Interview With Emerging Hotelier Bashar Wali of Provenance Hotels

Photo Courtesy of Provenance Hotels
Photography, glasswork and classic cinema are given their due in Provenance Hotels' burgeoning boutique luxury hotel portfolio. Hotel Lucia houses a large private collection of photographs by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer David Hume Kennerly.

In Seattle’s Hotel Max, the work of many different local photographers is exhibited, while Hotel Murano in Tacoma houses a gallery-caliber collection of glassworks from 45 different glass artists. As Provenance is Portland-based, all this could be interpreted as a gesture of support to the thriving Pacific Northwest artist community—but it’s more than that. It’s part of the brand aesthetic.

One might think that company president Bashar Wali came from an arts background, so consistent is Provenance Hotels’ focus on visual arts. In fact, Wali’s lifelong passion is hotel acquisition and development, but what makes this former Grand Heritage VP appropriate for our Emerging Hoteliers series is his willingness to leave a traditional luxury hotel brand and dive head-first into the creation of an artsy one.

JustLuxe: How did you decide that art would be a primary aesthetic theme across multiple properties in the brand? Was it a personal decision, or a strategy based on psychographic research, or a marketing strategy to differentiate the brand from other boutique properties?

Bashar Wali: The integration of carefully-curated art collections into the Provenance Hotels brand was both a deeply personal decision and a well-considered strategic gambit. Personally, art is a passion for our company. We believe great works of art elevate the human experience and, as hoteliers, we instinctively knew art had the potential to move our customers and help drive their travel decisions. Of course, it differentiates us from our competitors but it’s more than a gimmick. We strive to integrate the art in our hotels in an authentic way that informs and enhances the guest experience.
JL: As a CEO, how do you find the curators and other art professionals that can maintain the properties' collections while you are thinking about other priorities?

BW: We take art seriously and believe a good measure of success is created by surrounding ourselves with smart people. Accordingly, we hired a professional to curate the collections in our hotels. Our curator has spent the last 40 years in the trenches as artist, gallery owner and curator and has extensive connections with galleries and artists around the world. We leveraged those connections to source the collections in our hotels.
JL: As someone who specializes in hotel development and acquisition, what's it like to go from a medium-sized, international portfolio to a smaller, primarily West Coast-based one? What about this particular hotel brand made the lateral move seem appealing?

BW: I decided to narrow my focus a bit, in a purely geographic sense, because I knew with Provenance Hotels I could really push the boundaries in a meaningful way. Here, nothing is off limits. On the development side we create unforgettable, one of a kind, world-class hotels. On the service side, we literally make our guests’ dreams a reality every single day. Every day, I challenge my team to toss ideas around and make the best of them happen. Nothing could be more grand, more epic or more inspiring.
JL: What kind of customers are most likely to become return guests of Provenance Hotels?

BW: Our guests are fantastically diverse. We have a strong corporate base that ranges from Fortune 500 companies to scrappy startups with a dash of the creative sector thrown in. Our hotels attract marquee meeting clients and our leisure travelers run the gamut from young professionals to c-suite level execs. One thing all our guests have in common is their independent mindset. They value the fact that we do things just a little bit differently.
JL: What is a key difference between the Pac Northwest customer mindset and the California West customer?

BW: Our customers are the same as customers as those who frequent hotels in Los Angeles, San Francisco and beyond. They are every bit as worldly, sophisticated and discerning. Of course, here in the Pacific Northwest, authenticity is the mantra and our customers expect the same level of personalized attention and dedication to quality that they get from our city’s most impassioned barista, chef or musician. While glitz and glamour have their place, here we to tend to take a little more of a low-key, artisan approach and, even though, we are incredibly serious about what we do, we try not to take ourselves too seriously.

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Lena Katz

Lena Katz is the author of the Travel Temptations series (SIP, SUN, SNOW), published by Globe Pequot Press in 2009. Lena is also a travel expert for Celebrations/1800FLOWERS and WEtv (online and on-air). She contributes to the South China Morning Post and ABC News online. Lena is a former Orbitz Travel blogger and former columnist for the LA Times. She's been published in Brides Magazine, Robb Rep...(Read More)

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