Arnie Weissmann
Arnie Weissmann

Beginning at the international date line and moving west as the sun rises, a day-after-New Year's toast to Rainy Chan, Jean Baptiste Pigeon, Danilo Zucchetti, Jeremy Hopkins, Allan Federer, Marie-Helene Miribel and Offer Nissenbaum.*

The best perk of my job is that each year I'm privileged to meet a large number of immensely interesting people. The travel industry is filled with curious extroverts -- curious in both definitions of the word: They're driven to learn and explore, and they possess surprising qualities.

I'll venture that nobody will be offended, and nobody will disagree, if I state that collectively, the most interesting subset of industry players are hotel general managers. Frankly, I'm in awe of the number of skill sets a person must possess to be the GM of a well-run property. Their concurrent and overlapping responsibilities include operations chief, finance officer, sales/marketing/communications specialist, diplomat and negotiator.

As a rule, they're high-energy and cultured. They possess an eye for design, are fastidious by nature and have exceptionally high emotional quotients. They're good with names and faces and can expertly manage professional relationships up and down the corporate and property org charts.

It's my observation that GMs are by nature optimists and perfectionists, and they work hard to convey high expectations to their staff without breeding resentment. They hire and train well.

As a group, they are articulate, fun and entertaining. As a rule (there are exceptions) they enjoy both the competition and camaraderie within a local community of GMs.

Their personalities tend to express warmth, and they have large stores of patience. If they're married, they're compelled to balance unending professional demands with the needs of a family that is already tolerating their long work hours and frequent relocations.

Like a CEO, they're expected to run a profitable operation, but do so under the public's microscope. Hundreds (or even thousands) of guests test their operation in multiple ways each day.

"Mayor" is probably a more apt description than CEO. They must possess the skills of a good politician, and indeed, their constituency over the course of a year might well exceed the population of many of the world's midsize towns and certainly exceed the cultural diversity seen in most settled areas. To succeed, they must be drawn to, and connect to, their host culture, while conveying the benefit of their past experiences elsewhere.

It's not a surprise that many GMs move on to top positions in hospitality companies. Mark DeCocinis made a very positive impression on me when he was GM of the Portman Ritz-Carlton Shanghai; today he's president and COO of One&Only.

And during his rise to become CEO of the Wyndham Hotel Group, Geoff Ballotti was GM of the Sheraton Brussels (he was also, early in his career, a busboy at the Hotel Le Meridien Boston, where he was inspired, and his ambition was fueled, by that property's GM, Bernard Lambert, who himself went on to become CEO of Le Meridien).

There are those who become GM by default because they have a vision for a hotel and launch one themselves. Marie-Helene Miribel, with her husband, Franz Schilter, started and manage one of my favorite hotels in the world, Sol y Luna, in Huicho, just outside Urubamba, Peru.

They gave up lucrative careers in finance and architecture, respectively, to create a hotel that would fund a school for poor children living in Peru's Sacred Valley. In the process, they produced a property that is visually stunning and lives up to the highest standards of hospitality.

Samuel Leizorek's Las Alcobas hotel in Mexico City is another example of how an entrepreneurial visionary can create and run a hotel that garners extraordinary recognition. A small chain of Alcobas is in the making when a second one opens in California's Napa Valley later this month.

The owner/GM, particularly in the instance of inexperienced hoteliers like Miribel and Schilter, touches on the impact of hundreds of thousands of amateurs entering hospitality via Airbnb and other home-sharing enablers. Putting aside the professional management companies that have invaded this segment, each homeowner brings a degree of local authenticity and, depending on their personalities and temperaments, the potential for a very personal and caring level of hosting that may compensate for a lack of professional training.

Indeed, this personal, homey touch is often cited as a benefit of using Airbnb.

But as noted in a few humorous essays in the New York Times -- "AirBlabNBore" and "Welcome to your Airbnb" -- the Airbnb guest experience is not for everyone.

For those of us who have spent time with the professionals who manage great hotels, it's no small comfort knowing, as we check in, that we're being hosted by people who understand the subtle complexities and not-so-subtle demands of hospitality.

Best of all, upon check-in I know there's a possibility I'll get to spend some time with yet another cultured global citizen and world-class raconteur.

I'm happily anticipating meeting many more in 2017.

* GMs I met at the Peninsula Hong Kong, InterContinental Kiev (Ukraine), Villa D'Este (Lake Como, Italy), Athenaeum (London), Hamilton Princess & Beach Club (Bermuda), Sol y Luna (Huicho, Peru) and the Peninsula Beverly Hills (Calif.).


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