Business Spotlight: Clint Wills at the Crowne Plaza

We will be kicking off WinWin MKE, our new hospitality campaign, at the end of the month on June 29. Through a Wisconsin Department of Tourism JEM grant and matching funds, we partnered with Savage Solutions to create a new tourism campaign tailored to those choosing to stay at airport area hotels. With this new $80,000 campaign we reached out to key entertainment destinations in the Milwaukee area to build a few solid packages of deals that travelers will receive upon booking a hotel in the airport area. The program is a win for area destinations and businesses, and a win for Milwaukee tourists.

The Crowne Plaza is one of the feature hotels in the WinWin program, and Clint Wills, the general manager of the hotel serves on the Board of Directors for the Airport Gateway Business Association. The Crowne Plaza Airport Hotel has been nothing but innovative and forward-thinking in their approach to customer service since Clint took the helm in 2013.

When did you start off in the hospitality industry?

I started off in the hospitality industry in 2000. I was going to UW-Whitewater, and my step-dad built and was the general manager at the Holiday Inn on 6th and Layton. I decided to work for him, and started as a part-time night auditor over there, and every position just kind of snowballed from there.

At one point they asked me to be a Director of Sales at the Holiday Inn on Layton and I said yes, and from that point forward, I just never looked back. I’ve been in this market, the airport market, since 2000. So I’ve been able to grow my career in the exact same market that I started in.

What do you think has been your biggest success so far at the Crowne Plaza?

The biggest success for this hotel is improving the service levels. One thing that we’ve really tried hard to do, is creating a service culture at this hotel. We’ve increased our guest satisfaction, 12 month score, which is the key measurement for guest service scores in hotels by 4.5% in one year. That’s a huge accomplishment for us and all of our department managers and every employee at the hotel. The other thing that we really focus on is employee engagement. This week is actually what we call Celebrate Service Week for all of our team. Right after this, I’m going to go help set up for a barbeque that we’re doing for all of the team members. And every day, we do another thing to show our appreciation for them.

How would you describe the customer base here at the Crowne Plaza?

It really depends on the month of the year that you’re looking at. In the summer we see weekends, and some weekdays with higher leisure components; people coming up for all of the festivals, soccer tournaments, baseball tournaments, all that fun stuff. We also do a lot of group business at this hotel because we have 24,000 square feet of meeting space. We do a lot of conventions, we do family reunions, dinners, all kinds of different things.

Other than that, we get a lot of business from the airport obviously. Folks flying in and out of the airport whether it be for park and flies, family vacations, or for people visiting their clients right around here, downtown, or the surrounding communities.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the hotel industry right now, and how is the Crowne Plaza doing with facing this challenge?

The Crowne Plaza brand is in a repositioning period right now. They’re trying to redo a lot of the standards, and offer different amenities at the hotel level in order to cater to the millennial crowd. That’s the biggest challenge that the entire hotel industry is facing right now.

What sort of amenities does that include?

Connectivity is huge for millennials, making sure that they have enough outlets in their rooms because the average guest now sleeps with 3-5 different devices that they need to charge. So, we actually added in every guest room, these little charging stations that provide a few more outlets in between the beds, and we also have 2 by the desk.

So, connectivity is huge. There’s something called “Anywhere Check-In” with ISG. Basically you can request on your app when your check in time would be and if you want to check in early. The front desk can then go into their computer, see that request, and then text you when your room is actually ready. That way, you can check in when you need to check in.

What can you tell us about the renovations that the Crowne Plaza has undergone in the last couple of years?

This hotel was renovated in 2009, so it was before my time. The whole place was pretty much gutted to the studs and redone. They put somewhere around $8-10 million into it. This building was built in 1973, and had never had any major renovations.

We’re looking to do some renovations of our own. Crowne Plaza is mandating that all Crowne Plaza hotels redo their fitness centers by the end of 2015. We desperately need it; that’s what the younger crowd is looking for. Ours will actually have to be expanded. We don’t know where we’re going to end up putting it, but we know that we have to do it by the end of the year. It’ll be all new equipment, new flooring, new wall-art. Each piece of cardio equipment will have televisions on it, possibly with some internet interactivity. So, a lot of good things on the horizon.

What do you like best about having your business located near the airport, in the Gateway?

I would say, one of the biggest things that I like, is obviously, we’re close to the airport. So, we can pull from a number of different areas of business, so not just the people coming in for soccer tournaments in the suburbs, but also people flying in for business, conventions, that sort of thing. I love what the Gateway has done as far as revamping the image of the area. All the boulevards that we’re planting on and redoing, helping to beautify the area. Because as we know, especially years ago, this area was not the most attractive area, specifically this street, 13th St. Before they widened the road, it was just one lane, each way, there were no sidewalks, hardly any lights, and it was very unattractive. Through different things like that, we’re really dressing up the area.