Ramon Reyes Of The Omni Atlanta Hotel On How To Create A Travel Experience That Keeps People Coming Back For More

An Interview With Savio P. Clemente

Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine

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Inspect what you expect! — It is important to have measurements in place that allow us to ensure guests experiences are fantastic in every way. We do this by inspecting every room prior to occupancy, inspecting every plate before the server takes it from the kitchen to the table, inspecting every area for cleanliness throughout the day and so much more. We never want to interrupt someone’s experience by having them report that something has gone wrong. In order to achieve success, we must anticipate their needs and act proactively.

As part of my series about “How To Create A Travel Experience That Keeps People Coming Back For More”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ramon Reyes.

Ramón Reyes, an alumnus of the graduate program at the University of New Orleans, is currently the General Manager of the Omni Atlanta Hotel at CNN Center.

Ramon has been in the hospitality industry since 1997, having begun his career as a doorman and working various roles prior to moving into a leadership role. Leadership roles have included, Director of Front Office, Director of Housekeeping, Director of Rooms and Director of Operations. His time in the industry has afforded him the opportunity to open a variety of hotels, participate in brand conversions and renovate many iconic hotels. He has served as General Manager of the Omni Royal Orleans, Omni Riverfront Hotel and the Omni Hotel at the Battery Atlanta, prior to accepting his current position with the Omni Atlanta Hotel at CNN Center.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Yes! I have always been intrigued by and interested in travel. I was fortunate to participate in a Travel & Tourism program during my senior year of high school. Over that year, I learned so many things. Although I learned a great deal regarding the impact travel & tourism have on the economy, what grabbed my attention was the fact that those that work in this industry are involved in curating experiences that become part of people’s memories. I wanted to be part of it! I was fortunate to be hired as a doorman in the city of New Orleans. In my opinion, it was one of the best entry roles someone could have. I learned so much from those that I was surrounded by. Ultimately, I moved into leadership and was fortunate to be surrounded by most of the same individuals that helped groom me

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I think we have all made mistakes. We are all human! Just like many associates that have worked in a hotel environment, I have made mistakes like checking someone into an occupied room, delivering luggage to the wrong room, misplacing items that should have been delivered to a room and so many more. What stands out the most for me are leadership mistakes. An example, not addressing a problem before it brews and becomes more impactful. I learned to always be observant and engaging. I also learned to take action as quickly as possible so that the perception does not lead others to believe that I do not care. It is one of the reasons why I walk the property each day and intentionally have conversations with every single associate I come in contact with. This approach has worked well and has been well received.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

That is so true! I have been fortunate to be surrounded by many great individuals. The reason I can sit in the chair of a General Manager today is not only because of the leaders I have worked with but also the many great hourly associates doing the hard work each day. I am a firm believer that associates are loyal and work hard for their direct leader and not just the organization. If I had to pick one, I would say, Jon Hunter, which served as General Manager at the property I worked for in New Orleans, really helped me gain a true understanding of what a GM’s duties and responsibilities were. He challenged me each day to do better and helped me develop an acumen that serves me well today. He did not always agree with me and challenged me to think through everything as opposed to providing me with the answers and/or solutions.

Thank you for that. Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?

There are so many important initiatives underway in our brand and our industry. Most travelers want what they have at home or better to be available as they travel. Sometimes, it is hard to keep up! Technology continues to advance at a very rapid pace. While this is a good thing, it certainly keeps us on our toes. While we are actioning guest-facing initiatives such as texting pre and during a guest stay, wireless charging, ability to cast to a guestroom television, installation of Peloton bikes in fitness centers as well as guestrooms, and guest room dining mobile ordering, many great initiatives are being carried out behind the scenes that benefit the operations of our properties. One of the most interesting initiatives that we are working on right now how we efficiently and effectively clean all hotel rooms each day.

Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation and how do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?

There are two objectives in housekeeping. We aim to clean all guestrooms in a manner that leaves no evidence of a previous occupant, and we also aim to ensure that their room is ready when they arrive. We are implementing a tool that will help us achieve success in both of these areas. Incorporating handheld devices that are issued to all housekeeping associates is part of our plan. These devices do not allow help facilitate a thorough inspection of each room but also includes intuitive technology that tells our team which rooms to clean first. This system interfaces with our property management system. Through that interface, the system understands which rooms should be the priority and also allows for our team to set that priority list. This technology helps reduce errors, speed up response time and ensures the satisfaction of our guests. It is fantastic!

As you know, COVID19 changed the world as we know it. Can you share a few examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers will prefer to travel?

COVID was an interesting and challenging period. We learned to adjust as the world changed. One of the things that was a huge focus and remains a huge focus today was the importance of cleanliness. The goal I mentioned previously regarding there being no evidence of a previous occupant was doubled down on during COVID. I also feel that guests were very tolerant of where our industry was during the thick of the pandemic. Offerings and services were curtailed. Guests are looking to see the full menu of services and offerings return. All of these things are what make travel so special. As a brand, we have termed them as non-negotiables. Our goal and objective are to be better than what we were before COVID. In addition to getting back to where we were, we need to ensure that our guests’ experiences are unique. We can achieve this by hiring the right people, incorporating local flavors, and doing our part in the area of sustainability.

You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?

Great question! The hotelier in me is always evaluating every single experience when I am fortunate to travel. It is not something I can easily turn off. I think the perfect vacation experience has a lot to do with traveling to an exciting destination however, I feel it has more to do with the experience garnered at that destination. I stress to so many associates that our number one objective is to make our guests feel as if we are being welcomed into our home. I stress that because that is what I seek when I travel. Service comes first! That said, I also enjoy exploring the unknown and encountering many pleasant surprises along my travels. These surprises can come in the form of food, music, people and so much more. I always seek something unique, local, authentic, and experiential.

Travel is not always about escaping, but about connecting. Have you made efforts to cultivate a more wellness driven experience? We’d love to hear about it.

Maintaining your health while on the road is important for many travelers. In order to help guests keep up with fitness routines and healthy habits, we’ve recently added Peloton Bikes to our fitness center giving guests the opportunity to customize workouts to their personal goals. Also, our culinary team specializes in sourcing fresh, local ingredients with a variety of dietary options available at the hotel to accommodate those who are health conscience including the Uptown Impossible Burger at Top Draft Sports Lounge, which is 100% plant based. Currently our wellness driven experiences are largely food based.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a travel experience that keeps bringing people back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.

  • Hire for passion! — Our industry is in a state of rebuilding. As we complete this rebuilding effort, it is important to focus on what is most important to most any experience. In order to create memorable experiences, the most important ingredient is passionate associates. Associates must understand the meaning of service and be willing to create those experiences. We recently hired some college students after they completed a summer internship at our property. Despite the fact that they had never worked in the industry, we sensed their passion for taking care of others. These two students remain a bright star and have a bright future ahead.
  • Build a strong culture! — It is not surprising that a strong culture must exist in order for a guest to truly experience all the great things our industry has to offer. Happy associates lead to happy guests! Once you hire those passionate associates, it is important to connect our purpose with theirs. Ensuring that associates feel connected and that our values align is extremely important. Over the course of my career, I have had associates share that the main reason they work for our organization is the culture. It is not surprising that most of these individuals have been our top performers.
  • Practice! — A wise many once told me that even the Super Bowl winning team goes back to practice at the beginning of the next season. It is important to practice and perfect our craft. We do this by consistently evaluating our performance and providing our team with ongoing feedback. Practice does make perfect! Not only do we evaluate execution but how we went about servicing our guests. In our brand, we call these the moments of service. These moments will truly dictate how our guests feel after every interaction and whether they choose to return.
  • Curate authentic experiences — Traveling is meant to be fun and exciting. One of the ways we can deliver on this for our guests is by curating an experience that incorporates “all things local”. This can apply to the food, music and design. Giving our guests access behind the velvet ropes is what we aim to do. Introducing and facilitating an experience that they may not have been able to organize on their own is an example of how we have achieved success.
  • Inspect what you expect! — It is important to have measurements in place that allow us to ensure guests experiences are fantastic in every way. We do this by inspecting every room prior to occupancy, inspecting every plate before the server takes it from the kitchen to the table, inspecting every area for cleanliness throughout the day and so much more. We never want to interrupt someone’s experience by having them report that something has gone wrong. In order to achieve success, we must anticipate their needs and act proactively.

Can you share with our readers how you have used your success to bring goodness to the world?

That is such a great question! I consider it my purpose in life to serve others. I try to do that every day. I not only serve our guests but also those that I am fortunate to call co-workers. Part of how I do this is “paying things forward”. As I have been fortunate to grow, I have intentionally reached back to bring others along this journey of growth with me. I began my career as a doorman. Many great leaders and co-workers aided me along the way, and I feel obligated to do this for others. Whether it being serving as someone’s mentor, providing counsel and training, I am up for all things that lead to others growth. I also feel it is important to be a good steward of the community. Whether this be volunteering, helping to lead local non-profits or leading initiatives to raise awareness & funds for local causes, I feel it is important to remain engaged. Leading in the area of diversity, equity and inclusion is also important.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

The first thing that comes to mind is an investment in our youth. There are so many great careers out there. I wholeheartedly believe that a career in hospitality is one of them. All it takes is passion! Along my journey, I was fortunate to have many great mentors. I would love to start a high school mentorship program, tailored for those that want to explore a career in hospitality. Our industry has everything. Finance, Sales, Operations and so many more careers exist within one great industry. I would love to be part of giving a perspective that leads to many giving our industry a try. Starting off as a doorman and eventually leading the largest hotel in our brand is not a unique story in our industry. The possibilities are endless.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Readers can find me on LinkedIn. I do my best to remain active on that platform, sharing the stories of our industry and travel.

Ramon Reyes | LinkedIn

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine

TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor