June 13, 2018
Peter Strebel got into hospitality through the back door. Literally. His father owned a commercial laundry company whose clients included hotels as well as restaurants and hospitals. “As a young child going to work with my dad,” Strebel said, “I used to think, Boy, the linen in hotels and restaurants is really nice compared to the linen in hospitals.”
He got stuck on hotels, and when he was 17 got a job as a desk clerk at a resort in Westhampton, New York, where he grew up. “I loved meeting people, engaging with people,” Strebel said. “And I like being of service to others and making people’s vacations and weekends enjoyable.”
In the years since, Strebel hasn’t lost that passion for service. Recently named president of Omni Hotels & Resorts after serving as the company’s chief marketing officer, Strebel has also served as president of Wyndham Hotels & Resorts — where, again, he’d previously been CMO. In an interview with HSMAI, he discussed moving from marketing to the head office, pushing Omni’s culture forward, and balancing high-touch with high-tech.
How did you end up in hospitality marketing?
I worked at that resort [in Westhampton] my senior year of high school, then I worked there every summer during college. It was a seasonal resort — it opened in May and closed in September. For the 20 weeks that it was open, we were sold out on weekends but were pretty slow Monday through Thursday. On occasion, we would have some meetings, where once in a blue moon you’d get a company who would say, we’d like to bring in our 50 executives for the week. I was looking for a job after college, and I went to my owner and I said, if this business is coming naturally to us, maybe if I do full-time sales, I can get more of those customers to stay mid-week. And so I kind of created a job for myself in sales.
What are some of the skills that you found most valuable in hospitality marketing?
I really see it as sales. I see it as a keen sense of understanding opportunities, being able to win friends and influence others — a genuine passion for the business. I want to make sure our leaders in this company also enjoy hospitality, so when I interview people, I always ask them, “Do you entertain in your home? Do you enjoy having people over?” I think in order to be successful in this business, you have to enjoy entertaining and you have to enjoy people.
This is the second time in your career that you’ve moved from a CMO to a company president role. Does having a background in marketing prepare you for that job?
I think it does, because, number one, marketing and sales is really all about generating revenue, and that's the most important thing we do here — generate revenue and bring in customers. Number two, when you come from a sales and marketing arena, your whole world is about customers and about guests, so that transfers really nicely to being the CEO or president, because it’s all about pleasing your customers and exceeding their expectations.
Last book that you read? Broken, by Ryan Casey Waller. He happens to be the pastor at my church.
Favorite vacation spot? Anywhere on a beach.
First paying job? Probably working for my dad, folding towels on a Saturday in his laundry.
Bucket-list goal? I want to give back a lot more. I feel I’ve been blessed with a huge opportunity, so corporate social responsibility — giving back, impacting people’s lives — is something I want to do more of.
What are your priorities as president of Omni?
Omni is an interesting company, because we’re really not like anybody else in the hotel business. We own and operate our hotels, so every hotel that has the Omni name on it is managed or owned by Omni. Everyone who works at an Omni works for an Omni. The most important thing for me is really to protect our culture and move that culture forward, because as things change, our associates change and our customers change.
What does it mean for Omni to move the culture forward?
To be the employer of choice. To make sure the best people in the industry want to work for us. And make sure that every associate understands what our mission is and what our core values are and keep that going, but obviously evolve those missions and core values as the business climate changes, because not all things stay the same.
What are some emerging trends in hospitality that are on your radar?
We're going through a world of consolidation. We just heard now Accor bought Movenpick, Accor bought Fairmont, Accor bought Sofitel. We’re seeing this convergence of the brands getting bigger and bigger. That’s something we have to be very watchful for.
The second trend is that people want to be entertained, so we’re really moving from the hospitality business into the entertainment business. Our new generation of customers want to be entertained during meetings, they want to be entertained in our lobbies, they want to be entertained in our restaurants. We really need to take a look at our venues as entertainment spaces, as opposed to just public spaces.
And the third trend is this rapid advancement of technology, and how much do we do and how much do we not do? We have to go back to our core mission if we want to have a strong relationship with our customers. And to me, strong relationships with customers are formed by people, so I wonder if Omni would ever be the type of brand for a kiosk check-in. Or is Omni the brand for robot-service housekeeping? Or robot-service room service? I always wonder about what is going to be the future of high-touch service versus high-tech service, and where do our customers fit into that and where do our customers want us to be.