Ariel Sanett on living the “Dream”

Ariel Freeman Sanett joins Dream Hotel Group with more than 15 years of experience in the hospitality industry.

Ariel Freeman Sanett is the new vice president of development for Dream Hotel Group, responsible for developing their portfolio of brands: Dream Hotels, Time Hotels, The Chatwal, and Unscripted Hotels. Most recently, she served as vice president of business development at Crescent Hotels & Resorts in Washington, D.C.

As an organization, Dream Hotel Group likes to say they’re in the storytelling business, and Sanett agrees that this is the best way to define their brands. “Each brand is unique, and each location is special,” she says. “I believe in our ability to partner with architects and design firms to create extraordinary spaces with a vibrant F&B scene. This helps to tell a unique story for each property.”

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Naturally, all Dream Hotel Group brands have a special spot in Sanett’s heart, but she is seeing the most traction with the course of Unscripted, which is the newest brand and can be anything from a converted motor lodge in Durham, North Carolina, done in a mid-century style, to a grand historic church building in the UK, and everything on the spectrum in between. Fundamental to Unscripted is the idea that good design and service shouldn’t be inherently expensive to build or execute, and Sanett knows from experience that there is a real growth opportunity for those kinds of concepts. “Unscripted allows us to go into secondary markets and is on track to become the fastest growing brand in our company history,” she says. “It offers the opportunity to create special hotels, inherently local, and offer something that fits into the DNA of the market and community.”

We need to create something that the neighbors will love, to create a place where everyone will want to spend time.

As vice president of development, Sanett is always looking for compelling, dynamic markets, where Dream Hotel Group can have the ability to create something special. And in order to do that, they have to understand the local community and culture and the customer’s needs. “We need to create something that the neighbors will love,” she says, “to create a place where everyone will want to spend time. Being able to choose the right neighborhood in a given market—and to partner with the right owners and developers who also understand the local market and can help us create unique experiences—is of the utmost importance for us.”

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For Sanett, growth market number one is Chicago, because it’s where she is based. She also calls it “an amazing city that’s ready for our brands.” Some other markets Dream Hotel Group has their eye on include San Francisco; Canadian markets such as Toronto and Vancouver; the European markets of London, Paris, Rome, and Vienna; and parts of the Middle East and Asia.

Sanett has had a love of the hospitality industry since she was a young child. In middle school she had the opportunity to travel throughout Europe with her grandmother. “We stayed in incredible hotels,” she says, “and that really gave me an understanding of the kinds of unforgettable experiences that guests can have when hotel service is done properly.” Her first foray into the industry was in college, when she worked at The Whitehall Hotel in Chicago in the sales department. “I shadowed every department, and I absolutely loved it,” she says. “And since then I’ve held many different kinds of roles within the industry—it’s all been hospitality, and I’m pretty sure that the industry is in my bloodstream.”

Another strong influence on Sanett’s future path was having the opportunity to work for her father, who has been involved with real estate his entire life, including with the hospitality industry. “He really taught me the business of hospitality,” she says, “how to understand things from the perspective of an owner, and, most importantly, how to have fun and find adventures whenever I travel.”

The ability to have something unique is becoming more and more important to travellers.

As a woman in the industry, she has been pleasantly surprised to witness the evolution of industry leadership to include more women. When Sanett started out in her early twenties, she often felt like an exception at conferences, where she was one of only a handful of women present. “I found it frustrating,” she says, “trying to be taken seriously in such a male-dominated environment.”

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But times have changed, and now when Sanett attends conferences she sees women in leadership positions in every facet of the industry. “I know that it’s a step in the right direction,” she says. “Of course there’s always room to improve, but for me I can really see that progress has been made.” Sanett mentions the industry’s positive response to the #MeToo movement. “I suppose it shouldn’t have surprised me,” she says, “but the steps taken to ensure that people feel safe and protected in their roles—and have the opportunity for advancement based on merit alone—has been something that’s really made me proud.”

Also in terms of evolution, Sanett believes that we will see a movement towards more traditional, mainstream hotel owners and developers showing an interest in owning lifestyle hotels. “With all the industry consolidation,” she says, “the ability to have something unique is becoming more and more important to travellers.” Sanett mentions the history of the hospitality industry, and the time when hotels were social hubs of the community. “People would spend time taking advantage of the food and beverage and having drinks and being social,” she says, “and then it kind of devolved to a point where F&B wasn’t important, and hotel restaurants had no life, no energy.” She is excited to see the industry shifting back toward a lifestyle movement, where hotels can be hubs of the community once more. “We’ve been in the lifestyle hotel business for 20 years, continuing to grow in that space,” she says, “and for me it’s exciting to see that other brands, even the big guys, are embracing lifestyle and helping incorporate that into what they do.”

3 PIECES OF ADVICE

FROM ARIEL FREEMAN SANETT

  1. Every person you meet is an important person. So meet everyone you can and learn as much as you can from everyone along the way.
  2. Learn every aspect of the industry and definitely work on property—there is really no other experience that can teach you the most basic elements of the industry and what we do.
  3. If hospitality is the business for you, you will fall in love with it on day one and never leave. Your passion for hospitality is something that will compel you forever and always offer interesting opportunities for learning and growth.

Sanett expects to see continued growth in the demand for lifestyle hotels in the secondary markets as well. For so long, the feeling has been that only major metropolitan coastal cities could have independent boutique lifestyle hotels that were successful. “But we’re opening in Nashville,” she says, “and we’re looking at some smaller metropolitan cities and secondary markets where travelers are looking for the lifestyle experience. So we want to be the ones to provide them with that, and further expand our brands in those markets.”

Dream Hotel Group currently has its strongest portfolio ever, with 18 hotels open and another 16-plus in development across the world. They have signed more new deals in the last six months than in any other year in the company’s 20-year history. From a Dream brand perspective, the next hotel to open is the one in Nashville, later this year. They also broke ground in Palm Springs and have a project planned in Dallas. There is a Doha project as well, which will open in time for the World Cup.

“In terms of our newest lifestyle brand Unscripted,” Sanett says, “there’s been a lot of positive response, which I mentioned before, so the pipeline is super robust. We’re open in Durham, North Carolina, with projects in the pipeline for Birmingham in the UK, Belize, Tulum, and a number of international markets, so there’s a lot of growth there.” In terms of their Chatwal brand, they are opening a new property called The Chatwal Lodge in Bethel, New York, where the Woodstock concert took place. “It’s going to be a luxury lodge concept,” Sanett says, “with wellness and world class F&B. And it’s scheduled to open in Spring 2019, in conjunction with the fiftieth anniversary of the Woodstock concert.”

Dream Hotel Group is on track to triple their existing portfolio by 2022, including in key markets internationally: Europe, Asia, the Americas, and their first location in the Middle East. On the heels of signing the Unscripted Birmingham in the UK, they have had significant interest in Europe, so they are actively looking at projects there. “In terms of the more distant future,” Sanett says, “I expect that we’ll be seeing the Dream Hotel Group name and brands in a lot more markets outside of the U.S., with a real push internationally. Then we’ll round out our portfolio by growing in all the major metropolitan—and the really dynamic secondary—markets throughout North America.”

And Dream Hotel Group is well-equipped to do just that. “We have a large development team based throughout the world helping to grow the portfolio. You can expect to see a lot more from us.”

THE CHATWAL HOTELS

Hotel:

  • The Chatwal New York

Pipeline:

  • Opening 2019:
    • The Chatwal Lodge
  • Opening 2020:
    • The Chatwal Maaga Maldives

TIME HOTELS

Hotels:

  • The Time New York
  • The Time Nyack

Pipeline:

  • Opening 2019:
    • The Time Dominican Republic

DREAM HOTELS

Hotels:

  • Dream Downtown
  • Dream Midtown
  • Dream South Beach
  • Dream Phuket
  • Dream Bangkok
  • Dream Hollywood

Pipeline:

  • Opening 2018:
    • Dream Nashville
    • Dream Pattaya Na Jomtien
  • Opening 2019:
    • Dream Palm Springs
    • Dream New Delhi
  • Opening 2020:
    • Dream Belize
    • Dream Dallas
    • Dream Doha
    • Dream Gasveli Maldives
    • Dream Carabao Island

UNSCRIPTED

Hotel:

  • Unscripted Durham

Pipeline:

  • Opening 2018:
    • Unscripted Belize
  • Opening 2019:
    • Unscripted Dallas/Ft. Worth
    • Unscripted Dominican Republic
  • Opening 2020:
    • Unscripted Birmingham Central Hall
    • Unscripted Tulum

By Ashley Atkins

The interview is our Cover Story for the April issue. Read this article in magazine format.