Executive Hotels’ Harald Kurtzke

VANCOUVER — Executive Hotels and Resorts has changed since Harald Kurtzke joined the company in 2004. Over the past 16 years, the company has changed its focus from upper midscale hotels to ones that fall squarely in the four-diamond space.

“Most of our brand was a solid upper mid-market chain when I joined,” Kurtzke told CLN. “In recent years, our CEO, Salim Sayani, has focused on developing new hotel assets which are genuine four-diamond level hotels, particularly in the Vancouver market where he added Executive Hotel Exchange, a genuine four-diamond property downtown, and the deluxe 70-room Seaside in West Vancouver. Clearly those new assets bring a enhanced prestige for our clients to enjoy.” 

As far as consumer expectations go, Kurtzke said the most evident change impacting our industry is the use of smartphones, which allow almost instant access to the Internet. This has affected all aspects of the industry, including brands, pricing, distribution and marketing communications. “With this growth came a number of OTAs, such as Expedia and Hotels.com and others. The result is that consumers now can have instant access to a multitude of information on a hotel’s rates. Within a minute, while standing in our lobby, they can see every rate we have available and select the rate and room type that suits their need. Clients used to only have access to these rates by calling reservations and getting rates which had been loaded into the Central Reservation System. Today’s customers are very, very well informed.”

And there’s a new job description today, as most hotel companies have revenue managers, who work closely with general managers, and are responsible for constantly assessing the demand in the marketplace and often adjusting rates a number of times a day during peak times.

Classically educated in Europe, Kurtzke strongly believes in the importance of training.

“I am fortunate that my career and education as a formally trained hotelier started with a three-year apprenticeship in Germany with an in-depth focus on food and beverage, costs, and true customer service. Nobody entered the floor until they were fully trained.” he told CLN. “That foundation taught me the many service standards for restaurants, from the basics of setting a table and clearing dishes, to meeting and exceeding customers’ expectations. The rules and standards were very clear, and very much ingrained after a three-year apprenticeship.  

“That skill set and the knowledge gained during those years enabled me to grow my career within the hotel industry, nationally and internationally. Today, it stills helps me to succeed and to train people in their respective positions in the hotels, to achieve high standards and ROI in F&B and all areas of the hotel. 

“In the end, we are in the service industry, and  first-class, customer-centred service is what every client desires.”

Foodservice at The Exchange Hotel, Vancouver. Photo: Kuna Lu.

Executive has a strong mandate from its CEO to constantly ramp up, evaluate, review, update and provide training sessions, with the focus being to constantly provide the best service experience to its clients. This training mandate applies to all departments, both front and back of the house.

“If proper training is provided to new team members and regular reviews held with long term staff, there is a positive financial return for any company,” said Kurtzke. “This return is reflected in many areas of the P&L statement. 

“The degree of formal training in our industry varies so much, that we must be asking the questions about what type of formal training a candidate brings to this position. 

“We too often assume that because a candidate’s CV reflects work at a first-class restaurant, he or she is properly trained. That can be a big mistake. Today, we want to to ensure that we hire for values and train for skill. We want to retain and grow our internal clients (employees) to be career hotel employees. The importance of training is that it also supports this goal.” 

Executive’s latest hotel projects

An event at Seaside Hotel, Vancouver.

Notable among Executive Hotels & Resorts’ projects are the two recent ones in Vancouver. Seaside in West Vancouver opened in the fall and has become the destination for locals. Executive Hotel Exchange in downtown Vancouver has had huge success with national and international clients. New in the last couple of years is the Executive Hotel in New York. Executive kicked the level of the brand up a notch to compete in the competitive New York market.

All together, Executive has 12 properties in Canada and three in the U.S., located in Seattle, San Francisco and New York City.

“I am sure the company will continue to grow as it has in recent years, particularly because of our CEO’s belief and strong commitment to strengthening [the company] and the brand.

Asked if he has any retirement plans, Kurtzke said, “I am a hotelier, so for me it does not feel like work. This is one of the benefits of being well-trained and enjoying this industry and all the excitement it offers! As I still enjoy the daily work including the opportunities and challenges of my job and our industry, it will likely be a while before I step away from the full-time, 55- to 60-hour work week.

“However when the day comes, that I want more time for me and my family, I  likely will return to when I had my own successful hospitality consulting career, and with that I will very likely continue to work projects which can benefit from my extensive knowledge because in the end, I am a hotelier and that is a job for life!”