The Art Of Hospitality

By Robin Graf
Wednesday - August 20, 2008
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Robin Graf

By Robin Graf
General Manager, The Wyland Waikiki

Working in Hawaii’s hospitality industry and managing a brand new (literally) hotel like The Wyland Waikiki is a challenge that I love. After all, tourism is the state’s economic engine, and as we head into some tough times, I see great potential and opportunity for us to do great things to keep our visitors coming.

Here at The Wyland Waikiki, we’re getting back to the basics of the hotel business while pursuing creativity in the way we market the hotel.

I should begin by noting I’ve been living in Hawaii for 25 years -longer than anywhere else, including my hometown of Thousand Oaks, Calif. This is an important piece to my story because living here has really taught me about people, especially the kamaaina - those who were born and raised here - and the malihini who have moved here and embraced the lifestyle. They are compassionate, hospitable, respectful, accommodating and most importantly, honest.

This understanding really shaped me into the type of person I am, and is one of the best leadership lessons one could ever learn. In business, we make tough decisions many times in dealing with people, but I believe if you are honest, compassionate and respectful, then you have fulfilled your leadership responsibilities with “no shame.”

It’s with this philosophy each staff member here at The Wyland Waikiki works, and it’s one of the basic fundamental rules of the hospitality industry I won’t let them forget. It’s the difference between keeping a guest for life or losing them forever. The customer experience at our property is paramount, so we treat every guest who enters our doors like he or she is part of the ohana. I believe people want to vacation where they feel respected and appreciated, and our hotel is a good example of that. It’s one of life’s most basic principles, but one forgotten many times in the service industry.

The Wyland Waikiki
The Wyland Waikiki staff with general manager Robin Graf and marine life artist Wyland

Even with all the management experience in the world, I anticipated taking on the job as general manager of The Wyland Waikiki was going to have its challenges. We are the first art-design hotel in Hawaii, the only Wyland branded hotel in the world and an unfamiliar brand, period.

Travelers tend to stick with major hotel brands, so how were we going to convince people to take a chance with us? Aligning with one of Hawaii’s most respected hospitality management companies and word of mouth never hurts.

The hotel opened last March when Outrigger Enterprises Group assumed management of The Wyland Waikiki. Opening in a down market last year was a risk. The upside was the strength of Outrigger’s brand name in the travel market, which helped us hit the ground running and with a marketing plan to introduce us to the world. We haven’t looked back since.

Playing on the unique art-inspired and contemporary ambience of the hotel, I like to do things differently to market ourselves. One such tool is a blog I recently launched - Drop In To The Wyland Waikiki ( - in which I share my stories about managing the property, insights on the tourism industry, and my passion for surfing, travel and pure living in Hawaii.

I’m finding the blog and use of other social media tools are giving us low-cost (or zero cost) opportunities to reach large audiences of customers who use the Internet as a vital tool in vacation planning. Allowing people to get to know me and learn about Hawaii via my hotel is a great way to create and sustain relationships.

As we head into uncertain economic times ahead, I’m focusing on the things I can control and trying to make them better every day. For that, I’m fortunate to have a great team around me here at The Wyland Waikiki and to be working in a destination like Hawaii.


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