Philip A. Wood, The Jefferson, Washington, D.C.

Philip A. Wood

Hospitality Boundaries

Editors’ Note

Over the course of his career, Philip Wood has been responsible for seven member properties of the prestigious Relais & Châteaux organization; four hotels and three restaurants that reached Five Star or Five Diamond status, sometimes both; and an elite handful of hotels that achieved number-one rankings under his leadership. Wood received his formal training at Henley College, and later in luxury hotels in London and Paris. He arrived in North America in the late ’70s and has since held senior management positions with exalted institutions like Four Seasons Hotels, Jack Nicklaus’ Golden Bear International, Rosewood Hotels, Orient-Express Hotels, and Forte’s Exclusive Hotels of the World. He was President and shareholder in The Garrett Hotel Group. In 2007, Wood and two partners created Arden Grove Hospitality. In 2011, Wood became a consultant to The Jefferson, Washington, D.C., which led to his joining the parent company in January 2012 and assuming his current post.

Property Brief

As Washington, D.C.’s most celebrated small boutique hotel, The Jefferson (jeffersondc.com) has presided over the corner of 16th and M Streets since 1923, when the Beaux-Arts gem opened as an apartment building and later as a hotel for the world’s elite travelers and D.C.’s most important visitors. The 95-room downtown property is European and Washingtonian in style, and tributes to Thomas Jefferson and his beloved Monticello, are found throughout. The Jefferson boasts three exquisite dining options including Plume, the only Forbes five star-rated restaurant in Washington, D.C.; an intimate petite spa dedicated to customized treatments; and amenities including complimentary Wi-Fi and calls worldwide, bottled water and one garment pressing per room, 24-hour in-room dining, an on-site fitness center, and small intimate meeting spaces including the Book Room, a private resident’s lounge with fireplace.

Has the luxury experience changed and what are the key ingredients to providing that type of experience?

One component of change is the ownership side of the business and the other is the consumer side.

On the ownership side, the changes probably started with the REITs. Luxury hotels up until the advent of REITs were predominantly developed either by small groups or independent hotels.

With the advent of REITs, a few things happened. The positive side was that it made hoteliers and operational people like me a lot more accountable when it came to the financial side of the business. We started to look at things below the GOP level and the NOP level.

The downside of it was that with so many fund and asset managers getting involved, the main focus seemed to be on the immediate ROI as opposed to a more long-term perspective, which had traditionally been the case for luxury hotels.


The entrance to The Jefferson, Washington, D.C.

This made a huge difference in the luxury hotel business. The advent of the REIT brought about a lot of change that resulted in the creation of a very high standard on a worldwide basis, but also caused a loss of individuality – it became a sort of one-model-fits-all mentality. This is where the industry was altered dramatically.

Around the world, there are some very good hotel chains, but some hotels are now actually going the opposite direction and either taking off the corporate names or minimizing them. People are beginning to appreciate the creativity and initiatives that come from the independents that are not governed by fund managers or corporate officers.

The other side of the conversation is the consumer side and technology is the catalyst of much of the change that you see there. I’m very proud to be somewhat of a technological dinosaur when it comes to these things. For a while, technology began to dominate as opposed to simply being a tool. We’re reversing that trend to where, although there is still speed with which things move, the luxury world revolves around how you’re treated as an individual.

The more we become technologically driven, the more the people-to-people component has an impact in the luxury business.

Are guests looking more for a customized experience?

Very much so. Our credo is “we challenge hospitality boundaries” because it emphasizes person-to-person relationships. Over the past year and a half, we have been the top-listed hotel on Trip Advisor in Washington, D.C. and we have received several industry awards. But the most important thing is that, when you read the customer comments, they are mainly about the guest interaction with our staff.

We look very carefully at this interaction, particularly when it comes to our front line staff who are dealing directly with the guests, and encourage them to add their own personalities and to make their interactions as personal and as anticipatory as they can. We recognize that some guests want the full treatment that might include not only a well-appointed room but also a guided tour of the property; others just want to take their suitcase, get up to their room, have a shower, a beer, and go to bed.

How do you avoid losing the heritage and history of the property while remaining current?

We spend a lot of time discussing this. We’re very fortunate to have ownership that also wants to maintain that balance.

Last summer, we put an additional $2 million into our rooms, although they’re barely five years old. For a 95-room hotel, that is a lot of money to drop in today’s world.

But that’s because we, and especially our ownership, believe we need to stay at the top of our game. We don’t want to wait until the hotel looks like it needs remodeling, renovation, or an upgrade – we want it to continually feel fresh.

There are a lot of very good hotels in D.C. so the comparisons are always going to be there. We want people to feel that they’re not exactly coming to a home but rather to a place with a residential feel where there is no pressure, you can be as relaxed or formal as you want, and there are private areas that are conducive for meetings.

People are looking to find their own comfort level, so that’s what we strive to achieve.

How important is the suite offering?

Our suite business has increased by about 25 percent over the past year. We have targeted that as a market because it speaks to the individual traveler who wants that additional service and anticipation.

In that vein, we try very hard to focus on the suite guest. Being a small hotel, most of our market comes from the individual, discerning traveler. These guests come to The Jefferson knowing they’re going to get that individual attention that they can’t get when they’re in a 300-room hotel, no matter how good the quality is. This is where the suite guest has played into our positioning.

Our suites aren’t the largest in town, but where we’ve hit the sweet spot is making sure that we customize each stay for our suite guests – the suites are comfortable and they have a residential feel to them. They’re traditional, but the facilities and amenities are top notch and there if you need them.