.
Q: The local economy has been slow to recover from the recession; how has that affected the hotel?
A: The draw-down of multiple wars, the decrease in contracts for defense contractors, (federal government) cutbacks and the possibility of sequestration have played an enormous part in the slow recovery. A military- and government-oriented city is at the mercy of the federal government to re-emerge from this recession.
On a positive side, we, like so many other businesses, have felt the effects of the struggling economy, which has resulted in strengthened relationships with our clients; we have worked very hard with them to maintain our relationships and dedication to working with them through these difficult times. We have partnered with our local clients to help them continue to hold the seminars, trainings events and fundraising events from the past, -- events that they need for their organization's success. We do this through working with them and considering alternative dates, streamlining planning, working creatively with them to work within their budgets. In turn we help them to re-create themselves/their events while still moving forward and accomplishing the goals they need to in order to improve their business and missions.
Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and brevity
Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234 Twitter @wayneheilman
Facebook Wayne Heilman
(c)2012 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
Visit The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) at www.gazette.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services