Leondakis // © 2012 Leondakis: Scott R. Kline
Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants has been called one of the best hotel brands in the world, Fortune has named it one of the best places to work, and famed hotelier Ian Schrager once referred to founder Bill Kimpton as an “inspiration.” For more than 30 years, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants has been delivering specialized hospitality to its guests.
Bill Kimpton was an unlikely hotelier. He traveled the world as an investment banker and, while in Europe, he was struck by the level of service and comfort at the hotels in the region, noting that they provided a homey atmosphere as well as a more intimate style of hospitality. Kimpton wanted to bring this sense of intimacy to the U.S. where he believed that the monolithic-style hotels that dominated the country were less hospitable.
“Developing a sense of community was part of Kimpton’s vision for a unique experience,” said Niki Leondakis, president and COO of Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants.
In 1981, Kimpton opened his first boutique property — the Clarion Bedford Hotel in San Francisco. It was the first hotel in the U.S. to have a complimentary wine hour.
“With the Bedford, Kimpton wanted to recreate a hotel like the ones that he stayed at in Europe,” said Leondakis. “He wanted to deliver the same level of personalized service, where the staff remembered each guest’s name as well as their preferences.”
Today, more than 50 Kimpton properties dot North America, each with its own identity.
“Every hotel is unique in design and experience,” said Leondakis. “Each one is inspired by the location that it’s in. While the hotels look different, there are certain elements that are consistent across the portfolio regardless of the theme or design of the hotel. The promise we make involves several elements: care, comfort, design, style, flavor and fun.”
And because Kimpton believed in offering a comfortable, unique environment, the hotel company has led the way in offering interesting guest experiences. In addition to being the first hotel company to offer a complimentary wine hour, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants was the first to offer modern amenities such as free, wireless Internet access in all of its hotel guestrooms. The brand also offers one of the least-restrictive pet policies in the industry.
“If your pet can fit in the elevator, it can stay with us,” joked Leondakis.
Highlighting the hotel brand’s individuality and sense of fun are its unique packages and promotions. It seems that a holiday can hardly go unnoticed by Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants without a clever offer. This month, the hotel brand entices visitors with “Sweet Robemance.” The package features two of the brand’s signature, leopard-print robes as well as a $25 in-room dining credit, per room, per stay, in celebration of Valentine’s Day. The package is available through the end of February. Also, in celebration of Leap Year, Kimpton invites clients to “leap into more for less” by checking into a Florida Kimpton property for the chance to upgrade to the next room category for $29.
The brand also leads the way in areas of environmental protection with its EarthCare program. While Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants continues to lead with a number of firsts, Bill Kimpton’s philosophy regarding customized care is behind every decision. Making that connection is one of the top priorities for the company.
“All of our programs and everything we offer throughout our hotels are born out of the philosophy that we want to make the guest feel emotionally engaged, cared for and connected,” said Leondakis.
These programs range from kid-friendly features such as Kimpton Kids, which offers bathrobes sized for children, booster seats, high-chairs, children’s menus and more to fitness programs designed with renowned fitness expert, Joy Bauer. In 2003, Kimpton introduced a 24-hour, in-room yoga channel and yoga mats were provided to guests. Last year, the fitness program expanded with the Travel Healthy Initiative in partnership with Bauer. The program offers on-demand, wellness-inspired in-room videos as well as healthy in-room dining options.
One of Kimpton’s newest programs is the Live Like a Local program, which is being implemented at all of its hotels in a variety of ways. The program is designed to give guests a more localized experience at each hotel, going beyond the suggestions offered in a guidebook.
The Live Like a Local program goes to the core of Kimpton’s philosophy that his hotels deliver a personalized guest experience with staff recommendations for everything from local dining experiences to cultural and historical sights that are off the beaten path.
Guests can access these recommendations online or in-room via a hard copy. Plans for further implementing the program call for interactive iPads for guests and the addition of French bulletin boards in every lobby listing ideas and suggestions from the staff.
“This new program is based on Bill’s philosophy that staying at a Kimpton Hotel is like being a guest in someone’s home,” said Leondakis.
Just as Kimpton was concerned about caring for his guests, he also cared about the environment, which he saw as an extension of this idea.
“Bill was before his time,” said Leondakis. “One of our earliest hotels had a garden and a running track on the roof.”
The program began in 1981 with Kimpton’s first hotel, the Bedford, which recycled its trash. The Galleria Park included an urban park on its rooftop in 1985, and the Hotel Triton became a model for Kimpton Hotels’ eco-development when it opened its Eco Floor in 1994. The floor featured earth-friendly paint, carpet, drapes and furnishings.
All of the hotels and restaurants began using 100 percent recycled paper and soy inks years ago. And the company replaced paper cups with ceramic cups in all of its offices, across the country. At the suggestion of one employee, Kimpton also removed phone books from its guestrooms to further save paper. Kimpton also brought in 100 percent eco-friendly Sealy beds and mattresses.
While all Kimpton properties have encouraged environmental friendliness, the company took its initiatives to the next level in 2005 by branding EarthCare. The program, perhaps one of the most comprehensive in the industry, includes meeting environmental certifications, making sustainable partnerships, providing tips for travelers, utilizing earth-friendly products and serving local, organic food.
Now that the EarthCare plan has been completely rolled out, Kimpton is in the process of developing new, long-range goals.
“We challenge our employees to find new products and new solutions,” said Leondakis. “Today, there are many more cost-effective solutions.”
As Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants forges into the future, with plans for more urban development as well as the possibility of properties in resort destinations and even a move beyond North America, the company remains grounded in its core philosophies — especially when it comes to fun.
“Bill Kimpton believed that the happiest people are those connected to their inner child,” said Leondakis. “There are great elements of fun that make you giggle at every one of our properties.”
So, as long as clients are admiring the bright, red statue of Sir Francis Drake at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel that bears a striking resemblance to a Jolly Rancher, enjoying a bike ride on one of the hotel’s complimentary bikes or laughing with other guests during cocktail hour, Kimpton will have achieved its goal of providing guests with a home away from home.