In the latest in Hotel News Now’s Running the Show series, Mark Salquist, GM of the Avatar Hotel in Santa Clara, California, discusses the joys of being hands-on in the hotel industry.
SANTA CLARA, California—Mark Salquist, GM for Joie De Vivre’s Avatar Hotel, is the type of person who likes to get things done.
Just minutes before sitting down for an interview with Hotel News Now, Salquist was helping unload a shipment of chairs to keep operations flowing smoothly at a moment the property was a little short staffed. He said that hands-on ethos permeates the culture of the hotel.
“We don’t have a big management structure, so it does require (people in management positions) to be hands-on,” he said. “So when I interview people for positions here, I’m very apparent with them about that. This is not about sitting at your desk. If they’re not out in the rooms or on property, they’re not seeing things that better the business.”
He said that variety in his day-to-day routine is also something he craves and what drove him to the hotel business.
“I sometimes tell the young people here that it’s not a job; it’s more of an adventure,” Salquist said. “No two days are the same. In the hotel industry, on any given day there are sudden twists and turns.”
Variety is all the more important at his property, which sees a wide array of demand drivers, from business travelers visiting Silicon Valley to families traveling to the California’s Great American amusement park just across the street or people going to San Francisco 49ers games or other events at Levi Stadium less than a mile away.
He said the feeling of the hotel needs to adapt to each of those different audiences.
“Sunday through Thursday, we’ve got tech workers, then on the weekend we get leisure travelers for entertainment, sports and the theme park,” he said. “This weekend we’ve got a Beyoncé and Jay-Z concert, and that’s different than the Great America crowd, because that’s more families with kids. So there’s a different vibe.”
To adjust, the hotel offers happy hours on week days to give business travelers the chance to relax and mingle, while the interactions on the weekends will be about creating communal spaces around the property’s outdoor pool with fire pits and more towels available.
“We constantly have to be nimble so we can react to whatever we need to,” he said.
At the same time, the Avatar Hotel maintains a consistent personality, tying in both the nearby elements of fun and technology with a lobby display full of toy robots.
Path through the hotel industry
Salquist said he was originally drawn to the hotel industry by a life-long love of travel, which was the result of tagging along with his father on business trips as a teen.
“That gave me that ability to travel abroad at a young age and was a unique opportunity for to get the travel bug in me,” he said.
His early days in the hotel industry were spent working for Hyatt Hotels Corporation, which he said was a fantastic company to start his career with. His very first job at a hotel was working at the front desk at a Hyatt property in Sacramento, where he got his first management role at the age of 21.
“Having that strong corporate structure (at Hyatt) provided a great backbone for my career,” he said.
That job set the tone for the rest of his career.
“I worked a lot of hours because I was the youngest, and I didn’t have a degree yet, so it was really trying to prove myself,” he said. “I took on any task I could so I could learn as much about the business as I could, from sitting on phones operating the PBX (private bench exchange) to plating in the kitchen then housekeeping.”
He said he tries to install that thirst for learning about the business in his staff.
“I try to communicate (with my managers) as much as possible,” he said. “If I see something wrong, I want to make sure they’re looking at it, too, and don’t have blinders on, and so they know it’s not just about what’s immediately in front of them but the big picture.”
After leaving Hyatt, Salquist worked at a few different companies, including a stint with Joie de Vivre in the early 2000s, before coming back to the company to transition in some newly acquired properties in the Bay Area. He developed a niche as a transition specialist, which scratched that itch for diverse challenges, before settling in as GM at the Avatar Hotel in 2013. That need is also what drew him over time to focus on the boutique hotel space.
He said he gets enjoyment out of trying to define exactly what the exterior-corridor Avatar Hotel is, describing it as “geek chic.”
“We’re not a big box hotel, but we’re not a motor inn, either,” he said. “We have a niche we know that we capture, and we do that to the best of our ability.”