We are excited to see what the role the IoT movement (internet of things) will play in the future of hotels. Guests will be able to control all in-room appliances, AC, roller shades, and tech from their mobile phone and we want to be on the cutting edge of this trend.
As part of my series about “exciting developments in the travel industry over the next five years”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alex Kirkwood. Alex is a Former 20th Century Fox Marketing Executive turned Real Estate Entrepreneur who develops and operates boutique hotels in iconic California vacation destinations. His company is the Kirkwood Collection. Applying Fortune 100 marketing strategies and first-rate creative materials that achieved over 2.7BB in domestic box office results to the hospitality industry generates compset and market leading performance. He is pioneering the convergence of traditional hotel and modern vacation rental models, capitalizing on the meteoric rise of Airbnb paired with the services and amenities expected of boutique hospitality.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I believe the intersection of objectivity and creativity is the most valuable real estate in life. My career started at 20th Century Fox producing creative content in the film industry. Developing boutique hotels is a holistically similar endeavor as the results of each are an experience to a viewer or a guest. Both patrons walk away with a little different and hopefully better perspective than when they walked in. At 26, I was promoted to Director of Creative Advertising, the youngest in the department at that time. At 27, I co-acquired and co-developed The Palm Springs Hotel with industry relationships I had cultivated at Fox. It is now a TripAdvisor top-10 boutique hotel in Palm Springs. At 30, I left Fox to pursue hotel development full-time and 3 years later, I am proud to have grown our family-owned and operated Kirkwood Collection to a portfolio of 5 properties and over 40 employees in iconic California destinations such as Santa Barbara, Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage, San Luis Obispo Wine Country, and our headquarters in Culver City. The newest addition to our portfolio is the design-driven Hideaway Santa Barbara (www.hideawaysantabarbara.com), which we are currently launching and introduces a new standard of understated luxury to the area. Housed in a 1908 California Craftsman, the intimate hotel is comprised of deluxe guest rooms and spacious suites in a great location nearby The Funk Zone and ocean.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Transitioning from Hollywood Executive to hotel owner & operator was a terrifying leap of faith at that time. I left a highly sought-after job to pursue an entrepreneurial career in a capital intensive, high-risk industry and all while getting engaged and planning to start a family. Based on that experience, perseverance is the most important quality I look for when expanding our team.
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 chased a deal in one of the worst markets in the Pacific Northwest because the cost per key was so low. It was idiotic as the property was massive, ugly, dated, and featured some of the worst performance metrics I’ve ever seen and as the boutique hotel guy, I would have failed if I moved forward. As Warren Buffett says, finding your circle of competence and staying within that strike zone is one of the most important business traits you can have. I burned $10,000 pursuing that project and a month of time. I didn’t have either to waste. Sometimes, the best deals are the ones you never make.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Dialing in our core competency in terms of the markets we pursue and hotel characteristics we find appealing makes us unique to the cookie-cutter boring brand standard mentality of the past. It’s interesting to watch the larger hotel brands attempt to go ‘boutique’ with their sub-brands.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? Can you share a story about that?
During the development of The Palm Springs Hotel and running three campaigns at Fox, I was working 18–20 hour days and absolutely approached burn-out. It’s a dangerous place to be, and I thank my fiancée Michelle McClory for teaching me that a work-life balance is very important for both personal and professional betterment.
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?
My immediate family were my founding investors. Back in 2011, I sat my mom, dad, sister and brother at the dinner table of the house we all grew up in and proposed we raise $10,000 ($2,000 per member + monthly contributions) with the intent to acquire real estate. I said “we’re stronger together than we are apart, and together we can afford property we could never afford individually.”
It has taken far more than $10,000 to arrive at the $20,000,000 in assets under management, but that dinner table meeting was the vision, spark, and engine that landed us here today.
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?
Our focus is bringing better tech to hospitality, primarily in the form of in-room entertainment with Apple TV, 55” Samsung LED displays, blazing-fast wifi, mobile check-in and mobile keys for guest room entry. With the internet of things booming at home, hoteliers need to start integrating new and better tech to continue providing a ‘home away from home’ experience that can eclipse residential offerings.
Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation?
Deploying our Apple TV solution — a primarily residential device — with full Airplay capability is a networking challenge in a commercial setting. However, the guest response has made it all worth it. Guests are thrilled to bring their own devices and content into our guest rooms and stream to their in-room displays without having to sign in to hotel-owned devices has been a huge success for us.
How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?
We are seeing guests begin to prioritize hotels providing the latest and greatest in-room tech as part of their booking decision. This is shifting the market in favor of hoteliers investing in these offerings.
Can you share 5 examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to travel?
1. Our guests will soon perform the check-in process and verification from their mobile device including a mobile key for entry without the need for a proprietary app. We will always have clerks available for traditional check-in, welcome champagne, and any other assistance, but most of our guests prefer the SMS communication with our concierges vs direct calls or emails.
2. We are integrating 100% of our hotel portfolio’s suites onto Airbnb and vacation rental channels tapping into the demand for ‘home away from home’ offerings.
3. Wifi is completely free at all of our properties. We believe charging for wifi usage will become a thing of the past.
4. Our Apple TV deployment allows guests to securely utilize their own content and/or devices with ease streaming to large format LED displays within our hotel environment.
5. We are excited to see what the role the IoT movement (internet of things) will play in the future of hotels. Guests will be able to control all in-room appliances, AC, roller shades, and tech from their mobile phone and we want to be on the cutting edge of this trend.
You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?
My perfect vacation experience involves water (ocean or lake), mountains, intriguing architecture, and walking distance to the locale’s best attractions. We are really excited to debut Hideaway Santa Barbara (www.hideawaysantabarbara.com) this summer as it hits all of those chords in a city like Santa Barbara with the West Beach location, mountain views, and walking distance to The Funk Zone and ocean.
Can you share with our readers how have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We make a concerted effort to preserve and restore some of California’s most interesting and historically significant architecture. Most developers would shy away from the cost of such endeavors or bulldoze completely, but it has become our defining ideology to preserve historic resources for future generations to come.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I want to inspire more people to travel and experience different cultures and perspectives. Most people don’t realize, you can travel internationally on a shoe-string budget. In 2015, I backpacked throughout Southeast Asia for 6 months spending less than $5,000 all-in. It was the most influential experience of my life.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Kirkwood Collection Brand:
Twitter: @KirkwoodHotels (Kirkwood Collection didn’t fit)