Nancy Longhurst – General Manager, The Olivia Collection
| 2016 Q2 | photo by Steven Hertzog
What is your company’s most important commodity or service?
The Olivia Collection encompasses The Eldridge, The Eldridge Extended and The Oread Hotels. Our mission statement is “Memories Created, Hospitality Defined.” Our No. 1 objective is to provide excellent customer service to all guests who enter our properties. This covers hotel rooms, restaurants, weddings and catering services.
What have been some of the most important aspects of your success?
Attention to detail and good, old-fashioned hard work. The hospitality business takes a lot of hours, and it is important to be visible when people are in the hotels and to thank them for coming in or staying at our properties.
How many people does The Olivia Collection employ?
The Olivia Collection has approximately 220 employees on payroll. In our peak months, it can go as high as 250.
How do you and your company, The Olivia Collection, make a positive impact on the Lawrence community?
We have been very involved in the community. I was on the steering committee for the Hearts of Gold ball fund-raiser at LMH (Lawrence Memorial Hospital). I am currently on the Cottonwood Foundation board of directors and will serve as president next year. Pam Van Roekel, sales director, recently served on the VNA (Visiting Nurses Association) committee for its annual fund-raiser. We sponsor a show annually at The Lied Center of Kansas. I am currently the chair of ExplorLawrence, the Convention Bureau for the city of Lawrence. We support KU Men’s and Women’s Basketball and KU football. We have had various teams we support from both Free State High School and Lawrence High School. We support the Lawrence Schools Foundation by giving to the scholarship culinary fund for both high schools.
What do you see as your personal responsibility and your company’s responsibility to the community?
My parents taught me at a very early age to give back and to become involved in my community. I am very thankful for what I personally have in my life, and to make someone else’s life more enriched is important to me. It is just part of who I am. Our company is committed to many organizations. We want to be good civic partners with many organizations, and it is a privilege to see and observe all the good work they do on a daily basis.
What would you change about doing business (or working with businesses) in Lawrence?
Our hotels are “independent hotels.” We are not a part of any chains. Our hotels are all locally owned, which is very special in my mind. I want the community to know we are supportive of its efforts and to know that we will make it look great by providing excellent customer service. If there is someone you need to impress, call us, and we will make it happen. Since we know the community so well, we know what is important to its organizations. We want the opportunity to full fill our mission … . Memories Created, Hospitality Defined.
Why did you become involved? or What inspires you? Is there a specific thing, person or incident?
When I was a young girl, my parents and siblings were very involved in the church. We would visit people regularly in nursing homes and provide companionship to the residents. We would sing at their nursing homes at Christmastime. We visited people in the hospitals who were lonely. My parents lead by example and were always “taking care of people.” We helped our grandparents by working in their yard or helping on the farm. When I reflect back on my childhood, it transferred to the hospitality business, which is really “taking care of our guests.” Without our guests, there is no business. Given what I have said, it is ultimately my parents who inspired me, and I am forever grateful to them.
What is the biggest challenge you feel The Olivia Collection faces?
Economic Development in Lawrence. Under the current leadership of Chamber of Commerce CEO Larry McElwain, it is the best effort I have seen in the past 25 years. We are all appreciative of Larry and his team, working to bring more businesses to Lawrence. Hotels in Lawrence are full on the weekends because of sporting events and weddings. Where we all need business is Sunday through Thursday. With increased businesses in town comes an influx of overnight stays in our hotels because of visits to plants or other sales representatives visiting local companies. Economic development has a direct correlation to our business. More business, more travel.
Generating hotel room nights benefits the entire community. All hotels pay a transient guest tax on all rooms rented in Lawrence. This tax money generates more hotel stays in our hotels as well as markets the entire community. Additionally, not only do guests pay this “bed” tax, but they also generate a lot of sales tax by eating in our restaurants, spending money in our shops and buying gasoline. Of course, in addition to the sales tax revenue, the additional money spent in restaurants and stores is very significant in the health and vitality of our community.
Guests attend sporting events at Rock Chalk Park and the University of Kansas, visit our museums and enjoy all that downtown Lawrence has to offer.
Hotels are, in many ways, a reflection of who our community is. A welcoming environment that says, “Thanks for coming to Lawrence,” and, “How can we make your stay more enjoyable?” A great stay can make or break a business deal. Our job is to make our clients look fabulous!
We are very fortunate to have a vibrant and strong Downtown. It is the backbone of Lawrence, going all the way back to our original founding, by advocates for the Free State of Kansas who first settled in Lawrence in 1855. Ever since then, our downtown has been the heart of Lawrence. I feel it is important for Lawrencians and visitors to our community to help those willing to take risks and invest their own money in our downtown. We need to keep downtown special, and this enhances the original question of what The Eldridge and The Oread face, continuing our strong efforts in economic development by our Chamber of Commerce.
Lastly, we need employees who really “love” to take care of people. That is what hospitality is all about.
What is the biggest challenge for the future for your industry?
The biggest challenge for the entire hotel industry is Airbnb, specifically in larger markets like New York City, San Francisco and other large metropolitan cities. Airbnb affects 10% of New York City’s inventory, which translates into loss revenue of hotel rooms and food and beverage. Additionally, the loss of wages for both administrative managers and hourly employees include loss of labor income for total wages, benefits and proprietor income. Other losses include that of union dues. Another concern by hoteliers includes safety, when guests stay at Airbnb booked accommodations, such as the lack of cameras or ’round-the-clock security.
The largest concern is Airbnb does not charge transient guest taxes, which accounts for millions of dollars. (See attached chart from the Hotel Association of New York City, Inc.)
In Lawrence, there are 113 Airbnb locations. While I do not know what their occupancy or revenues are, I have observed the number of rentals has increased drastically during the past eight months. Again, these rentals do not pay transient guest taxes, while all local hotels in Lawrence do pay the tax.
For our industry, we are not against Airbnb, but we are seeking ways to get the playing field leveled so it is fair for all stakeholders and equally safe for travelers, regardless of where they may choose to stay.