Web Exclusive: Q&A with Anna Gomez, Hospitality Gaming Advisors

Anna Gomez, partner at Hospitality Gaming Advisors, recently developed and opened the new W Nashville hotel, which sold in March for a record-breaking $950,000 per key—the largest per-room sales record for any hotel in the city’s history. Alongside business partner Dave Tessier and local partner Mark Bloom, she led the concept, programming and design direction for the hotel, which was developed to showcase a reimagined vision for future W hotels across the globe.

In her more than 20 years in the hospitality and gaming industry, she has also assisted with debt restructuring and operations at the Fontainebleau Resort in Miami Beach; worked with Ian Schrager to assist in the development launch of two private labels, PUBLIC and Schrager; and overseen InterContinental Hotel’s financial planning and investment analysis team for the Americas. She was also a key contributor to Atlantis’ $1 billion expansion on Paradise Island.

Hotel Business caught up with her to talk about her career, the W, and what she believes is the key to an asset’s success.

Why did you choose a career in hospitality? 
At the time I did not realize I was choosing hospitality. It was time for my junior year internship and since I was already working at the Harbor Beach Marriott, my mom helped me land an interview for an accounting internship at the hotel—and I got it. I truly enjoyed working at the hotel in operational roles, but my internship opened a new perspective, which I loved from day one—identifying and quantifying value.

You were heavily involved in the concept, programming and design direction for W Nashville. Can you tell us a little bit about the process and your original goals for the property? 
From the concepting to sale, it took us six years. Much longer than the average due to a concept change (originally we had a residential component) and COVID.

I’ll start with saying that my perspective of hotel development is probably different than most since my exposure to hotels started as far back as I can remember. My mom worked with Marriott in housekeeping, and this early exposure shaped my perception that the heart of the house is the key to an asset’s success. This foundation along with my career in several hotel companies including Marriott, Hilton, Ian Schrager, Kerzner International and IHG formed a multi-dimensional approach.

The W Nashville’s foundation was set in four key steps. The first was understanding Nashville: the locals, the tourists and the attractions. Second was understanding the Gulch—the vibrant neighborhood we selected for the hotel—and the intent and execution of its master plan. These two steps were critical in establishing the feeling and vibe that we wanted to bring to locals, tourists and the city overall. We felt that Nashville’s identity from a tourist perspective was music and Broadway, but for locals, it was all about outdoor activities—both active and social—as well as strong community ties and celebration and encouragement of true artists from all genres.

Third, it was important for us to understand the competitive set and see how they catered to locals and tourists to evaluate experiential, service and demand gaps and then set pricing targets. Our fourth step was to develop a program with our architects that we thought would (a) bring in the locals and (b) attract an experienced lifestyle traveler.

Once we had a solid concept and program, we ran the numbers and strategized the capital stack. Then we got to work with the objective of providing something special to Nashville while redefining one of the oldest lifestyle hotel brands—W. This project was highly engaging and collaborative. Everyone on the team was committed and the results show it. As we onboarded the teams, including interior designers, lighting and sound consultants, PR, operators, construction company, artists and more, we reiterated certain aspects that we saw as key to this project. These included being a good neighbor in the Gulch’s Live Work Play approach by creating several street entrances to activate the block’s contribution to the Gulch versus just one hotel entrance. Additionally, we wanted to carefully curate spaces that allowed a sense of discovery, surprise and awe—including our 26,000 sq. ft. of outdoor space, 27-ft. tall pillars at the pool deck, an event space behind the speaker wall in the Living Room bar, a gym that enjoyed being front and center in our hotel and a yoga lawn. Finally, it was key for us to select real artists to elevate and celebrate Nashville.

What would you say are some of the other highlights of your career? 
I see the world through rose-colored glasses, so my entire career is a highlight. But some particularly key moments that got me to where I am today include starting my hospitality career in the same hotel where my mom worked. She created my people/EQ lens. Interning and working for my current business partner was key to my business lens and working for Ian Schrager in the late ’90s was key to my guest experience lens. Working for Kerzner at the Atlantis Bahamas and being part of the One and Only brand launch as well as the Atlantis The Palm development was key to enhancing and sharpening my developer lens. Taking a sabbatical was key to my creative lens—as they say, genius happens when you are playing.

Did you have a mentor in the industry?
I was extremely lucky in this aspect. I had, and still have, several mentors throughout my career. My mom was my first and continues to be my mentor. Having left Marriott after nearly 50 years during COVID, she saw a lot of industry changes and leadership changes in her career. She guides me in a holistic manner. David Tessier, my business partner, has been my mentor since I interned for him. He knew I needed to be challenged and pushed me to new places, new positions and higher performance standards. He guided the skills that gave me the confidence to leave the corporate world and become an entrepreneur. My two brothers are my best friends and incredible mentors, and they help me balance their experience in the hospitality industry and my true self.

Bill Marriott was also a guiding point in my career, although relatively brief, and I was able to have several one-on-one conversations with him about my career. He even spoke to me as I was venturing on my own and leaving the corporate world. Despite being an incredibly busy person and the chairman of Marriott at the time, he made time to meet with me out of courtesy to my mom, who was his point of contact when he and his family visited Fort Lauderdale.

What is the next project you are working on?
After the sale of the W Nashville, I thought I would invest in one or more additional projects and launch a non-profit, but in 2021 we started advising in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on a hospitality project. KSA is going through an incredibly transformative period. I am extremely happy to be working with some of the world’s most innovative people and firms while getting to experience a country I had never been to and a culture I knew little of. Aside from that, we are actively looking for investment opportunities. Currently, we are in due diligence internationally and actively looking for opportunities domestically.