Independent hotels cater to elite business travelers

"No man is an island," says Marshall Calder, a marketing executive at Leading Hotels of the World, an affiliation of 450 mostly independent luxury hotels worldwide, including about 70 in the USA. "An independent hotel needs some level of affiliation."

But the loyalty of guests such as Aaron Rosand of New Canaan, Conn., is key to the survival of the independents. A concert violinist who visits Philadelphia often to teach at The Curtis Institute of Music, he always stays at The Rittenhouse.

"I feel so at home," Rosand says. "It's like having a big family."

The 145-room Hay-Adams in Washington, which is affiliated with Leading Hotels, depends heavily on its historical name, reputation for service and prestigious location. Many upper-floor rooms, for instance, have a great view of the White House.

Highly personalized service

Since opening 80 years ago, the hotel has catered to a guest list that includes Amelia Earhart, Sinclair Lewis and Charles Lindbergh.

Its occupancy rate and revenue have grown steadily over the last three years, says Hans Bruland, the general manager. Its main strength is highly personalized service, he says.

"The hotel has built its reputation over the years, but customer loyalty can change swiftly if we didn't meet their expectations," he says.

A renovation six years ago refurbished the lobby and guest rooms and delivered wireless Internet. Guest rooms contain bulky tube TVs in armoires, but flat-panel TVs will be installed in all the rooms this year. The hotel is also replacing all bedding and installing new windows that retain a historic look.

The 428-room Adolphus in Dallas has a worldwide reputation partly because of The French Room, the hotel's award-winning restaurant. It just completed its best year for sales and occupancy, says Tom Garcia, the hotel's general manager.

Still, it's not enough, he says. The hotel added about $1 million of art in the lobby and renovated suites to meet the competition.

It's also working with Neiman Marcus to design a suite that reflects the tastes of the high-end hometown department store.

Nat Coleman, a wholesale produce executive from Palestine, Texas, usually stays at The Adolphus because of its service. A fan of the University of Texas football team, Coleman says that Adolphus employees call him each year to remind him to book a room when his team plays the rival University of Oklahoma team.

"If I were to go to another spot, I'd feel like I was betraying them," he says.

Garcia says that they take pride in knowing customers' needs.

"This is how it used to be before the brands got too big," he says.

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