Q&A with Bill Walshe Viceroy Hotel Group

Nearly two decades old, Viceroy Hotel Group is known for its creativity, comfort and advanced service. Currently, the Los Angeles-based hotel group has 14 properties, having recently opened Viceroy Los Cabos in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico. While there won’t be any additional openings for the remainder of 2018, Viceroy’s ski-in, ski-out resort in Serbia will open in 2019.

Hotel Business reached out to CEO Bill Walshe to learn more about the company and its future plans.

What’s something our readers may not know about Viceroy? We’re an 18-year-old brand, and we’re still considered to be a very young, modern luxury brand. Viceroy Santa Monica was the first branded Viceroy product ever, and in the coming year, it will be renovated. Viceroy Hotel Group is thought of having just arrived, likely because we’re still demonstrating this kind of childlike enthusiasm, so people just assume we must be new at what we do.

How would you describe the typical Viceroy hotel? It’s important for us to have hotels and resorts that contribute positively to their communities and destinations. The “typical Viceroy” needs to be a hotel that makes people say, “Wow.” It may not be for everyone, and I’m OK with that. If everybody who walks into a Viceroy gets why we’ve done what we’ve done and respects the intent, and then 20% of them say, “But it’s not for me,” that’s fine. In fact, if we’re creating hotels that satisfy everyone, 365 days a year, then we’re not delivering sufficient individuality.

There will never be a warehouse where we’ve built a model room and I walk in and say, “I love it. Put it everywhere.” We’re the opposite extreme. We make sure our designers know what the portfolio is like. They’re not allowed to mimic a design feature from one hotel into another. I don’t care if the hotel has 40 keys or 400 keys—it doesn’t matter. The purpose behind why we do what we do and what our guests want us to do doesn’t change.

Viceroy recently expanded its Latin American presence with Viceroy Los Cabos. What’s the company’s strategy in the region? Latin American culture is spontaneous, and so is ours. It’s about being in the moment, and I find that when you walk into a restaurant anywhere in Latin America, you see a big family, and everyone is talking at the same time, and it’s incredibly intense—it’s brilliant.

We’re excited about our Panama and Buenos Aires openings, but we’re not done in Mexico yet by any means. I am intent on getting a hotel in Nicaragua because I love it. Cartagena keeps me awake at night with excitement, so you’re going to see us play a lot there.

How do you go about acquiring talent? Talent is naturally drawn to Viceroy Hotel Group because our brand ideology is so strong and speaks to people in an authentic way. We aim to offer the opportunity to be part of something bigger. Working with Viceroy Hotel Group will be more than just having a good job, getting good training and getting paid. We have an incredible team at the company today, and we’re focused on retaining this talent rather than solely focusing on acquiring.

In a TED Talk, you said: “Our job is to create environments that make people proud.” How does Viceroy do this on a day-to-day basis? Viceroy aims to bring back the spontaneity and humanity to hospitality, and ensures the environments we create are ones to be proud of. We also empower our employees and encourage them to go above and beyond for our guests by acknowledging not only their successes, but also their efforts. If an employee tries to go the extra mile for a guest but bends a rule in the process, they should still be rewarded. It’s important to build confidence at the front line, so that our teams are inspired to do the right thing—in the moment—and provide our guests with the most memorable experience possible.

In early 2017, Viceroy introduced three brand tiers. Why was this? The introduction of the three collections was driven by our desire to be easy to do business with. Our hotels and resorts are each hugely individual, but there are collections within our total portfolio that share a particular attitude, vibe and characteristic.

We created the tiers to express the individuality of the collectives. It’s not intended to be a vertical hierarchy. We’re not saying Icon is better than Lifestyle; they’re just different from each other. The Icons are full-service, typically higher priced and toward or at the top of their competitive set and market. Lifestyle is a bit more stripped back and relaxed. The Urban Retreats are those total one-off couture, bespoke expressions of their individuality.  

How do you balance personal and professional life as a C-suite exec? I adore what I do, and I feel very lucky to do it. I think you can put people into two categories. There are those who live to work and those who work to live. I work to live, unashamedly, and that doesn’t mean I work any less than someone who lives to work.

Family is my number-one purpose, to create the opportunity to make them proud, so from that perspective, I have no difficulty with work/life balance because I know one is more important than the other—life.

What are some trends Viceroy’s paying attention to that others aren’t? We’re focused on the purpose of why we’re here, which is to be an innkeeper and a host, first and always, and not forget the purpose of hospitality. We shouldn’t be afraid to talk about purpose. There are top brands in many other sectors talking about purpose, and I think hospitality, and hotels in particular, are getting left behind.

What are Viceroy’s plans for 2019? In 2019, we’ll be focused on the exciting opening of our ski-in, ski-out resort in Serbia. Five years from now, I hope we are happy and proud. There is no target number for how many properties we will aim to have, but as long as the stakeholders of the Viceroy Hotels & Resorts universe are happy and proud of what we’re doing, then we will be in a good place. HB