Hyatt Hotels’ Regional Headquarters in Coral Gables Strives to go Local in Latin America
By Doreen Hemlock
In Guatemala, Hyatt employees often wear swatches of indigenous textiles on their lapels. In Colombia’s Cartagena, they dress in the area’s typical linen pants with suspenders. In St. Kitts, the hotel looks like a colonial planter’s mansion. It’s all part of an effort by the hotel chain to bring out the local flavor in its fast-expanding portfolio south of the U.S. border.
Myles McGourty leads the push from Coral Gables, serving as Hyatt’s chief for Latin America and the Caribbean. He works with a team of 16 people at the chain’s regional headquarters here, many trilingual in English, Spanish and Portuguese, just like him. The Irishman knows from experience how varied the region is. He spent two decades running Hyatt hotels first in Mexico, then in Chile and Brazil, and even recognizes differences in hugs as greetings (Mexicans go left to meet heart-to-heart.)
“You can’t approach the region in a homogenous way,” says McGourty. That’s true from employee uniforms and hotel rooms to permits and taxes. What’s more, guests increasingly want local flavor at chain hotels in art, furniture and cuisine, so Hyatt now hires more in-country designers and chefs, he says.
Rooms in the Grand Hyatt Bogota, for instance, now feature handmade textiles woven with copper threads that reflect centuries- old traditions in Colombia. To oversee his territory, McGourty spends more than half his time on the road, meeting with local partners abroad and corporate executives in Chicago and elsewhere.
You can’t approach the region in a homogenous way…Myles McGourty
Hyatt now has 42 hotels open across Latin America and the Caribbean, offering nearly 12,000 rooms. It plans to launch at least 20 more by 2021, adding another 5,000-plus rooms. That makes the region among the fastest-growing for Hyatt worldwide. Many of the hotels are owned by family groups in their respective nations and operated by Hyatt, though the chain sometimes invests directly to ensure a presence in key markets, McGourty says.
Across the hotel industry, global chains are looking to localize. Yet Hyatt has an edge in the Latin American region: Its relatively smaller size makes it “a bit more flexible” to adapt to local conditions, says Fernando Garcia-Chacon, a Latin American hospitality specialist at commercial real estate giant CBRE.
That agility is evident in Hyatt’s launch of new brands for all-inclusive resorts, a segment that larger peers such as Marriott and Hilton have yet to fully enter. Hyatt works with a master franchiser, Playa Hotels & Resorts, for its Zilara adults-only and Ziva family-oriented all-inclusives in the region. Those resorts also emphasize local arts and local food, says Garcia-Chacon, calling Hyatt “a little more nimble.”
What McGourty learns ground-up in one country, he also tries to share in others. For example, recruiting teams in Brazil had asked job candidates to bring a meaningful photo to their interview. The photos sparked conversation about family, pets and homes and helped recruiters better understand each job seeker. Those hired found a copy of their prized photo in their employee locker upon arrival. The chain now uses variations of that technique in other regional nations to strengthen emotional connections with employees, says McGourty.
Of course, challenges abound. Financing for hotels in Latin America remains a concern, though funding is more widely available than a decade ago. And there are limits to travel even for regional executives. While McGourty prefers in-person talks, he now uses video conferencing to hold meetings that span multiple locales. And as Hyatt grows, he needs to deepen his skills to navigate among regional nations. “Chile is probably one of the easier places to set up business,” says McGourty. “In the Caribbean islands, because of their smaller populations, sometimes you need to invite labor in.” Yet McGourty enjoys the varied local cultures, from Jamaica’s reggae and Brazil’s samba to Colombia’s vallenato music. “That diversity,” says McGourty, “is what makes Latin America and the Caribbean so exciting.”