Insight; New York Hospitality Professionals - This Week: Victoria Batten
“Insight; New York Hospitality Professionals”, a weekly interview series with professionals from the MICE industry in New York.
These are uncertain times for our industry – yet we believe that now is the moment to bring our industry closer together by strengthening our ties and relationships on a more human level. It is for this reason that Shackman Associates is undertaking a series of interviews with other New York hospitality professionals to learn how they are managing during this time.
In today’s episode; New York Hospitality Professionals Karen Shackman, President and CEO of Shackman Associates interviews Victoria Batten, Regional Director of Sales & Marketing, North America, Director of Sales & Marketing, The Langham, New York, Fifth Avenue
Karen: Please introduce yourself and tell us a little about yourself and your role in the company.
Victoria: I’ve been with Langham Hospitality Group for five years; first at the brand’s flagship, The Langham, London, then re-locating to New York City in March 2019 to serve in a dual role as Regional Director of Sales & Marketing overseeing all of the sales and marketing efforts for our hotels in North America; and Director of Sales & Marketing for The Langham, New York, Fifth Avenue. With more than 20 years’ experience in luxury hotels, including eight years with Dorchester Collection and overseeing sales efforts for three hotel openings, I am passionate about the group market segment and enjoy the challenge of selling both destinations and individual hotels. My goal is to create greater synergy across the North American region to ensure a consistent customer journey while allowing each hotel to play to its individual strengths.
Karen: You certainly have an impressive resume in the luxury hotel market, and your dual sales and marketing roles for the brand, since relocating to New York, is crucial, particularly during this time. How and where have you spent the last few months?
Victoria: I have been living and working from our family apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn, since mid-March alongside my daughters’ home schooling efforts but we’ve managed to keep to a pretty disciplined routine and fortunately my girls are as driven and motivated as I am (most of the time)! Flash back to a year ago when I first re-located from London and I was living alone in one of The Langham, New York’s spacious suites with my own kitchen and stunning views to the Empire State Building. While I am grateful to have been with my family during this time, I do miss those more luxurious surroundings.
Karen: We know those luxury accommodations, spacious suites and those iconic view really well - and one can get used to them very easily. But it seems your life is much fuller now having your family with you. How have you been managing your professional situation since March?
Victoria: From the outset of the crisis, I have been focused on doing the very best we can every week given the circumstances. The Langham, New York has remained open throughout this time and my team has remained intent on capturing the limited demand for luxury accommodation, engaging with our clients and finding new future clients. Unlike many other hotels, we kept a small sales team in play so we have been front and center with our clients, which stands us in good stead for the recovery. We have also taken the time to make internal improvements to aid efficiency moving forward.
Karen: That is good to know. We too have tried to keep our team intact as much as possible - trying to connect with clients and partners and remain relevant and active as we move through this crisis. It is so important that clients know that New York and we, the hospitality partners are here - ready and waiting!
Since you recently relocated to New York, what are your thoughts in regard to remaining in the US?
Victoria: The big question for me, and my family, is whether we decide to continue our American Adventure or whether we return back home to the UK… that’s a decision we’ll have to make in the next five years due to schooling logistics! At the moment we’re looking forward to exploring what New York State has to offer for our staycation and then getting back to enjoying life in NYC.
Karen: I am so pleased you are looking to explore beyond the boundaries of the city as well. New York State has some amazing locations worth visiting. In fact, we often offer our clients day trips out of the city to gain a different perspective on things New York. And I would be delighted to share some ideas with you.
Karen: Like us all, I am sure you have been on your share of informational webinars and zoom calls over the past few months. How has the perception of hospitality and luxury changed over the past three months?
Victoria: I think at first the whole industry was obsessed with cleaning measures and how every aspect of the guest experience would be impacted by Covid-19 precautions and concerns but, as the weeks passed, I realized that while our Langham commitments to Wellbeing and Safety are extremely important, we mustn’t forget that our guests come to stay in our beautiful hotels to enjoy themselves and our many repeat guests want familiarity, both with the services we offer and with their guest experience. So, luxury hotels need to amplify their service culture and must focus on safety while also not becoming too hospital-like as a result of this pandemic.
Karen: That is true. I am sure it is quite a balancing act, especially in cities like New York, where there is a standard and expectation for luxury and superior quality. What has been invaluable for you over the past few months while working through this situation?
Victoria: A hastily bought desk on Amazon, the simple pleasure of family time spent just as a family at home and, perhaps most importantly, as much Emotional Intelligence as I could muster to enable me to support my team, my family and myself during this unsettling time.
Karen: All very important, indeed. And how have you kept yourself both mentally and physically healthy?
Victoria: One of my personal silver linings to the pandemic and being confined to home, aside from seeing my children more, is that I’ve been running far more regularly than usual. The sense of freedom I felt from running outside, especially during the first two months of lockdown, was hugely uplifting and helped keep me positive and energized. Running from Park Slope to DUMBO was almost magical the first time and equally reassuring to see Manhattan still standing!
Karen: Thank you for reiterating that. It has been a mission for us to educate our clients on the magic of Brooklyn. Although I live in the city, most of our team lives in Brooklyn, and they are all huge advocates! Once restrictions are fully lifted, what is the first place you plan to visit?
Victoria: As soon as it’s safe, and possible to do so, I will fly back to London to see my friends and family. In the short term, I would like to travel domestically to see America’s wide-open spaces and big skies as much as I can this summer.
Karen: Domestic travel is certainly the headline for this year – and this is such a wide and diverse country – so lots to explore. Although, I do hope you get to see your family and friends soon. What, in your opinion, makes an effective leader – specially in challenging times?
Victoria: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate... is one of our Langham values and this has never been truer than during these last few months. When we look at the way in which different world leaders have handled the pandemic, we can see the power of communicating clearly and transparently in order to achieve the desired outcome.
Karen: I couldn’t agree with you more! And now, since we are all supposed to wear masks, verbal communication is going to be that much more important – as the subtle cues of facial expressions may be hidden behind the masks. How do you think New York can regain trust with travelers so that they feel safe enough to visit our great city again?
Victoria: New Yorkers have done an amazing job at containing the virus despite all the odds and we are now a shining example of the discipline required to beat Covid-19. We need to remain #NYStrong to keep the case numbers down and open up slowly and sensibly to ourselves, our Tri-State neighbors and eventually the rest of the world. It’s going to be a community effort and initiatives like
NYC & Co’s Stay Well NYC Pledge highlight the responsibilities of both business and consumer to fight this battle.
Karen: I am so proud of our city, and what we have achieved - despite the odds. Not only have we flattened the curve, but bent it – and I am hoping, like you, that everyone will remain #NYStrong to keep us ahead of the virus. What are two of your strengths and why are they important for what you are currently doing?
Victoria: Drive and a positive attitude – I always feel motivated to get out of bed and face the day and I look for the positives in every situation. These strengths help me lead and motivate my team and likewise, my children!
Karen: A positive attitude is always important, but it is critical right now! And I am sure you are a wonderful role model for your children. What permanent changes do you foresee in the hospitality industry post-Covid, and how should our industry respond to those?
Victoria: The term hospitality is now understood much more broadly by our industry and whether that is welcoming guests in person to our hotels and restaurants, or creating virtual experiences to bring our hospitality into our guests’ homes, the way in which we engage with our guests and our potential guests will remain changed. Secondly, the new commitments made by luxury brands to do better at creating a diverse and inclusive workforce, at all levels, will need to be rightly delivered upon in the months ahead.
Karen: Thank you Victoria. As we all now know, things are changing from day to day. And it will be interesting to see how luxury and hospitality evolve as a result of this crisis. Thanks for sharing your perspective. I am sure our readers will find it as informative as I have. And please let me know if you need additional recommendations for your New York State Staycation.