Like many hospitality leaders, Dan Flannery was given a shot at a humble job, teaching him lessons he would take with him throughout his illustrious career and igniting his love for the hotel business. Flannery got his start in hospitality at just 18 years old, bussing and waiting on tables. He joined the Marriott family in 1981 at the opening of the original Gaithersburg Marriott, growing to helm its luxury boutique brand, EDITION. Hotel Business spoke with the executive about his roots in the industry, his success with the EDITION brand and his plans for navigating the pandemic—and we even got a peek into where he got his entrepreneurial spirit.
How did you get involved in the hospitality industry? I got into the business through hourly restaurant jobs in a Marriott hotel in Maryland to earn my college tuition. I found I always enjoyed and thrived in the most chaotic positions—working the door of a busy restaurant, working the pass in the kitchen, or behind a bar when the crowd was “three deep.” I loved the energy and the challenge.
What was it like entering the industry at just 18 years old? How did it prepare you for your job now? I didn’t plan on making a career of the hotel business, but got great mentorship early on in my life. David Ofeish was my maitre d’ and encouraged me to take my first captain and supervisor roles. When I watched the way he operated on the floor, I knew I wanted to try to do what he did some day. Paul Davies was running a big nightclub in the same hotel and offered me a supervisor position with no bar experience because he liked my work ethic. I was still in college and was supervising people who were much older than me. This experience both forced me to learn how to earn the trust of those you lead and also the importance of mentoring young leaders and giving them opportunities.
How have you seen the industry evolve? Marriott grew from one brand to 30. Luxury has become much less formal and stuffy. Hotels used to run the best restaurants and bars in town but eventually lost focus on this business for two reasons, I think. The first is that the restaurant and bar business changes much faster than the hotel business. The second is that it is a low-margin business, so it got less focus and investment over time. Now, with more owners and operators trying to run lifestyle hotels, there seems to be a renewed commitment to F&B. Restaurants and bars really do largely determine the personality of a lifestyle hotel.
What’s the most challenging part of your position? Time zones and jet lag. We have hotels from West Hollywood to Europe to the Middle East, Asia and in between. We will open seven hotels in seven different countries in a 12-month period beginning later this year.
What advice or tips do you have for launching a hotel during a global pandemic? Don’t ignore the future as things won’t always be as dire as they are now. New hotels set their course based on how they open. I can’t think of any great hotels that had a bad opening. Ian Schrager always tells my team and I not to get distracted and to “keep your eye on the bullseye.” He believes sustained success in this industry comes down to doing a really unique, original, inspiring product that lifts your spirits and combining those visuals with service that is skilled, personal and gracious. That will always be the formula.
What changes has EDITION made to adhere to new safety protocols? Cleanliness has always been critical, but people need to see it now. It can be difficult to enforce behavioral changes like masks, but it was tough to get people to stop smoking indoors in the ’90s also. We have changed layouts and seating arrangements to maintain safe distances. Nightclubs can’t return until vaccines have made a significant impact on the infection rates.
Can you detail EDITION’s growth? What’s in the works and on the horizon? Later this year, we will open Reykjavik, followed in some order by Rome, Madrid, Ginza, Dubai, Tampa and Riviera Maya at Kanai. There are another eight signed deals behind that under construction and 10 more in the pipeline. We think six of those could sign this year, which would be a record year for us. Go figure. This would bring us to 36 hotels. I think in five years, we could be on our path to 50.
How do you maintain a work/life balance? I love what I do so I don’t count hours. Most people I know who want to do something special have to be willing to make sacrifices and work hard. I’m lucky that I met my wife in this business (I was a waiter and she was a bartender when we started dating), so she knows the business and is very supportive. We have a house at the shore that is a magnet to bring our kids and three grandchildren together often, and that gives us a chance to create some great memories.
What’s something the industry may not know about you? My father was an entrepreneur and inventor. He actually invented and patented the first radar braking system for cars back in 1970. He was 40 years ahead of what Elon Musk could eventually do with that technology.
What challenges is the industry facing. How do you plan on overcoming those? Leisure travel will lead the recovery—and it will be a longer path back for business travel and group business. In my experience, leisure travel is more demanding and uses more of our services. There is a segment that is price-driven and books through OTAs, but the high-end traveler uses agencies and travel counselors, and takes advantage of consortia programs and benefits. Our relationships with our travel industry partners have always been critical for us, but will never be more important than they will be now.
Is there anything else readers should know about you or EDITION? Ian’s team has been with him for 10-20 years, with his president going back to Studio 54. Many members of my operations team have now worked on EDITION since the beginning, back in 2009 and have opened 10-12 hotels together now. We can finish each other’s sentences now. They are the most talented and passionate people I know in the business. Our longevity together is such a big advantage.