The Doubletree Hotel downtown might one day end up a chapter in some best-selling book with a title like, "The 100 Best Businesses In America That Went Bust And Then Came Back Like Gangbusters."
Well, OK, so it's not "Megatrends" or "In Search of Excellence," but you get the idea.From bankruptcy and a reputation as a troubled property at the start of 1987, occupancy at the Doubletree has increased from 42 percent to 81 percent, total revenues from 1986 to 1989 are up 96 percent and total gross operating profit has soared 829 percent. And this week it claimed two major awards for excellence.
When construction on the 381-room hotel at 215 W. South Temple began in the spring of 1984, it seemed like a good idea. Triad Center, a block to the west, had not yet self-destructed as a retail/entertainment/restaurant complex and the location made sense for a hotel.
It didn't work out that way. The developer of the project had major financial problems and those carried over when Holiday Inn came on as the franchisee. The hotel seemed star-crossed from the day of ground-breaking to the eventual bankruptcy and announcement by Holiday Inn in June, 1986 that it was terminating its franchise and management agreements with owners Hotel Associates of Utah and Colorado.
When Doubletree Inc., a Phoenix-based chain of 32 hotels nationwide, quietly announced in December, 1986, that it was taking over management of the hotel and had bought a minority interest from lender Great Western Savings of California, no one expected much. It looked like the hotel would become one of those tired enterprises that continually change owners until the wrecking ball eventually puts it out of its misery.
When Doubletree managers arrived in Salt Lake they found what one insider describes as, "A mess. The morale of the employees was below zero and there were no guests in the hotel. It was just a terrible situation."
Now for the happy ending. Twenty-seven months later, the American Hotel and Motel Assoc. has awarded its Gold Key Award to the Salt Lake Doubletree for "The best employee relations program of any individual property in the country" - an honor it won over 9,000 competitors nationwide.
For icing on the cake, the Doubletree home office named the Salt Lake operation "Hotel of the Year" nationwide.
Hotel general manager Roger J. Swadish credit's the Doubletree organization's corporate philosophy for the turnaround. In essence, it says that creating an environment in which employees are happy will mean guests are happy. And happy guests keep coming back.
The hotel's 81 percent occupancy rate is proof enough that the philosophy works.
"We feel terrific about the turnaround," said Swadish. "It's even surprised us. We're getting a good mix of conventions, business travelers, vacationers and weekend skiers."
As for the scaling down of activities at Triad Center, that's been no problem, said Swadish. "The lack of occupancy there hasn't hurt us at all."