Tatyana Gritt of The Altair Hotel Bay Harbor On How To Create A Travel Experience That Keeps People Coming Back For More
An Interview With Savio P. Clemente
Time feels longer whenever you are waiting. I tell my team to always quote appropriate delivery and service times so that the guest can plan accordingly. Showing up too soon may catch the guest by surprise, showing up too late is frustrating. The last thing you want to do is see a guest coming out of shower or not dressed appropriately.
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 Tatyana Gritt.
Tatyana Gritt is the hotel manager at the Altair Hotel Bay Harbor, Miami. Over the last 15 years, Tatyana has been successfully leading teams from some of the hospitality’s top hotel companies. She has demonstrated strong leadership skills while learning and advancing through various hotel brands and departments. From the luxury Fairmont hotel in Southeast Asia, to the flagship 5-star, 5-diamond St Regis and the W in New York City, to the lifestyle luxury Altair Hotel in Miami, she has managed outstanding teams to deliver exceptional service. Tatyana’s career includes diverse roles leading to unique experiences and perspectives.
Throughout her career, Tatyana encouraged her teams to use empathy and worked with them to create “perfect vacation experiences” that build loyal customers for life. Fostering a family environment among the team and an “at home” feel with her guests. Tatyana is currently focusing on positioning the Altair Hotel as the luxury destination for tranquil getaways in Miami with a unique focus on offering conveniences for those guests that stay to observe Shabbat. Her passion is market research in the hospitality industry or as everyone else likes to call it, “traveling”. Tatyana earned her B.S. in Hotel Management from the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My family immigrated from Eastern Europe to Brooklyn when I was a teenager. Being exposed to different cultures and parts of the world at a young age, my passion for travel and an appreciation of the hospitality industry began. I studied hotel management at Cornell University and I have been working in progressive roles at hotels in different departments at Accor, Starwood, Marriott and now Highgate Hotels. I worked in Dallas, Singapore, New York City, Park City, and New Orleans and I am currently living in Miami working as a Hotel Manager at Altair Bay Harbor. I joined this boutique luxury kosher hotel during its opening in September of 2021. I assisted in the brand development and identity creation of the hotel, making it a truly unique and special vacation spot that offers a friendly environment and tranquil getaway in Miami for all, while offering added conveniences for the Jewish Orthodox clientele.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
When I was in my early 20’s, living in Singapore, I would sometimes spend time by watching “America’s Next Top Model”. It was definitely not the path my career would go, but sometimes I would think to myself that it would be cool to be on a show with of course no intention of ever doing anything about it or applying. One overnight shift, the adjacent hotel called me over to help with a group VIP arrival. To my surprise, it was a German Top Model group filming the hotel check-in and I was asked to place the welcome sash on the models. The moral of the story — be careful what you wish for and when you do, be very specific!
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?
At my first hotel job after college, my general manager wanted to inspire and empower management trainees by having us join the executive committee meetings. For our project, he arranged for two of us to spend a day at a winery to learn about the winemaking process including making wine with our feet. Yes, if you ever drank 2007 Merlot from a Dallas winery, it may have been made by yours truly! During the next executive committee meeting, we had the simple task of presenting our fun day. Being an introvert and on the shyer side, I was extremely nervous and overprepared. As I was rushing to get back to my seat, I was going over how the presentation went in my head, and I tripped on the cable.
Looking back at it and seeing how much easier presenting is now, I learned every skill gets better with practice and not to be discouraged if I am not perfect at something right away. Today, thousands of pre-shifts, presentations and speeches later, I don’t trip on cables on the way to the front or back to my seat anymore!
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?
There have been many role models, mentors and those that cared and helped me get better along the way. Most of my leaders and colleagues were truly exceptional.
If I had to narrow it down, the most influential were my leaders at pivotal moments of my career. The first was the GM at my first property that encouraged me to get myself out of my comfort zone and take a chance in working in Singapore before ever even going to visit the country. The second was the Director of Housekeeping that hired me at Starwood/Marriott where I spent a decade of my career after I moved from Singapore back home to New York City. He gave as much life advice as work advice over the years and remains my mentor to this day. The third is my Area VP in Miami whose passion for the company and hospitality created such a supportive and welcoming environment, which made my transition to Miami and my first non-branded lifestyle hotel seamless, while truly setting me up for success by helping me fill any knowledge gaps. The fourth is my Complex General Manager who offers me a second opinion and advice any time I ask, at any hour of the day.
The success of every property I worked at — and this holds true at The Altair — is in the hands of the entire team including every hourly associate and every executive. I am grateful for all of their hard work and consider them to be my extended family.
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?
Highgate is an ESG leader within the hospitality industry and rolled out multiple innovations to reduce our environmental impact with development of comprehensive programs surrounding building operations optimization, sustainable supply chain management, reforestation, renewable energy utilization, single-use plastics elimination, and green design and construction.
At Altair, we have implemented LED lighting, we are working on eliminating single-use plastics by partnering with “Path Water” to provide reusable and refillable aluminum water bottles and we are working with “Further” to offer sustainably sourced, locally made and family-owned products in refillable amenity bottles. We are able to offer a premium product with a luxurious feel while eliminating waste. Lowering costs has allowed us to expand on offering more luxurious bath amenities including sunblock and hand sanitizers for our guests.
Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation and how do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?
If we all do our part collectively, we can make a big impact on hospitality as well as the greater global community. What I love about my company, is that it strives to be a positive force in the lives of people near and far, and encourages us to have initiatives to do the same. It is time we think about the kind of world we will be leaving for younger generations and make it a better one.
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?
The travel and hospitality industry has weathered many catastrophic events during the last decade, such as 9/11, the housing crisis, and the 2008 recession, to name a few and in every circumstance, travel always climbed back and thrived. COVID-19 pandemic was unique and no one could have predicted how long it would last and how much of an impact it would have on the industry as a whole. Leisure and hospitality has lost 3.1 million jobs and some are yet to return. Domestic tourism was the first to come back to help revive the hospitality and tourism sector while the international tourism recovery was much slower and more recent.
It is essential for travel and hospitality companies to do the following to succeed in our post-COVID19 world and recovery process:
- Create brand awareness and brand value through marketing efforts
- Protect reputation by closely monitoring reviews, especially for cleanliness and staff service
- Shift to a more digital and efficient approach of operations
- Rebuild in a sustainable and cost-effective manner
In a world full of uncertainty, there is a pent-up demand to enjoy life with a financial concern not to be wasteful. Over the next five years, consumers will be traveling looking for value and unique experiences. Value can be created by either better or lower cost offers, or preferably both.
You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?
The more I explore the world, the more I realize how much more there is to see. I have been fortunate enough to work in the hospitality industry to enjoy leisure vacations at some amazing destinations and top diving sites in the world.
If I had to pick my favorite ones to recommend, they would be the rich cultures of Phnom Penh in Cambodia and Agra in India, the beautiful beaches of Palawan in the Philippines and Phi Phi islands in Thailand, delicious cuisine in Florence and Paris, and diving sites in Sipadan in Malaysia and Dos Ojos Cenotes in Mexico.
The perfect vacation experience all depends on what type of experiences you and your travel companions enjoy. Sometimes, the best memories are from local experiences not found on bucket lists. Every destination is unique and has something unforgettable. I recommend visiting different destinations and exploring small neighborhoods of the city to find that perfect vacation experience that keeps bringing you back for more.
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.
At my current property, The Altair Hotel Bay Harbor in Miami, we believe in cultivating a wellness-driven experience. We offer healthy dining options, an array of indoor and outdoor activities and amenities all with wellness in mind.
Our Beach Club and rooftop pool have football and volleyball equipment available for our guests. Our fitness center, fitted with state-of-the-art equipment, is open 24 hours a day, allowing guests to exercise overlooking the beautiful bay view. Guests are invited to take the hotel’s kayaks and paddle boards in the bay to venture out on their own or with family and friends. We offer daily swim hours for both men and women, as well as weekly women’s Aqua Tread classes partnered with Malkie Raskas at our rooftop pool. We will also begin providing daily yoga, pilates and aqua tread classes during our Sukkot program. Our location has many nearby restaurants, shopping, parks, synagogues and many more points of interest accessible by foot, using one of our property bikes, scooters or our Altair shuttle.
For those looking to take their wellness further, our Kosher Concierge program is able to assist in booking private fitness sessions, classes, nutritional consultations, in-room massages, water sports on the beach or private boat rental.
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.
At Highgate, we are taught to inspire greatness in everything we do, to passionately obsess with excellence and to always put people first. With that in mind, my team at Altair and I developed brand service culture elements that create travel experiences that keep bringing people back for more and loyal customers for life. Yes, it is an acronym, spelling out A-L-T-A-I-R for simplicity to remember and a bonus item.
Answering “Yes”: I tell my team to always say “Yes” and take care of guests’ requests, as long as they do not take away from another guest’s experience. The harder the request, the more impressed the guest will be if you can make it happen. Saying no without offering alternatives and nickel and diming leaves a bad taste.
Once on vacation, I needed to call an embassy in Mexico because I had issues leaving the country due to an expired passport. I got into the country with my native country’s passport but leaving was not so easy. I knew it was a bad idea before going on the trip, but did not want to cancel the vacation since my friend and I were looking forward to it.
I extended my stay to be able to sort out the issues and had asked the front desk to dial the number I found for the embassy. I was asked to contact the embassy myself from my room so I would incur the phone charges. In my career, I have never said “no” to this type of request and always tried to go above and beyond when guests are in distress.
Luxurious: Altair is positioned as a luxury-lifestyle property focusing on service, unique experiences as well as details and enhancements to make guests feel comfortable.
When I was younger traveling through Switzerland, my friends and I stayed at a renovated jail — with bars on windows, thin mattress and other touches for an authentic experience. Although it was a unique and memorable experience, I now try to stay at hotels with plush duvets, high thread-count linens, and comfortable beds as what is offered at Altair.
Timely: Time feels longer whenever you are waiting. I tell my team to always quote appropriate delivery and service times so that the guest can plan accordingly. Showing up too soon may catch the guest by surprise, showing up too late is frustrating. The last thing you want to do is see a guest coming out of shower or not dressed appropriately.
Sometimes promises cannot be kept due to unexpected circumstances or human error. Once, we had a guest show up right before Shabbat for a 2-bedroom suite that was not cleaned yet. The turnaround should have taken an hour and a half but we were able to accommodate our guest in less than half an hour with all hands-on deck. Multiple housekeepers were cleaning, public area attendants were helping with dusting, housekeeping supervisors were assisting with beds, the front desk supervisor was wiping counters and even my complex general manager was vacuuming.
Anticipatory: Anticipatory is my favorite, as it allows to surprise and delight guests when they are least expecting to receive VIP treatment. One of my regulars at Altair casually mentioned that they are coming up to celebrate their daughter’s 16th birthday. My team and I decided to go all out to fill the room with dozens of balloons and large “16” numbers in the room. We placed a chocolate shaped as a record that said, “For the Record It is Your Birthday!” While the family was at Shabbat lunch, we snuck into her room and filled it with the surprises. Needless to say, she was blown away by the big gesture.
Gestures do not have to always be grand to make a difference. Often, several small touches add up to just as much of an impact as one big one. I always ask the desk to have engaging conversations, housekeeping to look for consumption patterns and clues in the room for special occasions, and the restaurant to look out for guest favorites. Communication and working as a team allows us to exceed our guests’ expectations, making their stays more enjoyable and increasing the chances to have them visit again.
Immaculate: All of the above is meaningless if the guest does not trust the cleanliness practices of the property. Especially with COVID19, it is more important than ever to disinfect and clean every surface of the room and public area. Cleanliness is our focus and we receive many compliments regarding how spotless the Altair is.
When not done correctly, lack of cleanliness can create a disastrous experience. I checked into a room once that had been cleaned except the bed was stripped and there was a big stain on the mattress. As someone that works in the industry, I don’t give a hard time or ask for anything as I know sometimes mistakes happen. It seemed the room was left unfinished to treat the stain and the room status was updated incorrectly. I simply took a picture and went downstairs to ask for a room move. The agent apologized, reassigned my room and added breakfast as a gesture of apology. I still felt a little uneasy afterwards wondering what else was not done properly. A guest should never feel this way or be reminded that they are not the first person sleeping in that bed.
Refined: Lastly, I tell my associates to connect with guests while maintaining a professional composure. We stress the importance ofo dressing the part and looking our best. To give guests a sense of home and family treatment without getting too familiar or relaxed. To keep the focus on guests and respect their personal space and to watch for cues to flex our style to personalize for each guest’s comfort level.
Can you share with our readers how you have used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I am involved in the Altair’s efforts to fundraise for the Highgate Charitable Foundation. The foundation supports philanthropic organizations and communities worldwide that address issues related to poverty, education and health care. Through guest and vendor donations, children sponsorships, fundraising events, donating a portion of sales profits, shopping using the Amazon Smiles feature and anything else we can creatively do, the hotel is tasked to fundraise on behalf of a diverse array of public charities dedicated to the betterment of our global community, namely Save the Children and Aga Khan Foundation.
I also enjoy supporting younger leaders in guiding them down the right path and helping them grow to their full potential. Especially mentoring female leaders as I can relate to them and know exactly what they are going through; essentially laying down the groundwork so that they can grow professionally — faster and easier. It is time to stop competing against each other and start supporting each other. The female area VP of a nearby region started Ladies Inspiring Ladies or LIL Miami which I am involved in has this goal in mind and allows us to meet and share ideas.
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. :-)
In the hospitality industry, we are taught empathy and we are trained to put ourselves in other people’s shoes. We should always treat others with kindness and understanding. Especially in uncertain times, we often don’t know a person’s full story, the struggles and how little acts can make a large impact on someone. Happiness spreads and returns back tenfold, and making someone’s day better is one of my favorite parts of my job.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!