Q&A: with Kyle Hughey, Charlestowne Hotels

Hotel Business spoke with Hughey about his career path, his goals and plans for the coming years.

Why hospitality? Where did your passion for the industry come from?
I fell into the hospitality industry by luck and happenstance. My background in finance and accounting led me to a role with Kiawah Partners, where I had the opportunity to work with the Kiawah Island Club, a luxury members club in South Carolina. It was at Kiawah Island Club where I witnessed high-touch hospitality firsthand; I was completely blown away by the level of service provided. It was exciting to be a part of a team that was able to deliver the kind of memorable service that left a long-lasting impression on members. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to find a way to marry my background in finance, accounting and business with my passions for service and the hospitality industry.

What did you learn from that experience?
I learned the importance of being collaborative in order to be successful, and how prioritizing thoughtful and personalized guest service standards creates a profitable hotel product and elevates the entire property experience. If you can deliver—and exceed—on guest expectations, you can create lifelong loyalty with your customers.

What do you like about your current role?
I’ve been in my current position for a little over three years now, and I love how I continue to learn new things from our team every day. I’m in a unique position where I didn’t come from a strict hospitality background, which means I’m constantly learning from the team—which I believe has allowed us to be nimble and flexible these last few years. Instead of following traditions or templates, we see challenges, isolate them and figure out the best strategy to move forward. We’re not a company that’s set in our ways, and I attribute that to the diverse industry backgrounds our leadership team has brought to the table. The constant collaboration and daily learning has proven to be extremely successful for us so far.

What’s new for Charlestowne Hotels?
We’ve had an extremely busy summer. We kicked off the season with some exciting award wins: Travel + Leisure readers voted The Loutrel [in Charleston, SC]as the No. 2 Best Hotel in the U.S. and Deer Path Inn [in Lake Forest, IL]as the No. 1 Resort Hotel in the Midwest in the annual World’s Best Awards.

We recently celebrated the opening of Origin Austin (in partnership with Thrash Group) and its on-site restaurant, Blue Lacy. At the end of August, we’ll be opening Gingerline, our first standalone restaurant concept in our hometown of Charleston. We also just announced the opening of Lockwood Hotel, an exciting collegiate property in Waterville, ME, that we developed with Colby College. In the last month, we’ve taken over management of Hotel Marcel, an adaptive-reuse project in New Haven, CT, which is expected to be the country’s first sustainable net-zero energy hotel, as well as an eclectic and creative property in Memphis, TN, called The Memphian.

What are some current industry challenges? How do you plan on overcoming those?
The biggest challenge our industry is facing at the moment is the labor and staffing crisis. In addition to recruiting talent, we’re also navigating the new service standards that have emerged since COVID.

We’ve been thoughtful in our approach to this industry crisis. It starts with meeting our employees exactly where they are, which means providing more flexibility with hours, time off, leave, etc. We understand how valuable our employees are to our success, and we want to do whatever we can to make sure they’re being seen, heard and, ultimately, served by us.

Another way we greatly support our hotel teams is through our robust corporate resources. They are trained and equipped to handle all of the technical and specialized services for every single one of our properties—that includes everything from marketing, IT, creative branding and revenue management to operations, recruitment/training and accounting. We operate in this way so that our hotel leaders aren’t burdened with necessary details and rather can keep their focus on the two most important factors: providing curated experiences to guests and taking care of our hotel employees.

What about some opportunities? How do you plan to take advantage of those?
Today’s travelers crave a highly experiential stay. They want to feel completely immersed in the destinations they visit, without sacrificing the modern touchpoints and routines they’re used to at home (such as wellness programming, “smart” in-room technology, etc.)

We’re primed to provide our guests with these offerings because we’re so adaptable and accepting of change. The diversity of our portfolio—from hotels in college markets and adaptive-reuse projects to condo-hotels and branded and soft-branded properties—speaks to that.

What’s your five-year plan for Charlestowne?
Charlestowne Hotels has been an independent management company for more than 40 years, and we’re proud of the niche we’ve carved in the hospitality space. Our goal is to become even better at what we already do well by constantly elevating our service, guest experience, F&B and creative standards.

As we look to further diversify our unique portfolio of assets, we remain dedicated to providing a thoughtful, innovative and curated management style to the many longstanding hotel owners whose trust and loyalty have helped us achieve the level of success we have today.

What are some professional and personal goals for yourself?
My biggest goal is to retain and grow the top talent within our company. In the last 12 months, we’ve brought on eight corporate positions to better support our hotels. Seven of those were internal promotions. We’re also continuously creating new, specialized roles that benefit our hotels and owners, while providing our team members with numerous opportunities to grow.

Charlestowne is made up of passionate, creative and innovative hospitality professionals. Our collective goal is for people to see how this industry can be a career path where people can grow and thrive when provided with the right tools, support and opportunities.

If you could go back and tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?
Show more empathy and kindness to others and lead with a service-minded heart. Working in hospitality has shown me how thoughtfulness and graciousness can significantly impact someone’s day. If you lead with empathy and kindness, you (and your company) will be better for it.