News for the Hospitality Executive
Nobody Asked Me, But... No. 99
Hotel History: "Keyed-up Executives Unwind at Sheraton"; Creation of the Havana Hilton Hotel;
By Stanley Turkel, CMHS, ISHC
March 4, 2013
1. Hotel History: "Keyed-up Executives Unwind at Sheraton"
In 1965, the Sheraton Corporation of America, under the leadership of President Ernest Henderson, created a brilliant advertising campaign: "Keyed-up Executives Unwind at Sheraton". It was broadly promoted all over the U.S. in print media, TV advertising and locally by individual Sheraton Hotels. Among my collection of Sheraton artifacts is a translucent plexiglass paperweight (23/4" x 23/4" x 1") which has a small figure of a businessman with a wind-up key in his back which says "Keyed-Up Executives Unwind at Sheraton".
His picture was everywhere: on television, on posters, in airports and railroad stations, on leaflets, matchbooks, cocktail stirrers, in newspaper ads. He was an inspired creation of Madison Avenue ̶ a fictional character with whom millions could subconsciously identify. Young and clean-cut, he carried an attached case, glanced at his watch and looked like a businessman scurrying to his next appointment. He had, however, an enormous protuberance on his back. For sticking out from between his shoulder blades was a great, butterfly-shaped key of the type used to wind up mechanical toys. The text that accompanied his picture urged keyed-up executives to "unwind" and slow down at Sheraton hotels. This wound-up man-on-the-go was, and apparently still is, a potent symbol of millions who feel just as driven and harried as if they, too, had a huge key in their back.
The campaign was eye-catching, clever, humorous and effective. It continued as Sheraton's brand identification until 1968 when the International Telegraph & Telephone acquired Sheraton. Soon thereafter, I was hired by IT&T and became the worldwide Product Line Manager for Hotel & Motel Operations to help oversee the management and expansion of Sheraton.
Now, some forty-eight years later, Four Points by Sheraton has embarked on a similar promotional campaign. Brian McGuinness, Starwood's senior vice president, says, "Business travelers have a real need to connect on the road ̶ both virtually and in person. Our survey results reveal that road warriors are social, preferring to network or to relax in the company of colleagues rather than just enjoying solitary pursuits".
Keyed-up executives are still unwinding at Sheraton.
2. Creation of the Havana Hilton HotelWith the easing of the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba, I contacted my friend Curt Strand in Aspen, Colorado to recall the creation of the Havana Hilton Hotel which opened in 1959. Curt was president of Hilton International from 1968 until 1986. In response to my request, he wrote the following:
You asked for a war story about the Havana Hilton.
It took a long time for us to negotiate the lease. This was before we came up with the concept of a Management Contract.
The Cubans had many great qualities, but punctuality was not one of them. It was nothing for them to schedule a meeting for 10 am and walk in at 1 pm with no apology. In addition, I had to negotiate a second agreement ̶ a labor contract ̶ with the same group because the Lessor was the pension fund of the hotel workers union. We had to devote a whole day to one meeting so this went on for about two years ̶ 1955 to 1956 with two years of construction to follow. The result had to be spectacular in order to compete with the famous National Hotel.
The hotel opened in February 1959. Fidel Castro entered Havana a few weeks later and he, having just come out of the mountains, was very impressed. In fact he was so impressed that he stayed in the hotel for weeks. Not in the Presidential suite, as you might expect, but in the kitchen. Literally. On a cot.
In fact he liked the hotel so much he nationalized it very quickly and it became the Habana Libre. Cuba still owes Hilton a lot of money!
Shortly after they took power the Castro government killed Mr. Aguirre, the head of the Hotel Workers Pension Fund with whom I concluded the lease and the labor contract.
P.S. You can read Curt Strand's
fascinating memoirs of his career at Hilton International in my book,
"Great American Hoteliers: Pioneers of the Hotel Industry" in the
chapter about Conrad Nicholas Hilton.
3. Litigation Support ServicesSince 1992, I have provided litigation support services and have served as an expert consultant/witness in numerous hotel-related cases. As you may know, a knowledgeable expert witness provides thorough research, expert report writing, thoughtful testimony and indispensable litigation support assistance. Don't hesitate to contact me for any hotel-related litigation.
4. My New BookI am just completing the writing of my new book, "Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi". It is a sequel to my 2011 book, "Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels in New York" which the New York Times called "passionate and informative".
My new book has 90 chapters, one for each 100+ Year-Old hotel (of 50 rooms or more) east of the Mississippi River. Each of these hotels will be illustrated by an antique postcard. More than half of these rare postcards come from the collection of Kathe Nylen, ISHC, CRE, Certified General Appraiser, PBTK Consulting ([email protected]). Thank you, Kathe!
This book has a foreword written by Joseph McInerney, President, American Hotel & Lodging Association and has been accepted by the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute for promotion and distribution.
5. Quote of the Month"Early in 1939, as possessors of three small hotels... we began to develop some ambitious ideas... we began considering the advantages of a single name for this prospective empire.... We had a hotel known as the Sheraton on Boston's Bay State Road. The latter, with an expensive electric roof sign, left us little choice in the selection of the new name for our future domain, for it would have cost a small fortune to change the letters on the sign... Many celebrities had permanent accommodations at this original Sheraton Hotel. One of these was Ted Williams of Boston Red Sox fame."
Founder and President
Sheraton Corporation of America
Stanley Turkel, CMHS, ISHC
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