January 15, 2019
Maybe if Stephen Bartolin Jr. had a better curveball, he wouldn’t be one of the most accomplished people in the hotel business. A star left-handed pitcher for Youngstown State University, Bartolin signed with the Detroit Tigers and spent several years in the minor leagues.
“I always tease everybody it was my early introduction to the hotel industry,” Bartolin, who today is chairman of The Broadmoor and president of the Broadmoor-Sea Island Company, said in an interview with HSMAI. “I stayed in every dive from here to Dubuque, bouncing around the minors. It wasn’t a pretty introduction to great hotels by any stretch. And I learned after a couple seasons how fleeting professional sports can be, and found myself back home in Youngstown, Ohio, wondering where do you go from here. I got lucky at that point. I went back and finished school.”
That started him on a career path that’s led to HSMAI’s 2018 Winthrop W. Grice Award for Public Relations, which will be presented at the Adrian Awards Dinner Reception and Gala in New York City on Jan 22. After college, Bartolin got a job as a bag boy at The Greenbrier resort’s golf course, then transitioned to the front desk in the off season. He went on to the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, then back to The Greenbrier, then over to The Broadmoor resort in Colorado Springs, which he joined as president and CEO in 1991.
What does he know about hospitality public relations? A lot: The Broadmoor is the longest-running recipient of the Forbes Five-Star Award and the only hotel to receive the AAA Five-Diamond Award every year since the award was introduced in 1977. And here are five other things we learned about Steve Bartolin:
1. He owes his hotel career to the weather. “When golf season was over, my job [as a bag boy at The Greenbrier] was going to end. I still wasn’t even thinking about a career in the hotel business at that point. I just needed a paycheck coming in, and there was a job opening on the front desk. So, typical hotel story: You’re at the front desk, then go from there to the conference services, sales, and catering side of the business. And after five years, I hired on as director of convention services at the [Gaylord] Opryland when it was a young hotel, still only 600 rooms. Jack Vaughn, who was the visionary that created that property — boy, I tell you, to have a chance to work for him for seven years was like getting your Ph.D. in the hotel business. We grew from 600 to 1,100 to 1,800 rooms during that time. And eventually Jack made me resident manager there.”
2. He went from bag boy to boss. “I wanted to get back in the resort business, and folks at the Greenbrier brought me back as the general manger in ’87, which is kind of cool, because to start out shining clubs in the bag room and return there as the GM — that was a neat thing. I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for that property and the people there.”
3. He loves hotel people. “The neatest thing is this family of people that you work with. I don’t think you’ll ever find a more diverse, multicultural group of people that all come together than in a large hotel. We have 2,000 employees [at The Broadmoor] and another 2,000 at Sea Island [resort in Georgia], and there’s this family culture that develops among this diverse group of folks that goes into creating one of the great hotels in the world. To be part of that is the neatest thing in the world.”
4. He thinks the evolution of PR has helped independents. “It’s been an advantage for independents in many respects just through the use of social media and the internet. It’s leveled the playing field to a great degree. It’s funny because at one point in my career, maybe 25 years ago, the brands really started to grow. Once those brands started to proliferate and get in the resort sector, the competition became so much intense. And there was a time where they said, ‘In order to survive, independents will have to become part of a larger chain or brand.’ But it’s come full circle, because social media has allowed us to have far more outreach than you typically would in a single property. At the same time, the marketplace is telling us that customers want a singular identity to their property and they want it to have its own culture and personality. So now you have many of the brands trying to act like independents.”
5. He’s most proud of his longevity. “That’s the ultimate test for everybody, isn’t it? Instead of having a good run for a few years, to do that over the span of — well, at The Broadmoor here it’s 27 years, almost 28. To maintain that position in the luxury sector, to have a property that I’m not ashamed to say is not only the longest-running five-star property but it’s also one of the most profitable hotel resorts in America. And the same with Sea Island resort — to sustain that over the course of time, to me, is a great accomplishment.
“Broadmoor’s been here 100 years. I’m only the sixth president. And then as part of the succession plan, I brought in Jack Damioli to replace me as president and I took the title of chairman. Then we acquired Sea Island resort and formed a holding company called the Broadmoor-Sea Island Company and rolled both properties under that, and I serve as president of that company. To do that — maintain the quality, maintain the profitability, and keep improving upon that, because you’ve got to get better every year and you don’t get to ever sit on your laurels — if there’s any single accomplishment I’m most proud of, it would be that.”