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Spotlight on Jennifer Barnwell, President, Curator Hotel & Resort Collection

By Sharon Hirschowitz, Global Head of Media & Communications for The International Luxury Hotel Association
4 May 2022
4 min read
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Jennifer Barnwell talks about how independent hotels are answering the call for deeper, more meaningful travel along with their growing hotel membership and benefits as they expand their value offering for members.

The Maven Hotel at Dairy Block
Hotel Murano

Can you tell us about the role of independent hotels in the recovery?

As we have all seen, leisure travel is substantial and has bounced back much faster than business travel in this post-pandemic world. As soon as people could travel, they sought out authentic, unique, memorable, and meaningful experiences – which independent hotels are naturally best positioned to offer. We think this is why independent hotels have contributed so significantly to the industry’s recovery. In a recent Skift report on the U.S. Hotel Ownership Landscape, RevPAR at U.S. independent hotels is 91 percent recovered compared to 2019 levels, while brands are at 75 percent. This report shows that guests are actively seeking hotels with a sense of place, ties to the community, and local art and food for their post-pandemic escapes. We believe this trend will continue as pent-up demand remains. 

Chaminade

What growth opportunities have you identified for Curator Hotels and Resorts?

In our first year, we have experienced tremendous growth. We now have more than 80 hotel members, over 80 preferred agreements with industry-leading providers, and many other benefits available, including benchmarking reports and operational workflow systems. It has been incredible to see the independent hotel industry unite and support each other under Curator’s leadership. We have identified more than 1,500 independent hotels in the U.S. alone that could benefit from our best-in-class operating agreements and innovative solutions curated for independent lifestyle hotels and resorts – and we plan to reach out to each and every owner and operator. Our goal is to add at least 100 hotels per year to the Collection so that we can continue to scale and drive efficiencies, cost savings, and any additional offerings our members want to see. Independent hotels are much more challenging to operate and, therefore, much more rewarding for both operators and owners. We not only plan to grow our collection in terms of member hotels significantly but will continue to roll out new offerings that are specifically targeted to benefit independent hotel operators. We are constantly exploring new ways to provide value for our members.

Hotel Zena

How are you differentiating yourself to attract the luxury traveler? 

Independent hotels have been and will continue to be at the forefront of creating unique and memorable experiences that appeal to luxury travelers. Curator hotels are unique, unexpected, and interesting – which is what today’s lifestyle and luxury guests are looking for. Across our portfolio, we have many hotels and resorts that appeal to guests seeking a luxury experience. Some examples include: 

Little Palm Island – America’s only private island resort and reminiscent of a far-flung exotic locale without the overnight flights! 

L’Auberge Del Mar – Located beachfront near the famed Del Mar Racetrack, L’Auberge offers unique luxury amenities like private beach valets and a spa offering a variety of personalized treatments using local ingredients. 

Skamania Lodge – A true example of experiential luxury featuring treehouse accommodations, axe throwing, and ziplining that immerses guests in the natural beauty of the Columbia River Gorge. 

Grand Hotel Mackinac Island – This hotel evokes old-world hospitality with afternoon tea, horse-drawn carriage rides, and formal dress for dinners and evening events. At this iconic luxury hotel, no two guests rooms look the same. 

What key skills have you learned leading your team through the pandemic? 

Navigating through this pandemic has necessitated an enormous amount of flexibility, patience, and empathy. We have all certainly tried to exercise these skills in the past, but there was certainly a more immediate and intense need for them during this time. Our industry felt like it was shut down overnight and building it back has been an enormous challenge. We have had to navigate through downsizing hotel staff, asking team members to do many different jobs, and working hard to bring team members back as the recovery continues. We are trying to make sure that we understand what our team members are feeling and experiencing, as well as what our guests expect. 

Little Palm Island