Q&A with Portland Harbor Hotel owner David Hart

Posted July 09, 2012, at 5:52 a.m.
David Hart
David Hart

David Hart has hospitality in his blood.

His engineer father, William Hart, built hotels in the 1960s before learning the operations side of the business and becoming president of the Peabody Hotel Group. In 1985, he opened Hart Hotels.

David Hart was running a Peabody hotel in White Plains, N.Y., when he left to join the family business. Today, he is president of Hart Hotels, which owns 10 hotels, including the Portland Harbor Hotel in downtown Portland, and others in Buffalo, N.Y., and Vermont.

“It’s a success story, because my sisters and I were all just recent college graduates back in the early ’80s, all living elsewhere, and my dad got us to come back here and live and work in Buffalo,” Hart said.

Hart Hotels is still a family business. Hart works alongside sisters Linda Castello, Cathleen Hart-Frantz and Joanne Hart, while father William remains chairman. The company employs nearly 1,000 people.

Q: Hart owns branded hotels and independent boutique hotels. How are they different?

A: A lot of the business in branded hotels comes through the brand’s website and advertising. You have to hope that your people are brand-loyal and that they use their frequency card.

[With independent hotels] we can get to different kinds of customer price points. With the Internet, we’ve found that we can compete with brands by being good with search engine optimization, being able to expose our hotel in various marketplaces.

Q: How have travel sites such as Orbitz, etc., changed the industry?

A: If you go back before the Internet, the only way to get lots of information about a hotel was to go and visit the hotel personally, or get information through your travel agent. Today you can go online, look at pictures, look at price, read what a guest said who stayed there.

Q: At what occupancy rate do you begin to make a profit?

A: If I said I have 100 percent occupancy, you’d say I was doing great. But what if I told you every room we sell is for a buck? Or what if I say I hold out every night for the person who’s willing to pay $300? I’d only sell one room a night.

So what really makes a hotel successful is a combination of the two. It’s called “revenue per available room,” and it’s occupancy times the average daily rate.

Q: How do you calculate pricing?

A: You really have to monitor your competition. And you really have to avoid thinking that price drives demand. If you were in Toledo, Ohio, and we offered a really low price in Buffalo, would that lure you to Buffalo? No.

Price does not lure you here — your reason for travel [does].

Q: Who visits Buffalo? Tourists, business people, family, Canadians?

A: Every one of those and more. Amateur athletics is very big in our region, and there’s a dash of professional sports. Those are demand generators.

The reality is, most hotels create no demand; they just absorb [it]. Hoteliers really rely on what’s going on in our neighborhood that drives hotel room demand, and then we offer up a brand, a location, a price, amenities and services to try to lure people to stay with us instead of the competition.

(c)2012 The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.)

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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