Unveiling Think Hospitality: An Exclusive Interview with CEO Shawn Vardi
Updated: Oct 18
Miami Living recently had an insightful conversation with Shawn Vardi, CEO of Think Hospitality, as we delved into the remarkable journey of a company that started with one property in South Florida and has now grown to manage an impressive portfolio of 24 properties in just 13 years.
In this exclusive interview, we explore Think Hospitality's strategies, its unique approach to balancing ownership and profitability, and its commitment to sustainability in the hospitality industry.
Miami Living (ML): Can you share the story of how you and your partners grew Think Hospitality from managing one property in South Florida to 24 properties in just 13 years? What were the key milestones along the way?
Shawn Vardi (SV): The transformation of our company, originally focused on real estate development and operations, took a significant turn in response to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. During the temporary operational shutdown, we recognized that our economies of scale were a paramount asset. Since the onset of the pandemic, we have seen remarkable growth, expanding from 400 units to over 1,500 hotel rooms.
A key contributor to our success has been our steadfast commitment to fostering a strong corporate culture and retaining our valuable staff. Additionally, our proficient back office and sales teams provide resources that independent entities often struggle to afford.
ML: Could you elaborate on the specific strategies or practices that Think Hospitality employs to differentiate itself in the competitive hotel management industry?
SV: Our corporate culture stands as one of our most prized assets. We annually host an employee Olympics event, attended by over 1,000 employees, offering cash prizes of up to $25,000 per year. This initiative has effectively addressed the challenges of staffing during a period of substantial growth.
Our commitment to promoting from within has established a robust career path for our employees, with 85% of our C-suite comprising individuals who started in entry-level positions. Our size and sales practices have earned us an invitation to join the board of the GMCVB, significantly strengthening our group business, surpassing that of any independent entity.
Our revenue management practices significantly outperform the competition, contrasting with those who often outsource this function to sole proprietors. Our revenue management team is highly competitive and capable, even against larger competitors.
ML: You mentioned a dual role as CEO, representing owners while focusing on profits. How do you balance these two roles effectively, and what have been the results of this approach in terms of growth and profitability?
SV: In essence, our guiding principle is to act as owners, prioritizing the best interests of the ownership group. This approach has yielded rapid growth over the past three years.
ML: Think Hospitality offers a range of services, including reservations, revenue management, sales & marketing, finance & accounting, branding & design, and food & beverage. Can you highlight some of the unique aspects or innovative strategies within these service areas that have contributed to Think Hospitality's success?
SV: Throughout our journey, we have consistently reinvested in technology and human talent across all facets of our operations. Our accounting department, boasting over 60 professionals, is widely regarded as the best in the industry. Our revenue team excels in understanding the seasonal fluctuations of our business. Our distinct approach to managing food and beverage sets us apart, as few entities manage both hotels and F&B. We tailor F&B concepts to individual assets, focusing on the unique customer base and positioning of each property. This core competency has been instrumental in the success of our F&B offerings.
ML: As Miami is known for its vibrant food scene, can you tell us more about Think Hospitality's approach to food & beverage and the role it plays in enhancing the guest experience?
SV: Quality sourcing of products and food is at the heart of our F&B concept. We prioritize fresh, non-frozen items, differentiating us from most restaurants focused on profit margins. This strategy has not only maintained quality but also attracted more clientele to our F&B establishments. As we expand our culinary division, we continually upgrade our existing restaurants.
ML: Sustainability is an increasingly important aspect of the hospitality industry. How is Think Hospitality incorporating sustainability into its operations and contributing to a more eco-conscious approach within the industry?
SV: Furthermore, all of our to-go items are biodegradable, including forks, knives, and straws made from materials like sugarcane and bamboo.
ML: Think Hospitality manages a diverse portfolio of properties. Could you share some examples of standout success stories or projects that exemplify the company's approach and values?
SV: Notably, we recently assumed management of the Costa Hollywood property from a previous operator. Within the first three months, we achieved their projected 2022 EBITDA, and the property is now on track to triple its EBITDA in our first 12 months of management. This particular asset, a condominium-hotel with various retail outlets, parking, a rooftop pool, and a restaurant, benefited from our deep understanding of real estate and our ability to introduce efficiencies the prior operator could not match.
ML: What is your vision for the future of Think Hospitality, and how do you see the company evolving in the coming years in response to changing industry dynamics and guest preferences?
SV: Additionally, we recently inaugurated the Showboat in Atlantic City, featuring a 150,000-square-foot indoor waterpark, a 900-unit arcade, and a 1,200-key hotel. Our company's versatility and scalability have allowed us to take on diverse projects, and we anticipate the inclusion of New York in our future endeavors.