From the seaside of Cape Cod,
to the mountains of Vermont, to the
glitz of Las Vegas, alumni in the
hospitality industry make guests feel
at home wherever they roam.
BY John Crawford
Built by a sea captain in 1839, The Captain’s House Inn is an inviting bed and breakfast where bottles of sherry and port wait for guests in the library, afternoon tea and scones are served in the dining room, and all of the inn’s 16 rooms have a fireplace.
Jill Meyer ’99 and her husband, James, have been innkeepers since 2003 and have owned The Captain’s House in the quaint town of Chatham, Mass., since 2006. While he handles the inn’s accounting and marketing, Jill Meyer answers emails, processes reservations, and makes a point of meeting every guest. The self-described “people person” helps serve guests breakfast and offers them advice about dinner reservations and ferry rides. “I love working with people on vacation,” Meyer says. “It’s people having a good time.”
Meyer always has had an entrepreneurial bent. “It was in my blood,” she says. Growing up, she started a lemonade stand, a baking business, and an ambitious baby-sitting venture, inspired by The Baby-Sitters Club books, where she and four friends formed a play group for about 15 children.
Meyer and James met and began dating in high school, the two of them living just three blocks from each other in New Jersey. When fantasying about the future, they talked about owning an inn. “We grew up together,” she says. “We developed dreams together.” That innkeeper dream never went away, though the couple assumed it would be something they pursued when they were much older. At Babson, Meyer developed a business plan for an inn, but in the years after graduation, she worked in unfulfilling administrative jobs. “I wasn’t finding my niche,” she says.
Then one day in 2003, James sent her an email. An inn was for sale in Chatham. “What do you think?” he asked. At that point, the idea of owning an inn seemed far away, but the couple was headed to Chatham that weekend anyway, so they decided to check out the property. “We thought we were wasting the Realtor’s time,” Meyer says. Instead, they fell in love with the bed and breakfast, known as the Carriage House Inn (which, coincidentally, sits right next door to the larger inn they own today). James, who majored in hospitality management and was working at a Boston hotel, crunched the numbers, and the idea of owning an inn suddenly seemed doable. The couple decided to go for it.
Jill Meyer ’99 of The Captain’s House Inn in Chatham, Mass. Below: In season, The Captain’s House Inn has about 15 staff members. Their mission is to make sure vacationers have a great time. “I try to meet every single guest” says Meyer.
Top of page (teapot), above and below photos: Tom Kates
The purchase wasn’t without risk. The six-room Carriage House was floundering, averaging a year-round occupancy of only 19 percent. To turn the place around, the couple developed a long-overdue website with an online booking system. They also dropped rates and added TVs and coffee makers to every room, as well as free sample sizes of shampoo and conditioner, a simple yet standard hotel practice that had been ignored at the Carriage House.
These efforts worked. The couple started seeing repeat guests, and after two years, the occupancy rate tripled. Such success, though, came with a price. With no staff, Meyer and her husband did everything themselves, from the laundry and housekeeping to the marketing and checking in of guests. Every morning, he cooked breakfast while she served it, and every evening, she spent a couple of long hours ironing sheets while watching TV.
And no matter how tired they were, they always had to be friendly and available to a guest, even if that meant pushing off dinner plans because they had to wait for late-arriving out-of-towners to check in. “You have to make them feel welcome,” Meyer says. “This is their vacation.” All this work is why innkeepers typically leave the business after only five to seven years, Meyer says. Many buy their inns later in life and think they’ll spend easy-going days chatting up guests from distant places. “They don’t realize all the work involved,” she says. “It’s not the romantic vision.”
Growing weary of the inn’s daily drudgery, the couple made a change. They sold the Carriage House and bought the bed and breakfast they currently own, The Captain’s House, which offers more rooms, a distinguished four-diamond award from AAA, and greater revenue potential. In season, it has about 15 staff members, including a chef, maintenance man, housekeepers, and student interns, who come from England to learn the hospitality business. With that staff comes a bit more freedom and flexibility, which is essential given that the couple now has two children, ages 2 and 4. The couple also lives on the inn’s grounds, their home mere steps away from their work.
Running an inn certainly can take over the owners’ lives, but thankfully, Meyer and her husband, the people person and the number cruncher, the high school sweethearts turned innkeepers, make a good team. “We’re together all the time,” Meyer says. “We’re working side by side. We’ve learned how not to get on each other’s nerves.” For Meyer, owning an inn is the culmination of long-ago plans dreamed up as a smitten teenager. “I love people,” she says. “I love all the little details. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”
The Trapp Family Lodge is owned by the family made famous by The Sound of Music. “This is a Disney-like brand,” says Walter Frame ’87.
Photo: Natalie Stultz
Every fall during leaf-peeping season, tour buses arrive in Stowe, Vt., full of sightseers eager to experience a little movie magic. They disembark at the Trapp Family Lodge, which is owned by the von Trapp family of The Sound of Music fame. “It’s almost like a pilgrimage,” says Walter Frame ’87, an executive vice president of the lodge.
After fleeing Nazi-occupied Austria, the singing von Trapps came to America and bought the Stowe property in 1942, starting in the hospitality business by renting out empty rooms when the family was touring. Over the decades, the venture grew. Today, the youngest of the 10 von Trapp children, Johannes von Trapp, is the lodge’s owner and president. His mother was Maria, the governess memorably portrayed by Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music.
Sitting on a hillside overlooking the valley of Stowe, the Trapp Family Lodge rests among the Green Mountains. On its 2,500 acres, it offers cross-country skiing in the winter and hiking and mountain biking in the summer. For accommodations, the property’s main lodge has 96 rooms, while 120 townhouses on the grounds are available to rent or own. “It’s a beautiful property, but having the von Trapp name attached to it differentiates it,” Frame says.
Frame’s connection to the lodge is more than just a business one. He’s married to Kristina von Trapp, Johannes’ daughter. The couple has two daughters and lives on the property, and Kristina does public relations for the lodge. Not having been a Sound of Music fan growing up, Frame didn’t realize her family relations when they first met. “I wasn’t a von Trapp fanatic,” he says. They dated about a month before his mother eventually figured out who Kristina’s family was.
Before coming to the lodge, Frame worked in resort operations management in Aspen, Col., and then as vice president and director of real estate development at Stowe Mountain Resort. At the resort, he oversaw the development of a $500 million planned community, which included a hotel, performing arts center, golf course, and skier services building. “It was intense,” he says. “Think of a ski area starting from scratch.” He came to the Trapp Family Lodge last year, lured by the chance to work with family. “The opportunity to do that is something you don’t turn down,” he says. “Every decision is very personal now.”
Overlooking The Trapp Family Lodge.
Photo: Natalie Stultz
As an executive vice president of the lodge, Frame serves as operations manager and constantly meets with the directors of its many departments: food and beverage, rooms, sales and marketing, revenue, and finance. “I make sure the trains run on time,” Frame says. “Every department has to be firing on all cylinders.” If not, a guest’s visit can be marred. Just one bad experience, say with check-in or a room, and a bad taste can linger in a guest’s mouth for an entire stay. “You could serve the best meal after that, but it doesn’t matter,” Frame says.
Frame also makes sure the lodge remains competitive with its pricing and keeps tabs on competitors, the weather, the lodge’s room inventory, and upcoming events in the area. He’ll do what’s needed to fill rooms. If on a Tuesday, for instance, he sees two feet of snow are coming for the weekend, he may offer an incentive to entice guests to stay for an extra day.
Frame runs the lodge with Johannes, one of the four surviving von Trapp children and the only one involved with the business, and Johannes’ son, Sam. Focused on marketing, Sam von Trapp is an executive vice president and serves as the face of the lodge. Excluding guests from Canada, international visitors make up just 5 percent of the lodge’s business, so Sam conducts publicity abroad. The Japanese and Chinese are particularly fanatical about the von Trapps, Frame says.
How much to play up the family legacy, though, is a continual question. “This is a Disney-like brand,” Frame says. “We don’t want to abuse it. We want to tastefully leverage it.” Walk around the lodge, and one might be surprised by how little the von Trapp story is emphasized. “We don’t plaster The Sound of Music logo and pictures of Julie Andrews around the resort,” says Frame, who points out the von Trapps have never profited from The Sound of Music because Maria von Trapp sold the rights to the family story to a German film company before the popular movie and musical came out.
The lodge does offer tours, which give a look at the family’s history. One of the von Trapps, whether Johannes, Kristina, or Sam, always accompanies the guests. “Everyone wants to meet a von Trapp,” Frame says.
Nehme Abouzeid, MBA’03, works for Las Vegas Sands Corp., which owns many hotel casinos, including The Venetian. He’s busy at all hours. “I’m always on call,” he says. “The hotels never close.”
Photo: Jared McMillen
Sin City is bright, big, and bold. It’s a long way from Cape Cod and Vermont, both literally and figuratively. “When I go to other cities that aren’t 24/7, it gets a little boring,” says Nehme Abouzeid, MBA’03, of Henderson, Nev. “Other cities aren’t as exciting to me anymore.”
Abouzeid works for Las Vegas Sands Corp., which not only owns The Venetian and The Palazzo luxury hotel casinos in Vegas, but also resorts in Macau and Singapore, two booming hot spots for gambling. Compared to the size and scale of The Captain’s House Inn and Trapp Family Lodge, this is the hospitality industry writ large. The Venetian and Palazzo combined have nearly 7,100 rooms, not to mention numerous operations under one roof, such as shops, restaurants, nightclubs, and theaters.
Working in the hotel and casino business actually wasn’t Abouzeid’s first choice for a career. Studying journalism in college, he became a reporter for The Daily Star in Beirut and later produced a nationally syndicated news program for an NPR station in Los Angeles. While studying at Babson for his MBA, he wrote for the Boston Business Journal. Journalism, however, ran its course for Abouzeid, who didn’t enjoy the grind of constantly cranking out stories.
After graduating from Babson, he originally planned to move back to LA. Abouzeid enjoyed the city’s lifestyle, and he thought he could try to parlay his media experience and MBA degree into work in Hollywood. But then everything changed when he visited his sister in Las Vegas. Having worked a long time in the hotel casino industry, she introduced him to The Venetian’s president. A job ultimately followed. That was eight years ago. Gaming may not be a typical MBA career path such as finance, investment banking, or consulting, but it’s an industry that needs diverse business skills. “I fell into it, and it’s been good to me,” says Abouzeid.
Abouzeid first worked in IT as a project manager and then corporate strategist. A few years later, he moved over to the entertainment side of operations, where his responsibilities included scouting and signing talent to appear at the casinos. Tim Allen, Craig Ferguson, Chazz Palminteri, Joan Rivers, and David Spade are all entertainers he signed for Sands Corp. properties. Other events he booked included PBS concerts, New Year’s Eve shows starring Fergie and En Vogue, and randomly enough, a table tennis tournament, The Hardback Classic, featuring hundreds of participants competing at dozens of tables for a $100,000 prize. “They were trying to make pingpong cool,” Abouzeid says. “It was the wackiest thing.” He even hosted a series of public events with sports legends such as race car driver Tony Stewart and boxer Joe Frazier, who gave Abouzeid a mock punch to the chin.
Deciding which acts to sign is a critical decision. Vegas is loaded with casinos, and they’re all trying to entice guests to walk through their doors. “They all have showrooms that they program with top-notch entertainment,” Abouzeid says. “On any given weekend, you could have big-name acts like Seinfeld, Jay-Z, Celine Dion, and many more competing for the visitor’s discretionary dollar.” Such competitiveness extends to everything in Vegas. Hotels can charge only so much for a room, so they’re always looking for new ways to grow revenue and outdo each other. In recent years, hotels were spending tens of millions of dollars building pool clubs, and the latest trend has hotels paying popular DJs millions to play their venues. “The competition in Vegas is insane,” Abouzeid says.
Currently, as director of partnership marketing, Abouzeid is in charge of strategic alliances that the Sands Corp. makes with luxury, consumer goods, and travel and tourism companies. These partnerships are a way for the Sands Corp. to expose its brand to new audiences. For instance, it made an agreement with the Intercontinental Hotel Group, which has more than 4,500 hotels in 100 countries, that allows IHG loyalty program members to earn and use their points at The Venetian and Palazzo.
Because of the always-on-the-go nature of Vegas, plus the fact that he’s often traveling or on conference calls to Macau and Singapore, Abouzeid works at all hours. That can make sleep a challenge. “I’m always on call,” he says. “The hotels never close.” Gaming may be a superheated environment, but it’s also a profitable one. When Abouzeid joined the Sands Corp. in 2004, its annual revenue was $700 million. In 2011, that figure jumped to $9.4 billion, at a time when gambling as a business continues to flourish and expand around the world. Macau’s gaming revenue is now much larger than that of Vegas, and in the U.S., states keep eyeing casinos as a potential source of tax revenue and jobs.
Working for a growing company in a growing industry, Abouzeid is enjoying himself. He hopes to continue climbing the industry’s executive ranks. “You bring your A-game in this business every day,” he says.