Were No. Nine

September 9, 2005
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KENTWOOD — The Holiday Inn Select on Lake Eastbrook Boulevard in Kentwood opened its doors just two years ago, but it has already won two of the most prestigious awards available to the 1,400 full-service Holiday Inn hotels within InterContinental Hotels Group worldwide.

Last year, the organization recognized the Holiday Inn Select Grand Rapids East (as it is formally known) with the annual Newcomer Award, as the best new hotel of its class. This year, it was one of only 20 hotels to receive the 2005 Torchbearer Award, a recognition given to hotels that uphold the highest standards of quality and customer service. The Grand Rapids hotel ranked No. 9 overall. The awards are based on surveys completed by Holiday Inn Select guests around the world.

Holiday Inn Select is the third-highest tier in the corporate family, behind hotels bearing the InterContinental and Crowne Plaza brands. The hotel is marketed as an upscale option for professionals on the move, according to T. Bo Schmitz, general manager of the Grand Rapids hotel.

“Select’s distinction is that we go after the business traveler,” he said, differentiating it from the other brands that bear the Holiday Inn name. “That’s the crowd that we tailor ourselves to.”

But having just opened in early 2003, the hotel missed the business travel boom of the late 1990s. Becoming a major player with competition from the likes of the Amway Grand and the Crowne Plaza has been difficult.

“That’s what I’m most proud of,” Schmitz said. “Last year we truly got our name out and now we are the place to stay.” Nevertheless, he said, maintaining steady business is a challenge in the current economy.

One advantage Schmitz’s hotel can offer over the downtown competition is proximity to the airport. With Gerald R. Ford International just a couple minutes away via free shuttle, the hotel has become popular among business travelers who frequent Grand Rapids.

Ironically, that location has perhaps been detrimental to the hotel’s local business. Schmitz said that being “tucked away” on Lake Eastbrook Boulevard, just south of 29th Street, means being screened from view by the retail front of 28th Street. That might reduce the chances of locals stumbling upon the hotel (unless they’re on their way to buy a pool table at Watson’s next door), but it doesn’t mean the hotel is hurting for business.

“The last few months, (on) Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, we’re right up at that sell-out mark and we’ve never been like that before,” said Assistant General Manager Brian Behler. He was individually recognized as a “Best of the Best” sales manager by the parent company, largely because of his efforts to promote a new hotel in a well-established business community.

Schmitz and Behler have done well at attracting local corporate business, largely through their history in the local lodging business. They initially met while working at the Crowne Plaza years ago. After several moves in between, the two have found themselves working together again. Behler said that he is extremely happy with the impression they have made on those corporate clients. He hopes that in the coming year they will strengthen those bonds to become the default recommendation for business travelers coming to town.

“Once they come here, they’re not going back (to the competition),” said Behler. “We’re proud to say that.”

Schmitz credits the hotel’s housekeeping and customer service staff for providing the level of excellence that earned the hotel its Torchbearer Award. Schmitz said this hotel is the cleanest of anywhere he has worked.

“We have people — after we’ve been open for almost two and a half years — that come down after staying here one night and say, ‘Did you guys just open last month?’ That’s a credit to the housekeeping department. It’s as clean now as it was when it opened.”

“I hug those ladies daily,” said Behler. “They do a phenomenal job.”

The hotel provides all of the services business travelers have come to expect: free high-speed Internet (wireless in public areas), shuttle service, a business center and other amenities.    

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