Training It Forward at The Asbury’s Salt School

ASBURY PARK, NJ—Salt Hotels CEO David Bowd is a man on a mission. The veteran hotelier has set out to put a fresh face on this oft-overlooked seaside community with the spring debut of his new boutique hotel, The Asbury, and he is training locals of all stripes on the “ins and outs” of the hospitality industry through the hotel’s Salt School.

“We forget the true meaning of hospitality is really looking after our guests. If we employ the right people, our business is hugely successful. Mentoring, providing great environments—if we do all that, our industry gets bigger and better. We all have an obligation to do that,” Bowd said.

The idea for a free 10-week training program sprang up from a very pivotal moment in his youth as a hotel trainee himself. Bowd’s first taste of hospitality was as a 13-year-old working back-of-the-house at a restaurant in England. Years later, with a newfound love for restaurants, he applied to college to learn how to be a chef, but a hotel job lured him one-hour away from his family and it was there that he became a bellman, according to Bowd.

“I left home with a penny to my name, stayed in the hotel’s staff accommodations and started work on Monday morning. I loved it. For two years, I worked in various departments of the hotel until I was 18 and was able to work in the kitchen. Within three hours, I realized I wanted to be front-of-house. I moved to London and worked for the major chains—the Hiltons and the Marriotts in many of their departments—and then at an indie hotel for 10 years, finishing as deputy manager in that period,” Bowd shared. “I had an incredible mentor, Steven Paramore, who took me under his wing, showed me how far I could go and taught me revenue management. He was a strong influence on my life. I said, one day, I’m going to do for somebody else what Steven did for me. As I got into the hotel world, I always remembered to be a mentor for as many people as I possibly could. I was given breaks to get into the hotel industry and ran some of the best hotels in the world. There are no boundaries.”

It is Bowd’s no-limits approach that is evident in the creative vision of Salt Hotels’ newest outpost here. A former Salvation Army outpost was transformed into the new 110-room hotel, and its design facilitates the fun to be had at The Asbury when locals and guests are done splashing in the surf. The hotel’s rec room will feature nostalgic games typically seen in your parent’s basement—ping-pong, pinball machines, board games. Other highlights include communal areas; a lobby and rooftop bar; flexible indoor and outdoor spaces; a music venue; and a beer garden.

“I came here seven years ago for a concert and we had so much fun, but there was nowhere great to stay. I was approached five years later and my instinct was, ‘Yes, it needs a good hotel,’ and now we’re in the preopening stage. Asbury Park is a special neighborhood and it needs some help. One of the things I love about hotels and hospitality is that you don’t have to have an MBA; you have to have a great attitude and a willingness to look after people,” he shared.

To get Salt School off the ground, Bowd and his team reached out to industry experts to collaborate on the curriculum and teach students in local community center while the hotel prepared for launch.

“We sat down and formatted what we wanted Salt to be about and the different facets of the industry, such as F&B, guest experience, sales and marketing, revenue management, etc. Then, I asked people to be a part of it, and everybody was so incredibly generous and thanked me for asking them to get involved. Not one person said no to me,” he said.

For the educational sessions, Bowd gave the hospitality volunteers some guidance and then encouraged them to formulate the lessons they wanted to impart to the trainees.

“One of the classes was on guest experience and we had Jenny, who works with me. She wanted to do an exercise that would get them thinking and said, ‘Here is $10. How do you wow a guest?’ I think we can take Salt School and give people an opportunity to see the hospitality world and what its like and make a decision. We’re giving people a look through the windows the world of hotels to help those who haven’t had the break that others might’ve had.”

Two weeks into the program’s application process, Bowd’s team received a whopping 355 applicants, and it was then, he said, that he knew he was onto something special.

“We read every application. Some had parents pass away when they were young, while some said they like helping people. We don’t care how old you are or what you look like; we care that you deliver on the guest experience. It’s not only at-risk youth, but also young adults who fell in the wrong crowd. One applicant said, ‘I want to be a good example to my daughter.’ That’s a powerful statement and that’s the impact we’ve seen,” he said. “I was approached by a local restaurateur asking if I had any students. After the program, they can apply to get jobs [at that restaurant], and it connects the community and really changes the nature of the town,” he said.

If the positive response to The Asbury’s Salt School in the community and in the industry is any indication, Bowd has already accomplished his mission, but there’s much more he wants to do here.

“This has become a movement so strong that it has become our culture. I won’t open a hotel without a Salt School. There will be more interaction, constant refinement, and I’d like to look at how Salt School can help the hospitality industry gain more talent. I want to help people get their lives back on track so they can become whoever they want to become,” he concluded.

—Corris Little