In Search of Hotel Excellence: Fairmont Austin

When you think of Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, what comes to mind? Is it an iconic, historic railway hotel such as the one in the Banff Springs in Alberta? Or, are you thinking about the iconic Fairmont Hotel atop Nob Hill in San Francisco? Perhaps it’s Le Château Frontenac in Quebec City printed onto the fronts of four-out-of-five postcards made in Canada.

This is what I had on my mind on a recent trip to Austin, where I had heard of the newest property in this luxury chain – its first domestic opening since the Accor acquisition. On hand to greet me was Tom Voss, the property’s managing director and an old friend from his days at the Grand Del Mar just north of San Diego, and Michael McMahon, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing who is well known from his tenure at Ritz-Carlton.  Like two kids in a candy shop, Tom and Mike were eager to show off this incredible new property and how it fits into the booming marketplace for hotels that is Central Texas.

The launch is going to be a milestone. What ‘firsts’ will the Fairmont Austin deliver?
Tom: “In addition to the obvious firsts such as Austin’s largest hotel, the most hotel meeting space and the only full-service spa in the downtown core, probably the most prominent first will be the addition of such a high-end luxury hotel offering. Besides the Four Seasons Austin and a small handful of select boutique options, Austin has been lacking a truly VIP hotel experience. Fairmont Austin’s Gold product will redefine what visitors to Austin have come to expect from the city in regards to top-tier service.”

Tom Voss, Managing DirectorMichael McMahon, Director of Sales & Marketing 

With 1,048 guest rooms and suites, how do you keep up the service levels?
Tom: “This is always a challenge in hotels of this size, especially one that may be perceived as a convention center hotel. Because we want to stay dedicated to creating a luxury experience that is unmatched in the market, Fairmont Austin has created an entire VIP services team led by our Director of VIP Services, Justin Robbins, with initiatives to make every guest feel like a VIP.”

Mike: “One of the keys to delivering luxury-level service in a hotel of this size is to diversify the mix of business in the hotel between meetings/events, high-profile business travelers and leisure guests seeking top-tier luxury. Austin’s destination is evolving and very diversified, so using our international distribution from Accor will allow us to attract new visitors from around the globe. With this in mind, having an operations team in place that can deliver the luxury service standards that these guests expect as well as personify the experience will give us a creative edge in the market.”

At 140,000 square feet, the meeting space is truly Texas-sized. What is your team doing to fill it?
Tom: “We are, of course, taking the usual steps needed in our industry, such as working very closely with our CVB and building an incredible team of sellers to travel and maximize on our outstanding product and space. To fill these spaces during the shoulder seasons and times that don’t have large conferences or city-wides, being considered relevant and prominent within the Austin community will help a great deal with local galas, weddings and social events.”

Mike: “We have been on the ground for almost three years with a sales and marketing team experienced in the art of preselling in the high-profile group market. Working closely with Visit Austin and Accor’s Global Sales Organization, we have been very successful in layering in the group business (with both room block and event space/banquet needs) necessary for the hotel to reach stabilization within the first two or three years.”

Give us a rundown of the market factors you looked at before starting construction planning.
Mike: “The supply and demand dynamics in Austin’s central business district over the last four years have been favorable to new development and the shortage of luxury brands, such as Fairmont, was clearly evident. Austin’s popularity as a visitor destination as well as a market for group meetings and large gatherings is also changing from a state/regional market focus to a national/international market, and as a new destination for premium corporate group and incentive trips. This trend has only picked up steam over the past three years since we did our initial research of the Austin market.”

What lessons have you learned from the process of a new property build?
Tom: “Stay positive, stay flexible and be prepared for the unexpected. Bringing to life a project this sophisticated and complex has many moving pieces; you always have to be prepared with an alternative plan while maintaining high spirits with the team and ‘keeping your eyes on the prize’ of completion so to speak.”

Mike: “The best lesson we have learned is to be honest and transparent with all clients, partners and travel intermediaries. Doing the right thing when an issue comes up keeps the clients on your side and supportive for potential future business. It is also important for our sales team, as their personal reputations within their industry are very important to myself and our leadership.”

What features are going to truly wow guests?

  1. The views from our rooms will be absolutely spectacular. With every room having floor-to-ceiling windows, it won’t matter what side of the building your room is located on. Guests will enjoy unobstructed views of Austin’s cityscape, Lady Bird Lake, Texas Hill Country and beyond.
  2. The striking first impression of the lobby when guest arrives to the hotel with design features such as the two grand oak trees leading up to the front desk and the artwork throughout.
  3. The culinary program; with five dining outlets, it is hard to decide which to focus on, but the dining hall concept Revue will truly surprise and delight our guests. While staying true to the locally sourced spirit of the Fairmont brand, our culinary team has had a lot of fun with the varying cultural dining experiences they have created.
  4. The Fairmont Gold personalized arrival experience which includes customizing your stay preferences prior to arrival and during stay, skipping the general check-in experience for a truly VIP arrival within the Gold Lounge, and culinary offerings and unique events happening only in the Gold Lounge.