Hotel Moment episode #51: "Recognizing the value of travel powers unforgettable guest experiences"
Hotel Moment episode #51: "Recognizing the value of travel powers unforgettable guest experiences"
The Hotel Moment podcast — episode 51

Recognizing the value of travel powers unforgettable guest experiences

In this week’s episode of the Hotel Moment podcast, Karen Stephens, Revinate’s CRO, and Pete Sams, Chief Operating Officer at Davidson Hospitality Group chat about how guests’ personal travel aspirations drive hoteliers to create experiences and service that goes beyond mere satisfaction. They also highlight how treating your internal team with care ultimately impacts the quality of guests’ stays and how you interact with them.

Listen in to gain a compelling perspective on the guest experience and how you can apply some of those lessons to your hotel operations.

Google Podcasts icon button
Spotify icon button
Apple Podcasts icon button
Apple Podcasts logo button
Spotify logo button
Google Podcasts logo button
Red, yellow, and blue lines to indicate soundwaves.
Headshot of Karen Stephens

Meet your host

Karen Stephens is Revinate’s Chief Revenue Officer and runs the sales, marketing, and customer success teams. She has more than 20 years of experience in the industry alone.

On the Hotel Moment podcast, Karen speaks with leaders to draw out their experiences and insights. She is also a Francophile and Prof K — a coach, a mentor, a guide to the people who work with her.

Now Playing


Karen Stephens: Hello and welcome everyone to the Hotel Moment podcast. I am your host, Karen Stephens, the Chief Revenue Officer of Revinate, and today I am joined by an industry veteran, 20 years plus experience in hospitality. Pete Sams. Hello Pete. Welcome.

Pete Sams: Hello, Karen. How are you?

Karen Stephens: I’m wonderful. I am so happy to have you here. So, uh, Pete is currently the Chief Operating Officer of Davidson Hospitality Group.

Uh, and he’s been there for about 3 years, but he has a vast background. So, could you just give us like a little bit of a highlight of where you worked prior to Davidson, and your current role now?

Pete Sams: Oh, sure, sure. So I’ll go from current–backwards. So as you noted, I’ve been here at Davidson for a little over 3 years. I joined in December of 2019, and it’s, it’s been an incredible ride since then. Obviously 3 months before the famous, uh, March of 2020, and everything that ensued. But, if anything, uh, in a lot of ways the, the challenges that, that, that period has brought, accelerated our, our, um, presence in the market, if you will. Right?

I think in times of adversity, sometimes there’s a tendency to commoditize third-party management companies and things of that nature.

And if anything during that timeframe, what it took to navigate, really put us to the test. And, and I think the cream rises to the top, and we were able to, to perform for our owners in a, in a manner that was, uh, uh, really extraordinary from a team member performance perspective. So, it’s been a great ride, and we’re at a great place in our, evolution at, at Davidson. But, I’m sure we can talk more about that in terms of my prior 2.

So I, I was, um, I oversaw full service operations for Interstate prior to joining Davidson. So, um, I worked with my good friend Mike Deitemeyer at, at, Interstate. And, uh, took that, company through the transition to Ambridge, during that small transaction.

Karen Stephens: Small little thing. Yeah.

Pete Sams: Um, very proud of the 3 years I spent with Mike and the extraordinary team we had at Interstate that that led to that transaction.

And but at that point, made the decision to, to join Davidson- absolutely have tremendous respect for Mike and Ambridge. And, but at that size, and scope, and scale, I was looking for something a little more intimate, and the portfolio, and the team here at Davidson was extremely attractive for me, and I made that move.

Prior to that, I spent, uh, about 3 years at White Lodging. I was a Regional Vice President of Operations at White Lodging. Another great company. Really good experience. And, uh, that was my first above property experience. Prior to that, I spent 20 years with Omni Hotels.

My career really was born at Omni Hotels.

Um, you know, funny Karen, at one point they featured my, career path on the employment website for Omni Hotels. I was the server. I started my career as a server waiting tables.

I, I’ve worked at what still exists today, the Republic Texas Bar and Grill, which is on top of the Omni Bay Front tower, Omni Corpus Christi.

When I joined, it was actually a Marriott Hotel, that was owned by TRT Holdings–the parent company that eventually acquired Omni Hotels in in ‘96. So, you know what I just realized?

Karen Stephens: What’s that?

Pete Sams: You were very kind to me and said, I’m a 20 plus year veteran. I just spelled out 29 years of hospitality history. So we’re getting pretty close to 30 years.

If you’re trying to date me, you trap me and, and now it’s official. Um, I’m..

Karen Stephens: Sorry about that. I say 20 plus for, I say 20 plus for myself too, Pete, so let’s…

Pete Sams: Right. But if you were to look at, if you were to look at my career Karen, it was, you know, 20 years at Omni Hotels. My degree is actually in finance. And so I, I started in food and beverage as I alluded to. I eventually got into, hotel finance and accounting. Was a director of finance, then a regional, transitioned back to operations, became a GM. I was a GM for about almost 10 years with Omni Hotels before I took that assignment with White Lodging. So, another brand that’s near and dear to my heart, Omni Hotels and, and a, and a great experience. And I worked with, with Michael Deitemeyer there. He was the president of Omni Hotels, and so there you get the connection when he made the leap to Interstate, he brought me on board to lead operations, for Interstate.

Karen Stephens: That’s great. You know what, I always ask my guests 5 questions to get us warmed up, and you actually hit my first question. So my first question is, “when did you start working in the industry and do you remember your first day on the job?” So we know you were a server

Pete Sams: Yeah. Yeah, I remember it.

Karen Stephens: Do you remember your first day?

Pete Sams: Yeah, it was May 12th, 1994, as far as my Omni career. And at the time, like I said, it wasn’t Omni until 1996. So at that point I was, I was working for Marriott. It was a Marriott hotel for TRT holdings. And yeah, I, I remember it well. The, the restaurant itself had been closed. It was more of an upscale 5 diamond type environment, and it was closed and repurposed as this 4 diamond steakhouse. And I was part of the opening team that launched opening that. And, I was working there in the evenings while I was finishing my degree in finance during the day. Um, eventually parlayed that into a leader in development role in accounting. That’s how I met Mike. And, uh, yeah, that’s, I, I remember my first day vividly.

Karen Stephens: Very well. Well, yes, cuz being a server is one thing, but opening a restaurant, I mean, that’s like the beginnings of operations right there. Right? Getting it all together.

Pete Sams: Yeah, it was, it was a really interesting experience. And to be able to set that initial expectation with the, you only get 1 chance to make a first impression, right? We had an A-team that opened up that, restaurant, and it’s still thriving today.

Karen Stephens: Oh, so cool. Very cool. Okay, question number 2. What was the most uplifting moment of your career so far?

Pete Sams: Wow. Um, well, I, I mean, again, I, first thing that comes to mind is just the numerous opportunities that I get to interact with our team members. And I, I can think back even as a GM, being a GM at the hotel. And it’s amazing to me, and humbling, the value that your team members place on your time, and your effort and your, and your, commitment to them and to, to sit down and, and have a conversation, and to listen, and think about, um, you know, and help them, encourage them to contribute to, to the cause if you will. Right? How are we going be better?

And, and so I always think in general, I know that’s not 1 specific moment, but most of the time when I think about my career, what’s most rewarding is when you, you help someone see the value in what they do, you know? It lights them up when they think about it, and how much they, they value your time and, and energy.

So you know, I can think about rallying behind, you know, tragedy, different tragic circumstances that we experience in a hotel at different times, and how we pull together as a, as a unit to kind of help navigate, again, the challenges of those circumstances. I think from an accolade perspective, I remember, you know, one of my early GM assignments, I was the general manager of the Omni Richmond, and was selected as a GM of the year for our performance. And that was just such a source of pride, not really for me, but for our team. Um, it was a, a hotel that was underperforming upon arrival. And, and we had a lot of opportunities. And, the typical, um, you you know, the, the reputation of the hotel was that it was a tough labor market. There were lots of reasons why we couldn’t be successful allegedly. And, um, we forced a course and, and ended up, you know, leading the company in, in many of the key parameters to include team member engagement surveys, and, uh, ultimately received that accolade. But it was really a team award and just the, the amount of pride that, that everybody felt so early in my career that was critical.

Certainly the appointment to, to lead this, this team here at Davidson with its storied history and the, and the incredible reputation that Davidson already had in this space as an incredible place to work, you know, the integrity. Our core values are, are so critical to us, and that was forged over what’s approaching a 50 year history for Davidson. So to be afforded the opportunity to represent this amazing company, um, as Chief Operating Officer is something that is not lost on me. Um, it’s again, humbling. But again, I think we’ve, more than doubled in size in my 3 years. You know, we’re now 80 plus hotels and resorts. We launched a new vertical during my tenure in the resort space. Not that, that we didn’t already operate some resorts, but we had our 2 existing verticals, our hotel’s division. And then Pivot, which had been launched uh, in 2016–our lifestyle boutique, division if you will.

And then I had the privilege of putting together the, A-team that we have leading, the resorts division, which started with the, the hiring of Steve Contos, a tremendous resort veteran in the space. And just the talent that we’ve put around, each one of these verticals that understands the nuance of what it takes to operate in these spaces, but still foundationally embraces the core essentials of how we operate, what we call vertical agnostic playbook of Davidson DNA. So I know I’m rambling a bit and jumping around on your, on your inquiry, but, uh, I mean it’s really, um, it’s like an ongoing best day, right? To be chief operating officer of this incredible.

Karen Stephens: Yeah. The other thing that you said was allegedly, which I like when somebody has a challenge. Like, we can’t possibly hit that target because it’s this, that, and the other. I love to just throw allegedly on the end of that because that means e,h little, little mind shift and the team gets aligned, and you can do all kinds of stuff.

Pete Sams: The most rewarding times in your career is when, when you’re told something can’t be done. For me that’s inspirational. I, I love rallying a team and figuring out, you know, how are we gonna flip the script here? We’re gonna change this dialogue, and we’re gonna, reinvent how people view us in the space.

And not to imply that, that was a, a poor product or a tough hotel. It’s just a hotel that that had an opportunity to elevate, and it was a big success.

Karen Stephens: That’s great. That’s great. So speaking of resorts, you mentioned Pivot and you know, kind of the resort product that you have. So here’s another question for you. What is the most striking experience you’ve had so far on a personal trip? So either a, you know, a vacation, a hotel stay, a food experience. Like is there something that comes to mind that’s like, “wow, that was, top of the ranks for me.”

Pete Sams: Yeah. Wow. well, I’d say a 2 of my most, my favorite, recent experiences of traveling abroad- one was I did a, um, a river cruise with Viking. Uh, European river cruise, and, and I, I really enjoyed that experience. One of the interesting things is when you think about Europe, and how it evolved, and the tributary system, and so many of the major cities and experiences are right off the river, right? So this was a trip from Switzerland up to Amsterdam. .And if you’ve taken any cruises historically, other cruises, you know, often you have to get off the ship and it’s, it’s a, I’m gonna go New York on you, itt’s a schlep, to get to wherever you’re going. And then, you know, you get on a bus and it takes you here, and you take– but I mean, every time you got off the, the ship, you were literally there in the destination, at the destination. The other thing I loved was the, the, the focus on the cuisine, and that the cuisine was, was tapered each night to the city that we were visiting next. Right? So I thought that was like a pairing, think of it as a pairing of food to where we were staying.

Karen Stephens: I love it. Culture and cuisine.

Pete Sams: So, it was a great trip. Then I did, I did have the, unique opportunity to stay at the, um, the Ritz Carlton Reserve in Puerto Rico, and that was, uh, a really great food and beverage experience again. I think the tree dinner in a tree house, you know, on, on, on the night of my anniversary, uh, I think was really special, and experiential.

So those were some things abroad that I’ve experienced outside of our own portfolio.

Karen Stephens: I love it. So, Pete Sams is a foodie, in case y’all didn’t know that.

Pete Sams: Oh my goodness. You know, um, a great meal is the centerpiece for so many amazing memories in people’s lives right? And they affiliate and associate that. I think that’s one of the things that drew me to, to Davidson was our commitment to our Davidson restaurant group as a vertical.

So under the leadership of Greg Griff, our SVP of Food and Beverage, you know, we have a team of 10 leaders, most of which, came up as independent restaurateurs, owned their own restaurants, worked in in independent restaurant spaces, and understand how to create a stand alone experience that creates a differentiation for that hotel or resort, right? Um, I mean, we cross that team at 10. we now have over 200 restaurants and bars that we operate across our portfolio. And they help generate the, the playbook, if you will, but they’re also exceptional at creating the, the branding around new restaurant launches. Uh, reinventing the experience, but always at the core, ensuring that we have the quintessential blocking and tackling that makes for a great food and beverage experience.

So, it’s one of the privileges of, my role is being able to participate with our culinary talent and our, our hotels on, elevating our food and beverage experience, always challenging ourselves to be better under the guidance and leadership of the Davidson Restaurant Group. So not a bad gig.

Karen Stephens: Not a bad gig. You’re passionate about it and, and your team knows how to do it, so that’s exciting. Okay, I’ve got 2 more for you. So have you met any celebrities in the trenches, any celebrities in all of your times at hotels?.

Pete Sams: Oh my goodness. Yeah, sure. I can remember, um, meeting. Jon Bon Jovi and, uh, Richie Samora out in LA, um, at 1 of our restaurants that we were operating with. Uh, of course Denise Richards at the time. So I’m dating my timeframe. I think that would, that would’ve been some years ago.

Um, so many. I mean, the most interesting for me in my career was being at the, I was the Managing Director at The Shore in, in Washington, DC, the Omni Shore. I’ve actually lived on-property for 4 years as the Managing Director of that property. And so lots of political, you know, um, this was during the Obama administration, so he was in the hotel.

The number of times we would, welcome heads of state right into the hotel. plenty of security as well, but there were many times I was literally, we literally would roll out the red carpet. We had a red carpet for a back entrance when we would, when we would hire, when, when we would hire, when we would, um, welcome some of these heads to state.

How about Snoop Dogg? Of, of course I had to, I had to, uh, evict Snoop Dogg for one of the reasons you might imagine, um, in a, in a family friendly, uh, environment. Uh, but a great guy and, uh, and, and he was understanding at the end of the day. But, I mean, there’s so many stories.

Karen Stephens: There’s so many. Well, that’s great. I mean, you had me at Obama, frankly, but anyway.

Okay, last

Pete Sams: Mic drop,

Karen Stephens: There we go.

Pete Sams; You had me at hello.

Karen Stephens: Yeah. Hello. All right. We have one more for you. Who are the women at work you’ve been most inspired by?

Pete Sams: Oh my goodness. Um, well, I mean, we have some incredible, uh, talent in our organization. When I think just about my team, that I work with most directly. A couple of names popped in my head with that question. So one, um, Patricia Davis is my Senior Vice President of, of Marketing and Communications. Uh, she leads an incredible team, I would call our, our Marketing Department, our, our next vertical, if you will. Uh, we’ve basically under her leadership grown to an in-house agency. I mean, there’s nothing that Davidson can’t do for you in the area of marketing based on the team that she’s put together.

Pete Sams: One of the things I like about, Patricia as well is her, her background is in luxury and resorts, and the like. But she came up as a mevenue manager initially. And so what that’s helped bring to the table is, I’m a big believer that as our industry has evolved, the importance of your brand and your ability to market, to your end user and how we reach the customer, through your digital is so critical. It’s like the 3 legs of the stool, right? We’ve historically thought of group sales and we’ve thought of revenue management, right? Which has evolved. And, and the, and the, you know, pulling of the levers. And we have incredible talent in our organization in those arenas, but we’ve now grown to the level where every single one of our regions has a dedicated integrated marketing manager as part of that triumvirate, if you will.

And a lot of that is just the spirit and the, doggedness and passion Patricia brings to the table–about why marketing is so critical to our success. So she comes to mind. Um, I have an amazing talent. I’m kind of pointing cuz she’s.

Karen Stephens: She’s over there.

Pete Sams: She’s right over there. Uh, Rachel Higbee, She’s a, a Yale graduate, and she leads our strategic operations team. She’s also a participant on our steering committee, so it’s in addition to our C-suite, we have 2 additional steering team members that participate with us regularly in setting the direction for Davidson. That’s how highly Rachel is thought of, and she’s on our steering team. Our strategic operations department is, an area that many of our competitors don’t offer.

Think of it as business intelligence, right? So kind of looks at the finance side of, of the business, and benchmarking and how we elevate and identify opportunity. She leads our brand relationships with all the different brands that we operate for, which are vast. our forecasting and our budgeting process lives within that arena.

And for me, it’s a great pairing because my background, as I mentioned to you is in finance, prior to operations. And so this is like my, it’s my opportunity to create and, identify with, with her, uh, assistance, you know, new and innovative, innovative ways to evaluate the business and drive ourselves forward.

So she’s an amazing talent. Brilliant. And a great leader. Her team is tremendous and, and growing. So, those are 2 folks. I mean, I would also say on the steering team, um, Crystal Beasley was elevated by Tom when he took the reins as our new CEO. You know, John Belden stepped down, not stepped down, but stepped into his chairman role.

And Tom was elevated from, um, as president, to president and CEO. I think the very first move he made was to elevate Crystal. And Crystal is, um, first and foremost was our legal counsel, right? And a tremendous talent and puts out volume like you wouldn’t imagine. I mean, she is just a, uh, savant. She’s very, very smart. And the, the thing that Tom did was elevated her to the C-suite and made her the chief administrative officer, and she now has a direct hand in our human resources function. and so that was a way to elevate her responsibility, grow her role in the company. And it’s just a unique combination, right?

You don’t always have that type of creativity in terms of how we’ve deployed, but she is a foundational success for us, and a difference maker, and a great support to our owners.

Karen Stephens: Excellent.

That, that is, that’s a power trio. So we got Patricia, Rachel, and Crystal a shout out. Great job. Okay, great. So thank you very much. That was, you know what’s been great about listening to all of your answers, itt’s just so clear to me how important guest experience is and the, when you come into a hotel, how that feels and, and everything that has to do with how you approach you know, the, the group for Davidson. And I wanna give, you know, it is award season, so I definitely wanna give some accolades, to the JD Power Award. So Davidson won, let me get it right, the highest score in North America for third party hotel management, guest satisfaction benchmark. And you know, Revenate, our roots are in guest satisfaction, and I still firmly believe that your highest form of marketing is your guests, what they say about you, both online and in person.

So, uh, first congratulations and then can you just gimme a little bit more about like what that means to the group and how you kind of went about, how do you make sure that the guest experience is consistent across all of your brands in your portfolio?

Pete Sams: Yeah. Well, one, I, I appreciate you teeing that up and, and for that acknowledgement. It’s hard to imagine many, metrics or accolades, or recognition that you can receive, that’s more rewarding. When you think about intrinsically what we do, that’s our, that’s our business, right? At the end of the day, we, we operate lots of different brands and verticals, as we’ve mentioned, and, but the consistency is, it’s all about creating an exceptional guest experience.

That’s what creates our ability to, to drive business, drive the top line. And so to receive that third party, accolade is validation really in a lot of ways, and a source of pride for us in what we do. And it’s a tribute to, again, it, it, it really comes down to the leaders we have out in the field, Karen itt’s, we can aspire to do lots of things and, and, uh, our aspirations are certainly great, to be recognized as the best at what we do. That’s, that’s why I’m here. That’s why we all come to work every day. We want to be the best at what we do but none of it is possible if we didn’t have the most amazing general managers, out in the field operating our 80 plus resorts and hotels.

And so I think one, it’s, a tribute to them and, the efforts that they put forth. I would also say we have amazing resources above property that are dedicated to supporting our teams. Um, I think we do that by clearing obstacles to allow them to do what they do best, right? We provide our general managers, we believe with, very clear expectations in terms of how we measure success and a toolbox, and toolkit on some basics on how we want to make sure we’re executing.

So there’s consistency across our, our platforms. And I think this is validation again, that those things have taken root, and are effective. Nut in the end, again, I think it’s about having, um, an amazing culture, right?

And I, I talk about metrics. There’s nothing we put on a, on a, there’s nothing that goes on the pedestal any higher than team member engagement, and having the best talent, and people that feel inspired and excited, to come to work and realize what we do is important work, right?

We make a difference. Uh, chicken soup for the soul, if you will, right? And it’s amazing Kaen that to, again, we all try to make sense of what these last few years have been like, and why we’ve gone through what we’ve gone through and, that we can have a separate conversation about that. But what I would tell you is an outcome I believe, is that people have reevaluated in general. You know, we talk about the hierarchy of needs, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and it’s food, and it’s shelter. But I think you can elevate now the importance of tavel and experience, right? Being with your loved ones getting out. And when it’s been taken away, it became, and, and that’s what I think really buoyed that, you know, revenge travel and that leisure wave that we’ve been riding was, people have understood, “this is important to me. This is, this contributes to my makeup, and my soul, and what makes me happy, and what, you know.”

And so I think while you hear all this talk about inflation and inflationary period and maybe some recessionary headwinds, we’ve still not seen really any substantial down tick in our ability to continue to drive our business. And I think because people have still prioritized this, and now when you couple that with the group pace, is off the charts. People are now wanting to, you know, visit and, and get together and gather through these large meetings. Um, it started with small meetings. Now it’s large meetings. Our, our pace, you know, our leisure is well ahead of 2019. It has been for the last 2 years now. Our group production is above 2019 in terms of pace.

Yes, it’s, really exciting. So, That’s why I think, again, being recognized for our ability to drive the guest experience in this window when we were all battling, you know, a lack of staffing, right? We all know that’s a universal challenge. Bringing people back to our industry is a ongoing opportunity, but we’ve been successful, I think more successful than others. And I attribute that to our amazing core values, our culture, our leaders, and, and reminding people about the, value in what we do, right? And why it’s important. And I think our team members embrace that, and look for those opportunities to create experiences, to engage, and people still seek that out and look for those interactions.

Karen Stephens: it’s fantastic. I mean, really congratulations on all of that and, and I, I love the idea that, you know, I think we all kind of took for granted that you can travel and go on vacation, and “I’ll go do it next time. I’m too busy in all of this.” And then the rug gets pulled out from underneath us.

And so it’s, it’s really encouraging to hear that the signs are, you know, looking great coming into 2023 that you’ve been, you know, you took the period of Covid to kind of accelerate the business, make the changes, get the playbooks out, and again, what you said, coming back to those core values of how you operate as a culture and then having the other pieces on top to be able to operate at scale is, is really, really cool.

Karen Stephens: Very cool. Yeah. If our listeners would like to learn more about, Davidson Hospitality Group, where should they go? Pete, what’s the website?

Pete Sams:

Karen Stephens: Boom. Easy. Easy. All right. Well, thanks so much. It’s been a great discussion, and really appreciate you coming on today.

Pete Sams: Karen, it’s been an absolute pleasure and uh, I thank you for the invitation, and I hope you have a wonderful remainder of your week.


Hotel Moment episode #51 quote graphic about exceptional guest experiences.

Exceptional guest experience

Travel’s innate value to guests

Hotel Moment episode #51 quote graphic about supporting hotel staff.

Uplifting hotel staff

Nurturing staff and culture translate to a better guest experience

Related episodes

Hotel Moment podcast logo
Hotel Moment podcast logo

Be the first to know when a new episode drops

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply. *Required fields.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.