Bill Spencer was named general manager of the Little Rock Marriott in January. He previously was GM at the Hilton Memphis, which, like the Marriott, is operated by Davidson Hotels & Resorts of Atlanta. Spencer has been in the hospitality industry for more than 30 years and has been with Davidson for 22. Before his stint in Memphis, Spencer was general manager of the Hilton Raleigh-Durham Airport for nine years. The Little Rock Marriott has 418 rooms and underwent a $16 million renovation last year.
Spencer, while at the Hilton Raleigh-Durham hotel, won two awards from Davidson: Hotel of the Year and General Manager of the Year.
The Commercial Appeal named the Hilton Memphis, your previous post, as a Top Workplace two consecutive years. How as a manager do you create good morale among employees?
Winning the Top Workplace award was not one of our objectives but was a nice side benefit that our entire staff was proud to receive. Business cultures are all a little different, and what works well in one does not always work well in another. There are some basics: Enjoy transparency. Work hard at being transparent. Enjoy simplicity. Work hard to keep it simple. Have fun and “get over yourself.” If we get out of the way, people are pretty amazing when asked to create a good culture.
Do you think that the Little Rock Marriott, being connected to the Statehouse Convention Center, has a role to play in promoting Arkansas tourism? And if so, what is that role?
Absolutely! More important than the physical connection is the emotional connection that exists with the Statehouse Convention Center, the state Department of Parks & Tourism and all of the local hotels, restaurants and attractions. We have to use assets like the Statehouse Convention Center to create compression in the market and promote tourism for politicians to see as they visit our state’s capital. Tourism in Arkansas is big business, and all of the players need to be at the table making meaningful contributions.
Do you think that business travel has reached prerecession levels? What’s the state of business travel these days?
Business travel has improved, and in some areas we are back to prerecession days. The industry has had to make many adjustments in the past years due to travel concerns with our nation’s borders and perceived spending abuse. We need to work closely with legislators to keep things in proper perspective and not hamper tourism while dealing with other issues.
What’s the weirdest thing ever left behind in a room of a hotel in which you worked (something appropriate for a family newspaper)?
People have left everything in hotel rooms. Memorable ones: A football player left his playbook in the room and the team’s plane had already departed; an envelope full of money was left after a political party left a suite. Crucial medications are often left. Once a guest claimed to have left a “life support” system. We never ask questions about anything; we just try to get it back into the right hands as quickly as possible.
How has the Internet changed the hospitality business?
It has made us better. The ability for guests to give feedback to the world immediately requires our industry to be on our game at all times. If we make a mistake and do not handle it properly, it will go viral. With that said, I have noticed people are usually fair, helpful and encouraging.
The other major change is the online travel agencies (OTAs). Customers have much more flexibility than they ever have had on rates. The industry is still trying to get a handle on how reservations are made, how taxes are charged etc., etc.