With more than 20 years of luxury resort experience, Edward Shapard oversees The Dominick, a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts’ Legend Collection. Almost two years ago, the hotel rebranded from the former Trump SoHo and it’s looking ahead to the future, with a new F&B experience and activations in the art and wellness spaces on the way. Shapard talks with Hotel Business about the hotel’s future and creating luxury in New York City.
How have you seen the luxury segment evolve? Traditional luxury was built on exclusivity and scarcity, but today it is based on experience and personalization. Luxury hotels can no longer rely exclusively on their rich heritage in order to drive business; luxury is becoming highly personal and contextual as opposed to solely focused on brand loyalty. Brands that were once defined as luxury are being consolidated and focusing on loyalty with points and rewards. What once was a world where big-name brands dominated has now shifted to a sector where boutique hotels are emerging as key competitors. Today, independent luxury hotels are just that—they are independent and they get to tell their story and create an experience that is unique to the location. When iconic hotels become brands, each new property takes away from the hotel’s authentic feel.
What does it mean to be a luxury property in New York City? New York City is more competitive than ever; industry experts have reported that a record 67 million people have visited the city this year alone. The traditional uptown consumer will continue to be more inclined to experience downtown hotels as a more desirable location for boutique shopping, art and dining. A relaxed downtown vibe, neighborhood-centric restaurants and impeccable service will lure a larger audience as competition will continue to grow in the city. Our guests want everything SoHo has to offer: shopping and dining, breathtaking views, and a hotel that has a split personality—one that can dress up for business and relaxes like a resort when business is done.
What do you focus on with your team to create the best luxury experience possible? Attention to detail, thoughtfulness and authenticity. We must place ourselves in the guest’s shoes and think about what it is like to experience our guestrooms, amenities, spa and public spaces. We must be true to ourselves so that our guests feel the level of care and thoughtfulness we want to convey and, finally, we must get it right every time. Service is modeled behavior; if I want our team to deliver excellent service, then I must ensure that I am out front, side by side supporting them and making them feel exactly how we want our guests to feel.
Are there any mistakes you sometimes see hotels making when it comes to creating this experience? Mistakes are made when we sit in our offices and dream of luxury, but we do not test, inspect and experience the very things we want to deliver to our guests. When the goal of a product is to speak to a brand feeling, it feels repetitive and can lose the authenticity of time and place. Also, service can get lost in the shuffle when hotels are leaning too heavily into a “trend” rather than ensuring first and foremost that they are providing an exceptional experience. A large part of making sure a guest has a seamless experience is by looking ahead and anticipating the guest’s needs. From pre-arrival handwritten cards placed in the room prior to check-in, to personalized amenities and services curated by our Luxury Ambassadors team, the cumulation of details during the entirety of the stay drives a positive guest experience.
It’s been two years since the hotel’s rebrand to an independent property. Tell me a little bit about how that process has gone. While we see The Dominick as a brand, it is also a place. We changed the name and feel of our product, but it doesn’t happen overnight; it needs to evolve, and we have worked to refine the product every day in the last two years. We have updated our pool experience by adding a new culinary concept that complements the space and provides something new without impacting the experience for our guests who return time and time again. We’ve also earned our Green Seal Bronze accolade and have maintained our AAA Five-Diamond status, which represents our commitment to exceptional service and amenities.
Guests today are looking for local, but in NYC, every neighborhood has its own version of local. How would you describe the SoHo vibe, and how do you translate that into the hotel? While downtown has its own look and feel, SoHo has its own personality. It merges the luxury brands on 5th Ave. and places them in boutiques on cobblestone streets. SoHo feels like a true neighborhood with an individual flair and the vibrant energy of the city. We strive to incorporate the same energy within the hotel by aligning ourselves with local businesses and bringing in exciting lifestyle partners and chefs to further enhance our overall experience.
The Dominick will debut a new restaurant in early 2020. How will this venue set itself apart? The Vestry, designed by Jason Volenec Studio, will reinforce our hotel as a true lifestyle destination in the heart of SoHo. We’re so excited to bring Shaun Hergatt’s culinary vision to life, and we look forward to bringing people together and serving the local community in a fun and exciting social setting. The menu at The Vestry will feature an a la carte menu of inventive, seasonally driven dishes infused with global techniques and ingredients. Chef Shaun’s long-standing relationships with local producers and foragers will inform his raw and refined menu, largely focused on seafood and vegetable dishes.
Tell me about your plans for art and wellness activations. We are having exciting conversations with local and noteworthy artists for 2020 that will put art at the forefront of our hotel experience with rotating galleries and new pop-up installations. Art is a stimulator for creativity, so adding an art experience to our property will inspire guests to feel that cutting-edge vibe that SoHo brings to the table, right at our hotel. As for wellness, the industry continues to grow and more people are looking for ways to incorporate their wellness practices into their vacations, rather than abandoning them for total vacation mode. For the year ahead, we are looking to expand our offerings at the new Babor Signature Spa and further our practices for better health and sleep with in-room amenities and guest access to the Mirror fitness equipment and Peloton bike within our gym.
Looking at the year ahead, are there any trends you’re keeping your eye on to stay ahead of the curve? Looking ahead to 2020, I’m particularly excited about what’s to come in the wellness space, as we are seeing a shift in consumer behavior here. Guests are seeking out wellness retreats in larger cities rather than far-off destinations. HB