WHEELING, WV—While many of us wouldn’t think of Wheeling as a destination like other major cities, the West Virginia outpost along the Ohio River is home to one of the top performing hotels in the Hampton by Hilton brand. The property has won the brand’s prestigious Connie Award four times.
The Connie Award is named after Hilton founder, Conrad Hilton. The winners of the award are selected based on their Total Quality Scorecard (TQS), the hotel’s loyalty score via SALT (Hilton’s Satisfaction and Loyalty Tracking) and the quality assurance (QA) score.
The history of the Hampton by Hilton Wheeling goes all the way back to the late 1950s, when owner Bob Hitchman’s father bought the property. His father had been in the hotel business for a number of years prior and knew the Marriott family during the days of their Hot Shoppes business. From there, the elder Hitchman served on the board of Quality Courts, the predecessor to the Quality Hotel brand.
In 1959, Hitchman Sr. brought the 57th Howard Johnson Hotel to Wheeling. “I was just five when my father opened the last guestroom. Then, my father passed away. The sun rose and set with him for me. He was an amazingly successful businessperson. I can tell you when I am on this property now, I feel like he is here with me,” said Hitchman, who called his father his inspiration.
The major key to the hotel’s success is in the way it treats its employees, which, in turn, makes for a happy guest, said Hitchman, He added that he is a fan of the book Pay People Right. The premise of the book is the idea that when people provide exceptional results, they should reap exceptional awards. “You should offer all your team members a reward when they knock it out of the park,” said Hitchman. This mentality could explain the hotel’s 99% employee retention rate.
Currently, the hotel has 34 employees—some of which have been with the property from its Howard Johnson days. “There are people who have been with us a long time. It has always been a family business and our people are respected and treated like individuals,” said Jack Poling, assistant general manager.
When Hampton came to fruition in the 1980s, the Hitchman family took a chance by converting the Howard Johnson to a Hampton. They enjoyed years of successes, but when shale drilling waned, Hampton by Hilton Wheeling struggled largely in part due to excess hotel rooms—and no guests to fill them. “The overbuilt market hurt us and our occupancy,” Hitchman said.
In 2008, Hitchman took over the business from his mother and added unique amenities, including an indoor waterpark complete with a eucalyptus shower, as well as an outdoor teak garden with a grill and fire pits.
When it comes to training, the hotel execs believe in “aggressive friendliness.” The staff never lets anyone walk past them without saying hello. “We are at the front desk all the time and we are all about hospitality. It’s about details. We hit all the small notes,” said Poling, referring to the little things hotels sometimes get wrong that lead to negative guest reviews—like overflowing trash cans or cold coffee. “The staff attends a monthly meeting where they go over everything good—and bad—at the property. We come together for lunch and everyone is invested and knows what is going on. We are all very committed to Bob’s vision and his personal passion for the property,” said Poling.
Hitchman takes his hospitality and running a franchised hotel seriously—and passionately. “It’s way deeper than running a business—it’s a love story,” said Hitchman.