Hotel General Manager, Mark Hochstatter, San Francisco Bay Area, CA

“One day you’re an expert in finance and the next day your showing the cook a better way to prep for a party.  That’s the great thing about our business, never the same day twice.” 

Mark Hochstatter

[Editor’s Note: This interview was originally conducted on May 8th, 2020]

Mark Hochstatter has been working in the hospitality industry for nearly 40 years.  During his career, he has both opened and closed hotels and restaurants.  He has worked for people and also worked as the property owner. He has worked in nearly every conceivable hotel market — including airport, downtown, convention, residential and resort.  Mark has worked his way up in the business, with an emphasis on Food & Beverage and is currently the General Manager for two of the top reviewed hotels in the San Francisco Bay Area.

He has been in the unique situation during COVID-19 as the General Manager of a hotel in the Bay Area that never officially closed and remained catering to guests. He lives on property, as many General Managers do, and has experienced the quarantine from the unique perspective of being as inside and as close to the hospitality and tourism industry as one can get. In addition to dealing with his engaging occupation as supervisor of all on-property operations, due to pandemic-related travel restrictions Mark was separated from his wife — who has been running their future real estate practice from on the ground out in Arizona.

Mark explains the business side of running a hotel and working in the tourism industry while travel has effectively been halted — including how to keep his community, which is quite literally his staff and their families, safe. He provides his insight into his opinion on closing down the entire tourism industry in response to the pandemic, and the detrimental, lasting negative impacts it has had on the global economy.

Read more about Mark’s COVID Chronicle experience from inside an actively operating hotel property, below:

Mark and his wife, Jeanette

What’s the biggest challenge you think you’ve faced during this quarantine situation?

“The most difficult challenge is finding business in a market where there is no demand.  With the shutdown of the economy and restrictions on travel there just isn’t the historical demand drivers available.  Next, is to match my operation to current business levels. 

It’s difficult to take an operation that was scaled for a particular set of market conditions and carve away at it to make it fit another set of conditions, all with the intent to eventually go back the original set of conditions. Very few businesses would be opened if the marketplace was as turbulent as the times we’re experiencing.”   

Is there anything you feel that this experience has taught you that you’d like to share as inspiration for everyone going through this together?

“Our hotels are currently leading in occupancy in our competitive set.  Things are bad, but other hotels are much worse off.  Part of our success is that we are diversified; we have an iron in nearly every fire.  We are fortunate to have a little business from a lot of difference sources. 

Also, immediately when this pandemic hit and it was apparent our business was failing fast, we didn’t focus on how much we were losing, rather we started at the ground level and looked to how we could meet our needs to stay open. Not make profit, but just stay open.  Unfortunately we had to trim a lot or staff and discontinue activities that were not supporting themselves.  Then we figured out what we needed to keep the doors open, provide for our guests and still keep the framework of our business.”

“There are a lot of people worse off than me, and if I can make another member of the team feel better then I’ve succeeded for the day.”   

Has this experience in any way changed the way that you order your priorities?  

“Sure, to succeed in business your priorities have to constantly change to meet the challenges that are presented.  You have to be nimble.  Even if your property is running full you’ll find yourself gravitating to the area that needs the most help.  One day you’re an expert in finance and the next day your showing the cook a better way to prep for a party.  That’s the great thing about our business, never the same day twice.” 

What have you been doing to keep your spirits up on a day-to-day basis?

“There are a lot of people worse off than me, and if I can make another member of the team feel better then I’ve succeeded for the day.”   

Where exactly are you living right now? Is this where you permanently reside or is it a temporary living situation due to the pandemic?

“I actually live where I work, talk about taking work home. Right? I’ve been fortunate to live in the hotel for the past 6-7 years.  It’s a little short on long term neighbors, but if I don’t like the family next door I just have to wait a day or so and they usually change.” 

“I’m quarantining with my entire work crew and occupants of the hotel.  They come and go, but I’m always here.”

What has your community been doing to fight the rate of transmission?

“My community is the hotel. So we’ve been doing all the prescribed precautions that are recommended for an essential business. We work to educate our staff so that their families and themselves stay healthy, and we work with them to train and practice the new cleaning standards and protocols.

We also have to educate many of the travels that seek to stay with us.  Either from ignorance or lack of understand many people are not practicing social distancing, heighten personal hygiene practices, and the other currently socially acceptable norms.”

What has been your daily routine so far during the pandemic?

“Again, I’m probably a unique case in that I haven’t missed a day of work.  But then my personal time is a routine of exercise, cooking a meal, and trying to find a decent TV show or movie to watch.”

Has this travel ban/quarantine situation impacted any important plans you had laid out for the near future?

“Absolutely.  As I am nearing retirement age, my wife and decided that she would move to the city where we would be retiring and start a real estate practice, and then I would visit frequently.  Needless to say I haven’t been able to visit.  It just goes to show that nothing is as for sure as you think.

Considering how far reaching the shutdown has been I’d really be surprised if there was anyone NOT affected by the pandemic.” 

Anything else at all, you’d like to share? 

“Hindsight being 20-20, I think we’ll look back on this and see that our leadership drastically over-reacted in closing down our economy.  It’s really easy to say ‘if we can only save but one life’, but the tremendous upheaval we created in our economy is going to have an overwhelming impact on people’s lives for years to come. 

We should have taken a more measured approach and quarantined those most at risk and put the money towards helping those that became sick.  Also, I hope that we target more money towards being prepared for similar out breaks because I don’t think this will be the last.”

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