Peter Strebel, the new President of Omni Hotels, likes to ask during interviews, “Do you like to entertain in your home?” This question translates to his approach to hospitality. “This is the business we’re in. We’re welcoming people into our homes. And if you don’t like to entertain in your own home, then you probably won’t want to do what we do in our business.” Talk about setting the bar for your employees. For Strebel, who began in hospitality as a desk clerk at a resort hotel in West Hampton Beach, taking a personal approach to every guest is at the core of Omni’s success. Strebel even keeps in touch with at least 10 customers via phone, email and social media. But going forward? The hotel group has its hands in trendy and exciting projects similar to the recently built Omni Hotel at The Battery Atlanta and Omni Frisco Hotel outside of Dallas. Connect caught up with Strebel to discuss his career, what to expect from Omni in the coming years and how he would entertain in his home.
Did you ever have a moment in life where you thought about trying something else?
No, I think through my career I had a couple of those ‘scratch my head’ days where I wondered what else I could be doing, but those lasted for about three seconds. I truly love being in this business, and even as a child I said I wanted to work in a hotel so I’ve never looked back.
Is there a mentor you had in life that you can attribute some of your success to?
I’ve had many mentors in my life, which I think is probably the reason why I’m successful. But my first mentor was actually my first general manager at that hotel I worked at when I was 17 years old. Her name was Genie Gibson and she was one of the most dynamic, energetic people I’ve ever known. She was challenging and demanding, but she really cared about people and her customers. She’s retired now and I’m still friends with her today.
Do you relate of any her leadership style to yours?
I think so. I really like to get to know people and Genie was a people person. She created and thrived off energy from other people and I think I have that too. She was always positive, had a can-do attitude and worked really hard. This was in the late 70’s and I can bet you that there were extremely few female general managers in the hospitality industry.
Can you name a turning point or an ‘A-ha!’ moment?
I can say that every job I’ve had has been a new experience. I’ve been fortunate to hold a lot of different positions in the business from my front desk job to becoming office manager, then going into sales, marketing and operations. I’ve really seen a lot of the hotel business in a 360-degree view. Hospitality is a fun business and we get to welcome and celebrate people at every event in their life. We get to see life happen and it’s a very rewarding business. Recently, I got an email from a customer whose son is being treated for leukemia and one of his wishes was to see a race in Indianapolis. So, we put him up in a hotel room there, decorated it, and we got to connect with him and impact his life in a positive way. I think that’s a unique ‘A-ha!’ moment where I really feel that I love what I do.
How do you stay close to your employees?
Growing up my father used to always say to me, “Never lose sight of the cash register.” In Dallas, none of our “cash registers” are here at our corporate office. They’re out in the field. So, I need to stay in touch with our associates and find out how they’re doing because nine times out of 10, they know what needs to be done. A lot of times in the corporate office we think we know better, but the answers are usually found on the property.
With 20 years of Omni Hotel history under your belt, how would you say the company is different today compared to when you first started?
It was smaller when I first started. I kind of chuckle because the corporate office was very small and we had 15 people there. Every year, we celebrate at the company holiday party. In the beginning, the party used to be at the owner’s home. Now, we have more than 300 associates in the corporate office so, with spouses and guests, our party is more than 600 people. I think that from start to finish we’ve really grown, but the atmosphere of family and everybody knowing everybody is still really prevalent in this company. I think the beauty is that even though we’re privately held by an owner, who himself is a gracious host, we still honor that atmosphere of family.
Which components of Omni's brand do you think contribute to its long-standing success?
We’re building these fabulous new hotels but I think it’s our commitment to service. The unique thing about Omni is that we own and manage all of our hotels. Everybody that works at an Omni Hotel works for Omni. They’re orientated, paid and trained the same way. If you look at our competition which branches through franchise, there are several cultures going on in each building. As opposed to a merging of several cultures, our culture is one simple formula. If your associates are happy, they’ll deliver a great guest experience to customers, which in turn is success for the owners.
Which marks segments does the majority of Omni’s business derive from?
We’re very group-focused so more than 50 percent of the business of Omni Hotels comes from a group customer. Predominantly this business comes from corporate groups meetings and conventions, followed by national associations.
What do you think are the keys to finding and retaining a talented staff?
I think the keys to finding a good staff is having a good reputation. If you look at Glassdoor, you’ve got to be well-respected and have a good reputation. Retention is pretty easy. It really is all about people doing what they like to do. So if people enjoy the job, are paid fairly and have great resources to work with, they stay.
How have you gone about catering Omni’s brand awareness to compete with other large hospitality groups?
To us, it’s about the experience. We’re never going to be as big as the big brands; we’re never going to have the dollars to have those tremendous marketing campaigns, so we really have to win at the experience level and make sure customers leave feeling great. Giving good customer service is not enough, you have to have raving fans. A big factor of that today is social media. We earn a lot of business through social media so we need to wow everybody every time they encounter the Omni brand.
Any robots or AI coming soon to Omni?
We’re watching that but we’re not going to be a company that’ll be a first mover on that technology. We’re about experiential travel, so I think to us we like the human touch and a lot of people enjoy that still, too. I think it’s funny that even in this era of technology, hotels are adding in social and communal areas for people to interact face-to-face in.
With Marriott’s move to cut commission for third-party planners, do you anticipate that being a trend for the rest of the industry or something to be gained competitively?
My position on this is that planners provide a valuable service and they should be compensated for that service, and if I have to pay them 10 percent then I have to pay them 10 percent. But I think with the consolidation of the industry that we are going to see those costs go down and everyone can benefit from it in the industry. Our attitude right now is that we need these meetings planners, we value their support. We want business. We’re not looking at everything in the lens of how we can save money, it’s more of, how we can grow revenue.
How do you entertain in your home?
I do this thing called “Sunday night suppers.” Back in the day, I would tell my kids that every Sunday is Sunday night dinner at the Strebel’s. They could bring as many friends as they wanted as long as they were home in time. I love to cook my favorite meal, chicken parmesan, and sometimes it was just the five of us, and then other times I would have 30 kids in my house. Now, I love to entertain and have dinner parties. My wife loves to bake and we are the epitome of a great couple that matches each other in the kitchen. I hate to bake. I love to cook rich food, drink great wine and entertain our family and friends.