NEW YORK—For Portuguese hotel company Pestana Hotel Group, the opening of its 100th property took on more significance because it is located in New York City.
“It is a very important, symbolic moment,” said José Roquette, chief development officer, Pestana Hotel Group, “[because] it happened in New York. If it was the 100th hotel, but in Portugal, our home base, it would not have the same feel. With New York, we are now entering probably the most competitive market in the world in terms of hotels.”
The 27-floor, 95-guestroom Pestana Park Avenue is the second property for the company in the U.S., which it first entered in Miami two years ago. “Although we are very well established in Europe, South America and South Africa, we are just starting in the U.S.; we have had the Miami operation for two years, but it is only one hotel. At our inauguration event here, I used the phrase, ‘If we can make it here, we can make it anywhere,’” he said.
Roquette said that there are several characteristics—available in all Pestana properties—that make the hotel distinctive from others in New York. “In the last decade, New York had two major development types,” he said. “You had, of course, the upper-luxury products, which continue to be built in New York, and you had a lot of limited-service midscale. We had to find the room between these two major market segments, and we thought that in that location, being a small property, we should do a boutique type of hotel.”
It was important that the hotel have a cozy feel. “We wanted to explore that homey feeling,” he said. “It is like you are entering the living room of a nice house. You don’t feel like you are in a hotel lobby, but in a home.”
That homey feeling continues with the fact that each floor of the hotel only has four rooms. “You can also go down to the kitchen as if you were in your own house,” said Roquette. “You go down there, you grab a coffee and you just have another reinforcement of that feeling of the home-like product, which adds to the New York offer very well.”
Genuine Portuguese hospitality is also on display. “In such a competitive market like New York, we really want to be authentic,” he said. “If it were not authentic, it would not really make much sense. Doing another product like all of the others would not differentiate us from our competitors.”
Portuguese hospitality is a consequence of the country’s history, according to Roquette. “Portugal is nearly 1,000 years old,” he said. “Our history is made of dealings with all races, all religions, all cultures. That is pretty much the characteristics of the Portuguese. That is a way of doing hospitality, which we believe to be extremely inclusive and very friendly. We will differentiate ourselves by the friendliness of the staff. Sometimes, we insist too much in this business on technical skills, but we hire for attitude and then we train for skills in order to achieve this outstanding hospitality, which we believe is a Portuguese specialty.”
That Portuguese hospitality ties in with the ability for guests to go to grab something to eat in the kitchen. “There is this culture in Portugal that if you come to my home, you have to taste my food, and we will be proud of serving you our own food and for you to really feel free to taste everything,” he said. “That is also an element that we introduced. Of course, as we go by, we learn from the customers if they like it or something else, and we will adapt. It is definitely something that we wanted to also add to that Portuguese touch.”
A traditional Portuguese custard tart called Pastel de Nata is also available to guests in all of the company’s properties. “People in hospitality tend to remember flavors and smells much more than we tend to believe,” said Roquette. “Sometimes, we over-invest in design steps, and we forget that people might remember the smell or the taste of something they experienced for years and years much more than they remember how beautiful a lobby was with fantastic chandeliers. To explore the senses that the guests have is something that we really believe in and, of course, we try to bring some of our own food to reinforce the Portuguese distinction.”
The company has plans for more hotels in the New York area, with a second property scheduled to open on the West Side of Manhattan during the summer. Another hotel is in the works for Newark, NJ, to open within two years. “We are looking at several other markets,” he said. “We are looking at the Boston market as a natural step for us. Also, Washington, DC, is a market that makes a lot of sense for us. We will basically concentrate our next five years on development of the East Coast, and after that, we will reach other destinations.” HB