Sincerely, BLLA

An Interview with Frank Wolfe

The BLLA Events Team sits down with Frank Wolfe, CEO of HFTP, as he prepares to participate in the 2023 Boutique Hotel Investment Conference on June ...

The BLLA Events Team sits down with Frank Wolfe, CEO of HFTP, as he prepares to participate in the 2023 Boutique Hotel Investment Conference on June 7-8.

BLLA: What are you hoping to get out of your participation in the Boutique Hotel Investment Conference?

FW: Associations are, by definition, built by connections. These connections occur not only between our members who have been united by a common purpose, but also between other associations. HFTP believes that it takes many different associations working together in a cooperative way to guide an entire industry. One group cannot be all things to all people.

When BLLA sought assistance in the areas of finance and technology, we raised our hand to help meet those needs. These are our areas of expertise. What we hope to gain from our partnership with BLLA and our participation in the Boutique Hotel Investment Conference is to provide finance- and technology-related education and resources to boutique hoteliers because that is what we do – and we do it for many, many associations all around the world. We are also made stronger by our strategic partnerships with other associations like BLLA through the valuable guidance and resources they can provide in their own concentrated areas of expertise.

BLLA: How did you come to enter the hospitality industry?

FW: My initiation to the hospitality industry came during graduate school at East Tennessee State University, where I was hired as interim assistant director of the student union. We catered a lot of events including weddings, dinners and movie nights in the student union theater with food service. Then, after a few years working at West Virginia University as the night and weekend operations director, I sought a warmer climate and cooler atmosphere in Austin, Texas. I got my next job the old-fashioned way: checking classified ads. 

There was a newspaper ad for the position of education director at the Texas Restaurant Association, managing education and employee training programs including food service certification and alcohol server training. And here I am, 35 years later, at Hospitality Financial and Technology Professionals (HFTP®). That’s how my career became dedicated not only to the hospitality industry, but also to the association world.

(Read this 2011 article from Frank’s induction into the Hospitality Technology Hall of Fame to learn all about how he came to work for HFTP in 1991.)

BLLA: What is the mission statement of your company?

FW: HFTP is an international non-profit association recognized as the spokes group for professionals working in hospitality finance and technology. We offer expert networks, educational resources, career development programs, research and leadership opportunities. HFTP also produces year-round conferences and events including HITEC®, the world’s largest hospitality technology tradeshow and conference brand. In addition, HFTP oversees the hospitality-specific® and Uniform System of Accounts for the Lodging Industry (USALI).

One of HFTP’s greatest strengths is our robust network of members, partners and stakeholders that spans the entire globe. We provide countless opportunities for networking and engagement that allow professionals to share ideas, advice, best practices and solutions for today’s biggest industry challenges.

BLLA: What does boutique mean to you?

FW: Boutique hotels enjoy a freedom often unafforded to major hotel brands and chains. When unconstrained by the restrictions of a corporate brand standard, these properties have the opportunity to do things the way they want. They can appeal to a specific niche or demographic of travelers and hotel guests as opposed to the mass market. They can provide a unique experience through individualized design.

Boutique hotels also offer a high level of service led by the human touch. While hotel chains struggle to appeal to the masses and personalize the guest experience through data-driven technologies, boutique hotels can focus on what they do best – offer a unique experience, personalized accommodations, and a helpful face behind the desk to a high-end clientele who has come to expect this type of service and engagement. It’s why they also typically have high retention rates. 

BLLA: What are the top three trends that you see in the boutique hotel investment space?

FW: Just as HFTP focuses on hospitality finance and technology, I think that boutique hotels should continue to lean into what they do well that helps them stand out in the accommodation space. Boutique hotels should maintain their focus on cultivating distinct, unique experiences that tie into the local community, culture and history of the locations in which they are built. 

Implementing the latest in technology automation (like robotics or self-check-in kiosks) may not be the right strategy for these hotels; rather, they should continue to invest in the human touch, positioning front-end staff to provide unmatched customer service to a specific clientele.

Finally, there is also a powerful call by hotel investors for greater sustainability efforts. Properties, especially boutique luxury hotels, have a vested interest in preserving the natural beauty around them. These properties should prioritize environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategies in their future planning.

BLLA: Why do you believe boutique hotels are a good investment?

FW: For all the reasons mentioned above: high levels of exceptional service, a personalized guest experience driven by the human touch, and distinctive designs that incorporate local cultural, social and historical features make boutique hotels stand out from the rest. When I consider my own preferences, I appreciate all these characteristics that have come to be synonymous with the boutique hotel experience. My work as the president and CEO of an international association has taken me all over the world. I’ve got, I don’t know… probably five million lifetime miles with one airline alone. When you’re on the road that much, you really grow to appreciate walking into a place and being greeted by an engaging person at the front desk who may even recognize you by face or name. It’s truly a great feeling.

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