Kim Walker was the sixth employee at Morgans Hotel Group.
Straight out of Boston University, with a degree in finance and
a minor in hotel management, she was hired nearly 22 years ago by
none other than Ian Schrager. The famed American real-estate
developer -- credited with creating the "boutique hotel" segment
and known for his days as owner of legendary New York club Studio
54 -- gave her a job as a front-desk agent.
Kim Walker, senior VP-marketing and creative director, Morgans Hotel Group
For Ms. Walker, joining Morgan's was an intentional choice. She
eschewed bigger hotel chains like Hyatt, Hilton and Marriott in
favor of a more hands-on experience. And, boy, did she get it. She
worked in virtually every department, including stints as a
concierge, room-service manager, housekeeping staff and in sales.
But there was a common thread in the things she enjoyed most,
whether it was sending mailings for events to Mr. Schrager's
"movers and shakers" list or helping design uniforms. It all came
back to the brand.
Today Ms. Walker is senior VP-marketing and creative director
for the chain, which owns boutique brands like the Hudson, Delano
and Royalton. She's responsible for overseeing Morgan's public
relations, marketing, partnerships, online and digital presence,
special events, uniforms and guest-room amenities. During the next
two years, she'll be instrumental in the brand's expansion, which
includes new hotels in the Bahamas; Istanbul; Moscow; Las Vegas;
and Doha, Qatar. Ad Age recently caught up with her.
Ad Age: How do you convey the value of a
luxury, boutique hotel in what's largely a price-driven travel
Kim Walker: Our guests choose to stay at our
hotels not just to sleep and have a bed. They want to experience
our entire culture. Whether it's our public spaces, nightlife or
restaurants, you get the feeling that it's more than just a place
to sleep. We have created a very loyal customer base that knows
what to expect when they come. Our guest experience is different
than other hotel brands. For example, we aren't formal -- we are
more interactive with our guests and make them feel like they are
at a home-away-from-home and welcomed, but all while still
providing great service. And by continuing to push the envelope
with design, we are always trying to create lifestyle and
restaurant venues that not just guests but also locals want to go
to -- which is really important -- to hang out on the weekend. We
give guests the essence of the city in which they are staying.
Where to eat, drink and catch some sun
at Morgan's Hotels
Best meal: Isola at Mondrian Soho. The space is
magical -- an outdoor garden with chandeliers. It's a special,
romantic place in New York City with great Italian food.
Best view: In Los Angeles, I love the view from
our pool and skybar. You're kind of perched up looking over all of
L.A. It's so nice, especially during dusk. And it's great to enjoy
the sunset and early evening there.
Favorite bar: At the Sanderson in London, I
love the Purple Bar. It's a little jewel box that holds 20 to 30
people. There's Venetian mirrored glass everywhere and you
literally feel like you're inside a jewelry box. They serve great
cocktails and it's a really beautiful space.
Ad Age: Are you working on modernizing the
Morgan's culture through new digital and mobile initiatives, like
others in the hospitality industry?
Ms. Walker: Yes. Right now it's all over the
place. What our site looks like on mobile and on a tablet, it's not
consistent. Flash has prohibited us from doing the things we want
to do. We're also trying to bring [digital capabilities] more into
the hotel so that you can experience them in the hotel and after
you leave -- pulling it through your entire stay. Over the past
year and half we have been trying to figure out the plan for 2013,
and we really felt that since consumers are relying heavily on
mobile access it was going to be our key focus for this year. Also
our last website was designed five years ago, so it's time for
that. [The goal is to have a new one live this summer]. We met with
about eight different agencies from Seattle, New York, Los Angeles
and Brooklyn and hired Firstborn. Firstborn did a fabulous job and
showed us some interesting things and really stood out amongst all
the companies. It's probably two months since we've been into the
project and we're very in sync.
Ad Age: Each of your hotels are designed
differently and have a unique aesthetic, unlike other hotel brands
where customers know what to expect wherever they are in the world.
What are the opportunities and drawbacks of having a brand that
actually prides itself on inconsistency?
Ms. Walker: We absolutely don't want to be a
chain and be cookie-cutter where you expect the same thing every
city you're in. The design should reflect the city, and it's very
purposeful that way. We think it makes it more interesting for the
guests. Relying on one design to carry us through for the next 15
or 20 years isn't what we want to do; we're always looking for
up-and-coming designers. Our audience is very sophisticated and
they don't want the same all the time. The one drawback is that
we're starting from scratch each time we do that. Right now we're
opening eight hotels in the next two and half years. We would have
a very easy life [if they all looked the same] but because each is
different it makes it more challenging. But also more
Ad Age: What do you think a loyalty program
needs to be? And what has Morgan's done to enhance its own?
Ms. Walker: Our loyalty program is called the
Global Card and made up of our guests who have 25 stays or 50
nights over the course of the year, as well as tastemakers in
design, art and fashion that we want coming to hang out at our
hotels. We don't give points away. We may offer discounts at our
spas and restaurants and shops, but it's more about having
exclusive access to events or giving them a dedicated
guest-services manager to help curate their stay -- making them
feel like it's their own private concierge while they are staying
with us, rather than a point program to cash in for free