In midst of big brands and international chains, Boston Harbor Hotel is an urban resort.
Last month, Boston Harbor Hotel celebrated its 25th anniversary in its signature location, out on the waterfront. A year ago, Jonathan Crellin was brought to this infamous independent property as General Manager by Pyramid Hotel Group. A Boston native, Jon had spent the past 5 years with Fairmont Hamilton Princess Hotel in Bermuda. Both he and Boston Harbor Hotel were ready to take BHH to the next chapter. In merely one year, he has elevated the evolution of the brand, with its Alley Bar, an extended Summer Series program and a vision to transform the hotel into Winter Wonderland during the holiday season.
It’s difficult to see a TV commercial, open the newspaper or a magazine about Boston that doesn’t feature BHH as part of the skyline or cityscape. It’s comfortable yet luxurious, comprised of every service, amenity and view of a 5-star hotel. Moreover, it’s an interesting complex of a luxury hotel, with private residence and office space. “This isn’t the oldest hotel in Boston, compared to others that are more than 100 years old in the city.” But BHH has an iconic fit, Jon explains, “Part of it is the architecture, the beautiful rotunda, the archway, with a dramatic location in the city. What we have is a great mix of private and public space, with restaurants, bars, commercial and the marina, water taxi to the airport, to the South Shore, with a 500 car parking space.”
25 years ago, this spot was a wasteland. Norman B. Leventhal, a Boston developer, map collector and a visionary; saw that this location had enormous potential. In mid to late-80’s, it was cutting-edge to combine residential, hotel and a commercial office space. “Mr. Leventhal had a vision and saw that this space had qualified competence. The Federal Court House, Greenway, Seaport, Convention Center weren’t here. It was dramatically different, it has changed so much.” Today, when guests walk into the hotel, they immediately feel that they are in Boston. With the harbor view and the other half of the property facing Rose Kennedy Greenway, guests can’t be mistaken that they’re in a perfect spot, in a great city like Boston.
The hotel is now a 5-star property, but it has previously been a 4-star that unfortunately fell to a 3-star. At one point, the ownership and property team needed to redefine the hotel with the market evolution, class changes while competitions rose above. Seven years ago, they assembled capital, training, cultural programs that led them to the fastest rise of a hotel from a 3 to 5-star. Jon recounts, “There’s been a lot of blood, sweat and tears in the past seven years. But now that we’ve arrived here, we have a recognition of being one of the top players in the world, that really drives a lot of our culture here. Employees are proud, they insist on holding each other accountable, which is a big part of delivering a 5-star service. Since our turn-over is so low, we have benefit of committed employees, and returning customers.” With a low turnover rate, committed employees and returning guests, BHH has advanced into an undeniable home away from home.
Against boundless competition from all other major hotel brands in the city, BHH is an independence of its own, with versatility of building programs and services outside of a cookie-cutter system. Jon puts abundant efforts into engaging with the Boston community, “We have a Summer Series that was originally only four nights a week, which we’ve now expanded to Monday nights as well, because it’s such a successful program. Friday nights used to be ‘movie nights,’ but movies don’t start until 8pm, so now we’ve added a live DJ to a festive happy hour prior to movies.” He also put in place another opportunity attracting local community by adding Alley Bar, a 60-seat outdoor bar that’s been hugely popular as one of the hottest bars in the city. Jon is always looking at ways to embrace the hotel as a fortress, whether it’s adding splash to the colors in the terrace that make the hotel more vibrant, or having wine pairings and live music as part of the Summer Series.
A key component to this dash of new energy is a vivacious team that he has put together. While Jon maintains sincere respect for tradition and the group of employees who have worked at the hotel since the beginning, the selection process for newcomers targets entrepreneurial thinking. “Certainly we look for candidates that have passion for taking care of people.” Jon notes, “But this is an independent property, so we look for people who are entrepreneurial, who will take initiatives, who come up with ideas and try things. Many chains don’t look for that because they already have a standard brand of doing certain things, which is fine and it works for them. But here, we want people to think outside of the box, we welcome creativity.” Jon has infused a new energy in the hotel with a philosophy that his entire team has embraced: try it. Things haven’t been done a certain way, but why not try it. If it doesn’t work, then at least it’s been experimented.
Engaging not just the local community and international visitors, but also his team and colleagues from the beginning with new initiatives, heightens the excitement within 300 staff members (375 during summertime.) “Tradition and culture here are important to me and many employees who are new,” he says, “we have to respect what’s been done here. Because what happened seven years ago brought us where we are today, so we need to respect that and think of ways to make things better. Even with the people who have been here for a long time, their focus wasn’t on change but they’re excited to see success and new programs. Like the Alley Bar, our staff was the most excited and enthusiastic about that because it’s new, something fun and lively.”
As BHH turns 25, interviews were conducted with 21 employees with stories from the past 25 years. The resounding theme from all of it was: coming to work feels like coming to a family. From the maids, the concierge, the sales and marketing teams, to the head chef Daniel Bruce, each of them drives this sentiment to deliver a personal service so that locals and guests repeatedly come back. Not just to the waterfront, but also, to a family.
Need a place to stay in Boston? Visit here to make your reservations at BHH or call 617.439.7000
Go behind the scenes of the interview here.