Darrell Stark is the Vice President of Revenue Management and Distribution for Noble House Hotels & Resorts, a curated collection of unique hotels and resorts in the US, Canada, and Mexico.
We spoke with him to get to know him better and find out about his journey in the hospitality industry.
In this interview, Darrell spoke about his leadership style, the people that mentored him along the way, and his predictions for the industry for the rest of 2022.
Can you tell us a little about your career and your role with Noble House?
We have 25 properties, a mixture of both owned and managed assets. I started my career in front office operations as a college intern; I have a degree in hospitality administration. While many of my classmates have transitioned out of the industry, I have stuck with it all these years. I joined Noble House over 18 years ago, starting as a property DoRM and working my way up into various leadership roles. I think the job itself is one of the best in the world. I get to work with amazing associates and partners. Our hotels are all unique in trends, demand, mix of business, location, and design. When you combine all of that with a best-in-class culture, I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Can you expand a little on your journey from being an individual property DoRM to now, and the steps you took along the way?
My first DoRM role was at Laplaya Beach and Golf Resort in Naples, Florida. Noble House had other properties in the market and about a year later, they asked if I wanted to take on another hotel, which I did. They recognized success in that and expanded my responsibilities, overseeing a cluster of hotels in the Keys. Through acquisitions, I kept adding on more hotels and held various roles. I was afforded the opportunity to mentor other people. When we had a DoRM on property it was nice to be able to go in and lend insight into what our philosophies, techniques, and strategies were. In 2011 the big move happened, I relocated to the Pacific Northwest as a corporate director, and shortly thereafter I was promoted to the VP role for the company.
In terms of your mentors along the way, is there anybody that stands out in your career?
There are a couple that are specific to this discipline, one of which was a former general manager who had trust in me from the very beginning. Through him, I learned that we always have to have that trust whenever you bring somebody into a hotel, whether they're experienced with the company or not. You have to have confidence in the people you select and give them the room to be able to make the decisions and partner with them to find the success story.
Another mentor is my current leader. Sean was the director of sales and marketing when I started at LaPlaya. Currently, he is the president of acquisitions, sales, and revenue for Noble House. Sean challenges you to look at things in different ways. He trusts your decisions and how you manage your discipline.
In their own way, both people have taught me an invaluable lesson. To be successful you need to get out of people's way. As a leader you are there to mentor, not do their job. When mentored correctly that associate will deliver strong results and grow professionally.
How would you say COVID-19 shaped your leadership style?
Relationships have always been important. COVID led to challenges with how to maintain, build and support existing and new relationships in a remote world. Conversations no longer started with brief talks about “how are you?” Checking in with associates, partners and colleagues had new meaning. We were all concerned; concerned about people's health, their family’s health, and their overall well-being. Email became less frequent, and picking up the phone and talking became more frequent.
These conversations strengthened relationships. As a leader I became even more engaged than ever, balancing conversations to be less about the transactional topics.
Any advice to anybody who's considering a career in hospitality, whether it be revenue or any other discipline within?
Wherever you start in hospitality, don't expect to end there. I started at the front desk, and a lot of people start on the ‘frontlines’. You should explore your options. Always keep your eyes open; don't shut yourself off to opportunity. That's the coolest thing about this business: it can lead you to your real long-term calling.
What are your expectations from your technology providers over the next 12-18 months?
First and foremost, the spirit of partnership. And that’s a pretty open-ended thing. I want Duetto to alert me if you think something looks awry with the way that we're providing data, for example. Or if there's a trend that maybe you're privy to that doesn't look right for us now.
Additionally, allow us to be a voice. Things have changed significantly from where they were two or three years ago. The expectation of technology needs has changed. Because of the environment that we live in today, I think that we're all looking at things way differently than we ever did before and we can't stay confined to the way that we were doing business. So we're asking our partners to also help us look at things differently, and be willing to invest if they can't flex to it right away.
What are your predictions for the industry for the rest of 2022?
We went into the year not knowing if there would be a fall-off in demand, but now we have a lot more confidence that will likely carry through the rest of the year. I think urban will continue to struggle, and that group is coming back. How quickly depends on the region a hotel is located in. Generally speaking, the sentiment is that people want to meet as a group. Interestingly enough, we thought we would see price resistance by now but that hasn’t happened.
I think the big question mark that’s important for our business still to this day, is international. When is it going to return? When will a domestic consumer or traveler feel confident enough again to make those travels outside of the domestic US? We know they're going to the Caribbean and Mexico etc, but in terms of those further regions, it seems people are still very hesitant to do it and we need to look at how that will impact our business.