Hotels make up less than three percent of all commercial real estate square footage in the United States. Therefore, few books for hotel investors exist because it is such a specialized asset class. The ones that do touch the topic provide tremendous value to those willing to dig in.
Hospitality investing requires a complete mindset shift.
The biggest shift is in coming to terms with the customer service paradigm even though there are many more differences between Big Four CRE and hotels. Each of the books listed here bring a different perspective on the hotel business from people that are amply qualified to be your mentor.
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1. Without Reservations: How a Family Root Beer Stand Grew into a Global Hotel Company
By J.W. “Bill” Marriott, Jr.
Without Reservations is a glimpse into the successes and failures that paved the way to building the largest hotel company in the world. Marriott International grew from humble beginnings in a story that mimics others, like Wal-Mart and Starbucks. Still, this is more a hard-and-creative-work-conquers-all story than rags-to-riches.
Bill Marriott is an industry icon for a variety of reasons. He built a remarkable company, but he and the team that surrounds him continue to look for seeds of innovation. That is their staying power.
Home sharing started disrupting the hotel industry right as this book was hitting the shelves. Don’t expect to get much insight on how they will address that issue. However, the principles that built the company took them through similar disruptive challenges, and they evolved to meet those head on.
This story of staying power and inspiring employees to do right by the customer is paramount to building a hotel enterprise. Hotels have three direct stakeholders – employee, guest, and owner. Each should receive fair treatment and opportunity to realize their dreams, which is a common thread in all books for hotel investors.
2. Four Seasons: The Story of a Business Philosophy
By Isadore Sharp
Four Seasons is the story of how one of the most recognized luxury hotel brands grew by defying the odds and focusing on the vision. Issy Sharp, Four Seasons founder, is not your typical, Cornell-bread, operational-pedigreed hotelier. As a result, this inspirational story is prime for someone interested in entering the hotel business from any background.
The book is a guided journey that spends more time on business and cultural excellence than self-promotion. It explains thoroughly how the company grew over time to become best-in-class by meeting the needs and desires of a very particular customer.
Four Seasons opened its first hotel in 1961 in Toronto. Forty-five years later, a partnership between Bill Gates’ and Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal’s family offices acquired the company for $3.4 billion. Risk, disappointment, and success littered the road from here-to-there, which makes this one of the most inspiring stories for aspiring hoteliers.
Empowered employees and delighted guests are at the heart of all successful hotel enterprises. All books for hotel investors make this clear, but the Four Seasons story dedicates more than half the book to that cultural cornerstone.
3. PEAK: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow
By Chip Conley
PEAK is the handbook for building a modern company culture.
The book approaches company culture from the perspective of mid-20th Century psychologist, Abraham Maslow’s, hierarchy of needs. It explains that every human is on a quest for self-actualization, and great leaders create environments to empower that journey.
A theoretical discussion on human psychology quickly evolves into a practical guide for identifying the needs and desires of your stakeholders. A strong culture built on these principles helped Joie de Vivre survive recessions and thrive in good times. Stories in this book bolster the case for this empathic leadership approach.
The author, Chip Conley, is an often-controversial figure in the hospitality world. His early involvement in boutique, lifestyle hotels set the stage for experiential travel in the new century. Later, after selling his hotel company, he aligned with industry disrupter, Airbnb, to further redefine travel and hospitality.
PEAK contains many of the lessons about customer service and employee empowerment found in many of the other books for hotel investors. However, a step-by-step approach in identifying and meeting the needs of each stakeholder makes this a critical leadership pocket guide. It is essential reading for anyone seeking to establish or enhance a sustainable company culture in any industry, especially hotel investing.
4. The Airbnb Story: How Three Ordinary Guys Disrupted an Industry, Made Billions . . . and Created Plenty of Controversy
By Leigh Gallagher
The Airbnb Story is an inspirational biography of the young company that turned the entire hotel industry on its head. No review of books for hotel investors would be complete without addressing this elephant in the room.
Airbnb meets the biggest challenge in the hotel industry – supply-demand dynamics – especially in “sold-out” markets. However, it is evolving to reimagine the entire travel industry.
Your success as a hotelier depends on understanding where their disruptive model will show up next and how to profit from it.
Society is quickly digesting platform companies, like Airbnb, Uber, and others. Traditional service-provider companies are struggling to find ways to co-exist and thrive in the new economy. The Airbnb Story gives a glimpse into how that integration can and will happen.
The book takes a balanced view of the company and its impact on the communities it serves.
Airbnb’s origin story gets good coverage, which should be an inspiration for anyone approaching hotel investing from outside the industry. The founders are artists rather than real estate or hospitality professionals, after all.