GARY STEFFEN, GLOBAL HEAD, CANOPY BY HILTON
Can Faik meets Gary Steffen, Global Head, for Hilton’s latest lifestyle brand Canopy by Hilton…
Hilton’s new lifestyle brand, Canopy by Hilton is redefining the lifestyle category around the mindset of today’s leisure and business travellers. The brand promises to deliver a positive stay, through surprisingly comfortable spaces, more included value and thoughtful local choices. Each property is designed as a natural extension of its neighbourhood, with local design, food and drink, and delivers a fresh approach to hospitality and the guest experience. The world’s first Canopy hotel, Canopy by Hilton Reykjavik City Centre, opened in June 2016.
What is your position within Canopy by Hilton?
I have served as Global Head, Canopy by Hilton, since the lifestyle brand first launched in 2014.
What was your first job in the hotel industry? And what was it like to work in a hotel?
This is a great question and as a brand leader this puts a different perspective into discussion. I believe it is very important to have an operations background when working as a hotelier. I started my journey in the hotel industry by getting hired at a summer resort in my home state of Wisconsin as a busboy. From there, I went on to work as a waiter at the same resort. I had originally planned to pursue an accountancy degree at college and completely changed my plans based on the wonderful experience I had working in the hospitality sector.
From my experience as a busboy and waiter, I loved the ever-evolving nature of the day-to-day, meeting new people and interacting with clients. It was that passion that made me decide to change my plans and pursue Hospitality Management at college instead. There is nothing stagnant about a job in the hotel industry, it is fun and so dynamic, and that is why I have been addicted to this industry ever since I started.
What are Canopy by Hilton’s unique selling points?
Canopy by Hilton is all about the local neighbourhood. No two Canopy hotels will be the same, and we know that’s what our guests want. Each Canopy by Hilton property conveys the feeling of the local neighbourhood through locally inspired art, design, music, drinks and food. We offer more added value for our guests, with WiFi and an artisanal breakfast included, along with local welcome gifts and evening tastings of local beer, wine, or spirits. Finally, we have a ‘positively yours’ culture, with our hotel enthusiasts delivering a one-stop approach to front-of-house service.
What is the most important aspect of the Canopy by Hilton philosophy you instil in your staff and that your guests can expect to experience at your properties?
For me and the Canopy brand, everything boils down to how you bring a neighbourhood to life, whether this be through design, culture, art or food. Our brand’s promise is to create a positive stay for our customers, through simple, guest-directed service and thoughtful, local choices. This positive stay starts with how you get your staff engaged with the local neighbourhood, and how they can effectively deliver this to our guests. Whether this be through giving excellent tips on tours in the local area or bar staff offering recommendations on locally sourced drinks, it is about introducing guests to something they haven’t experienced in the local neighbourhood. Everything we have created from the Canopy experience boils down to the local neighbourhood and that is what we aim to instil in our staff.
What other exciting projects does Canopy by Hilton have in the pipeline?
We currently have a lot of exciting projects in the pipeline including Canopy by Hilton Washington DC The Wharf, opening in the fourth quarter of this year. Located in the Southwest Waterfront on the shore of the Potomac River, the area is currently undergoing a $2 billion redevelopment and the Wharf will showcase the importance of the river from its historic past to the current day, with our hotel staff bringing this to life through local touches. We also have plans to develop a Canopy by Hilton property in Portland, Oregon. Located on the corner of 9th Avenue and NW Glisan at 425 NW 9th Avenue, Canopy by Hilton Portland Pearl District will introduce 153 guest rooms to this vibrant, central Portland neighbourhood. Once home to abandoned warehouses and rail yards, the neighbourhood has undergone dramatic redevelopment and is now a shopping, dining, and entertainment mecca. We have also announced Canopy by Hilton London City, located in the eclectic neighbourhood of Aldgate. The hotel will further enhance this vibrant quarter of London.
How is the Canopy by Hilton brand positioning itself in the market?
Lifestyle brands have usually been the domain of high-end and luxury-priced hotel brands. We saw an opportunity to bring lifestyle hotel products down to a price point where more developers and customers would be interested in them. Canopy is all about the location and the neighbourhood. After that you need to have cool design, energetic public spaces and really good rooms. What we’ve been able to do is take those elements and engineer them into a hotel that will work for both consumers and developers.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
It’s simple – everything! I have been working on brands for 10 years now and I have been blessed to work on the repositioning of the DoubleTree by Hilton brand. Canopy is however where I feel at home. I enjoy seeing the journey of each individual Canopy property come to life, from working with the owners to the designers and the internal hotel team. We are creating something extremely special here with Canopy and it is great to see that it is really resonating with consumers.
What would you say are the three best places you’ve ever stayed?
The Hilton Molino Stucky Venice, Rome Cavalieri, A Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts property and, of course, Canopy by Hilton Reykjavik City Centre. They all offer such special experiences and meet and exceed customer expectations.
Where currently ranks highest on your travel wish-list?
There are some emerging tourist destinations that I can’t wait to get to, such as Myanmar and Cambodia. They are still young, fresh and very much undeveloped and untouched. They are also all unique and different in terms of what they offer visitors. I would love to one day open a Canopy hotel in any of these destinations as I believe that they align with exactly what Canopy is all about.
What advice would you offer to those who aspire to become a successful hotelier?
The reason Canopy has been so successful is because we have followed the customer’s journey from the very beginning and have done our research into exactly what the customer is looking for. We created Canopy with more than three years of customer research, by talking to customers and then creating the concept and logo based around this. My advice to hoteliers would therefore be to stay in touch with your customers, engage with them as much as possible and do your research into exactly what they are looking for. It’s all about resonating with your customers and that is how we created Canopy. Listen to your customers.
Let’s finish with the issue of personal and work life balance. How do you aim to achieve a good balance and what do those closest to you think of your attempts?
The reality is, of course, it is difficult. I make it a priority to make time for myself in order to achieve a good work-life-balance. This includes hiking, playing golf, or going on a long bike ride. It is that place or activity where I can clear my brain from the stress of everyday life. When people ask me what I am doing this weekend, I say it is going to be a Gary weekend. Everyday life can get stressful, so it is important to make time for yourself, and that is really the critical part in ensuring you maintain a good balance. A great way to achieve this, for example, is to extend business trips into leisure trips. At the end of the day, we are looking for unique experiences, and I am fortunate that my working life allows me to extend my business into leisure by taking me to some amazing places.