Portland, OR-based owner/operator Provenance Hotels has emerged from the worst of the pandemic with a new brand identity and guiding principle—Illuminating Originals—that focuses on telling the story of the innovators, entrepreneurs and artists that make up its community culture. Katherine (Katy) Durant, president/CEO, calls them the company’s “Illuminators.”
For Durant, who added the president title after Bashar Wali left in April 2020, it was the COVID-19 crisis that provided the impetus to rethink and relaunch the company.
“The pandemic has, in a number of ways, given us as many opportunities as it has hardships,” she said. “You’re either going to sit back and worry about it all until it’s over, or you can lean in and go for it. That’s what we’re doing. Having this time to step back from the operational necessities of a hotel open in full force has given us an unexpected opportunity to reset our focus and reassess our core values. We’ve taken a lot of time to think about not only our own provenance and brand identity but what our future holds and where we go from here. From that introspection, we relaunched Provenance with our renewed voice, a refreshed visual identity and a commitment to a consistent customer experience that fulfills our brand promise.”
The brand refresh will include a new website, which will feature visuals focused on the Illuminators, strategic partnerships that elevate the guest experience, as well as expand and invest in the company’s portfolio and nurture the company culture and employees, according to Durant.
For the first several months of the pandemic, the entire Provenance portfolio was closed, and new developments were delayed. The company took a staggered approach with reopening, noted Durant, adding, “[It started] with Hotel Lucia in Portland and the Old No. 77 Hotel in New Orleans. The decision to reopen what and when was determined by a number of factors—from market demand, state orders and restrictions and, generally, the cost of doing business. Travel intent has been slow, unsurprisingly, making the ability to forecast challenging, to say the least. But, this is where you lean into industry data and trust the collective experience of the team we have in place to carry on. Right now, we have 12 properties in operation, reopening our 13th in the summer and another in final stages of construction, to be opened later this year.”
After a year-plus of uncertainty, things are starting to look hopeful. “We’ve seen a gradual increase in occupancy over the last several weeks to months, more so in the leisure market as business travel has stalled,” said Durant. “But, it’s encouraging and bodes well as we head into summer and fall. With demand increasing, this sets the stage for us to be able to bring more employees back and hire, which is the best of news. As the vaccinations become more readily available and travel restrictions loosen, travel will ramp up. We know industry predictions have been made that travel won’t fully rebound until 2022, but we’ve got to start somewhere.”
Before the pandemic really took hold in the U.S., Provenance added new faces to the executive team—Ernest Glidden,CFO, and Ralph Aruzza, chief marketing officer. Another key person to the running of the firm has returned. Gordon Sondland, Durant’s husband and founder of the company, is back in the chairman’s seat following a stint as United States Ambassador to the European Union from 2018 to 2020.
“It’s been a great partnership in that Gordon focuses on long-term growth for Provenance through investments and acquisitions of property to own and manage, while I focus on ensuring the company runs to an optimal operational standard,” said Durant. “I’m more the boots on the ground.”
That mentality has served her well since taking on the president’s role.
“My role is hands-on in terms of working with our executive leadership team to guide the ship, from the growth plan to streamlining operations,” said Durant. “My background is in engineering so I’m all about systems and processes, and learning how something works from the inside out. Hotels are an intricate business, full of nuances that come together to make it a well-oiled machine. The outcome and experience should be consistent. Right now, our scale allows us to be nimble, seize opportunities and modify operations that place us in a good position when we get to the other side.”
The next Provenance hotel to make its debut is The Bradley in Fort Wayne, IN, a boutique hotel in collaboration with Barbara Bradley Baekgaard, cofounder of handbag and luggage design company Vera Bradley. It is expected to open in July.
“We were introduced to Barbara through a mutual contact who believed our vision would align,” said Durant. “Barbara came out to stay with us to experience Provenance and the rest is history. Her eye for design coupled with our experience in hospitality management is quite a match. The project is special, as it’s meant to be a gift to the town Barb loves so much. It’s boutique in style with great dining experiences and plenty of local influences. It makes good business sense for this particular market.”
Although she couldn’t provide any details, Durant said the company is in the process of partnering with one or two groups that will provide capital for Provenance to acquire additional assets that “match our brand aesthetic and customer profile.”