7 Important Lessons Luxury Hotels Can Teach You About Becoming a Successful Entrepreneur

Download PDF

A few weeks ago, I stayed at my first luxury hotel. Most of my life has been spent gorging on the breakfast buffet inside various Holiday Inns, so you can imagine that this prime time resort was a big upgrade.

And while the giant chandeliers were nice, I’m a pretty simple man. The biggest thing I brought back from my stay at the St. Regis Bal Harbour resort was a handful of lessons on entrepreneurship.

If you’re building a business (or thinking about building one), then I think you’ll find these 7 lessons useful. If nothing else, I know they have been important learning points for my own entrepreneurial career.

1. Know what you stand for and the rest will become clear.

The whole operation at the Bal Harbour resort runs like clockwork. Everyone knows their role and the customer’s experience has been planned out from the moment they step out of the car until the final checkout.

How do you get your business running that smoothly? It all starts with knowing what you stand for. If you’re the manager of a luxury hotel chain, you can look at your employees and say, “Service is our top priority. When in doubt, always, always, always do what serves the customer best. We will bend over backwards for each and every person who walks through our door.”

Knowing what you stand for clarifies the mission for every employee. It makes work easier. It makes delegation easier. It makes cooperation easier. It’s not just about having a common goal. Increasing revenue is a common goal, but that doesn’t tell you what to do. It’s about having a common mission and a common belief system that can guide your actions and those of your employees.

Knowing what you stand for makes all of the decisions about what to do and how to do it much easier. Know your principles and you can choose your methods.

2. Know your target customer.

I am not the target customer for luxury hotels. It doesn’t calm me to have five people tending to my every need. I don’t need to have a remote that controls all of the lights in the room. I don’t need to have my bed “turned down” and prepared for sleep.

(True story: when the maid came to turn the bed down the first night I had no idea what she was talking about. We went back and forth for two minutes before I figured out that this was just a normal service they did every night.)

But here’s the thing: some people love that stuff. They want everything to be taken care of. Based on what I saw at the hotel, the target customer for a luxury property drives a Ferrari, Bentley, Rolls Royce, BMW, or Mercedes Benz. It was very rare that I saw a car besides those brands.

This is important because if you’re a luxury hotel manager you should not be wasting your marketing dollars on me when you could be spending them wisely on someone with a nice car.

Do you know who the target customer is for your business? I mean, do you really know? Do you know what kind of car they drive? Or what other businesses they typically shop at? Or are you wasting your efforts trying to recruit new customers from people that aren’t interested?

Spend some time mapping out your target customer. It could save (and make) you a lot of money.

3. You can either blur into the crowd or be one of the few to stand up and say something.

A luxury hotel is different. It prides itself on being different. It flaunts each unique piece of its service offering.

As a result, luxury hotels get talked about. When people leave Bal Harbour, they probably talk about the private bungalows by the pool. Or about the staff members walking around and offering little cups of sunscreen to patrons.

You don’t need a unique business to be unique. Luxury hotels do the same thing that Motel 8 does: they offer people a place to stay for the night. But the way they do it is very different.

Is the way you do business different from the rest? Or do you blend into the crowd?

If you want people to talk about your business, then stand up and say something by serving your customers in a different way.

4. Too many people are focused on too small of a problem.

Luxury hotels have TONS of employees. At any one time, I felt like I could see a dozen criss–crossing people and headed off to do various, small tasks.

The goal, I think, is to minimize the amount of time the customer needs to wait. The result, in my opinion, is that too many people are working on too small of a problem. Do you really need to have 6 people pacing around the pool refilling water glasses? Probably not.

When I look at my own work, I find that I struggle with this same problem. Many days, I spend hours and hours focused on things that, in the end, are really just a small problem.

Do you know what your most important tasks are for today? Are you actually working on them? Or are you spending all day refilling water glasses?

5. Happiness isn’t something you find, it’s something you create.

Imagine this scene…

You’re staying in one of the nicest hotels in the world. You’re eating incredible food by the pool. The ocean is just a few hundred feet away.

And yet, even in this paradise, you hear people complaining.

When I heard people whining at this incredible hotel, it reminded me of an important lesson: happiness isn’t something you find, it’s something you create.

Some people are determined to be unhappy no matter where they are and it’s important to realize that happiness isn’t something that is handed to you.

Maybe your business isn’t as big as you would like it to be. Maybe it’s tough for you to watch your friend have tons of success while you toil away in obscurity. Maybe you feel confused or overwhelmed because there is so much to do.

Guess what? You can still be happy!

This is a common pitfall for entrepreneurs. We delay happiness and satisfaction until we reach some imaginary mark of success. You won’t find happiness in a luxury resort or with a million dollar business. You’ll have to create it when you get to those places as well. So, you might as well create some happiness now and enjoy the ride.

6. The more you take care of yourself, the more you can take care of someone else.

The employees at the resort all had one thing in common: they were relatively healthy. Because they were always walking to the next task, they spent a large amount of their day moving. As a result, they were in decent shape.

At one point, I realized that they were only able to serve each guest because they had already taken care of themselves. An unhealthy or severely overweight person would not have been able to perform the job in the same way.

The lesson is clear: take care of yourself.

It doesn’t matter if you want to serve customers or your family or your community. It’s hard to help others if you haven’t first helped yourself.

7. The best way to get famous is make amazing stuff.

Why do people rave about luxury hotels? Because they create an amazing experience.

Will people rave about your business? Only if you create amazing things.

Blogging, networking, marketing, and promotion all have their place. But the truth of the matter is that creating something incredible is the best way to make a splash.

Get to work on something amazing. Everything else is secondary.

Would you like to stay at a luxury hotel?

American Express and Starwood Hotels are official sponsors of Passive Panda, which is how I ended up at the Bal Harbour resort. I had a great time there and I’d love to share the experience with you.

For that reason, I’m giving away 60,000 Starpoints to one lucky reader, which can be redeemed for a free hotel stay at any Starwood hotel property.

How to Enter: Leave a Comment Below

To enter, all you need to do is leave a comment below telling me where you why you would like to stay at a Starwood luxury hotel. You can enter once per day until Monday, November 19.

The Fine Print: the winner will be chosen at random on November 19, 2012 at 3pm EST.

UPDATE: Congrats to the winner of the giveaway, Jonathan Clark-Harris! Stay tuned for more giveaways in the future.

Disclosure: American Express and Starwood Hotels are official partners with Passive Panda and they have donated 60,000 Starpoints for Passive Panda readers to win.

66 Responses to 7 Important Lessons Luxury Hotels Can Teach You About Becoming a Successful Entrepreneur

  1. Laurent says:

    Nusa Dua, Bali.

    • allan says:

      well this is a very good article and it’s just only in time for putting up my own business by next yr .I would like to stay in the Starwood Hotels is only because I want to experience the same thing that a very important people experienced when they are staying in such a kind hotel .Am just a simple OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker )that’s worked in Oman .

  2. Kingsley says:

    Nice article. I have dreams of becoming an entrepreneur but struggle to get started and find the right idea.

    Leaving a comment to enter to win the Starwood Luxury Hotel stay. Would like to stay at any one of the India locations as they all look amazing and I would love to experience the luxury service the hotels have to offer and learn what I can about entrepreneurship.


  3. Rae Liljedahl says:

    Love reading your articles. Live in northern Idaho and just figuring out what business to get into in a remote location such as this. Have never done any traveling or been to an upscale hotel, I would like to experience it maybe once.

  4. Jobi Harris says:

    I would love some Star Points! I am going to Tyson’s Corner in May and could really use a boost in my budget! Thanks for the oppotunity.

  5. Leonardo Osorio says:

    I love how you say that happiness is created, I couldn’t agree more. There are people that are dependent on material stuff to declare themselves happy. Many entrepreneurs coincide in saying that they feel richer when they are surrounded by family or true friends.

  6. Roger D. Hunt says:

    To really be successful…we must absolutely do all those things that you said. I was really excited when I read the remark about taking care of yourself…it is like love: love thyself, then we can love others.
    Doing a great service to mankind with your newletter..
    Thank you!.

  7. Dan says:

    I agree with #6. Staying healthy will allow you to serve your customers/clients better. Lately I’ve been “too busy” to cook so I am eating out more, and I don’t have time to exercise. I find myself getting tired sooner in the day and I am not able to focus when I need to. At least I’ve realized it now so I can fix it :)

    Thanks for the article. Have a great week!

  8. Mrinalini says:

    Self-care is big, not only because it enables you to better take care of your customers, but because it makes you more attractive to potential customers. Radiating good health, a good attitude, warmth, etc., is attractive.

  9. Nick says:

    #5 is spot on. Continually hear people who are in very good places(whether physically, financially, professionally, relationship-wise and sometimes even spiritually) not be grateful. You definitely need to make your own happiness and yes, it requires effort. Thanks for this post

  10. Peggy says:

    7 GREAT points! As a massage therapist, I have to get regular massages … I tell people “you can’t give away what you don’t have”. If I’m not happy and relaxed, I won’t be as successful giving that to my clients.

    Why I would like to stay at Starwood … oh my! I’ve been working hard creating my second career (pet photography) and I HAVEN’T been allowing myself to “enjoy the moment”. I’ve been too focused on “when I can take a break” as I brainstorm to find that “thing” that will make me stand out from the others.

    A stay at Starwood would be that wonderful NOW time to enjoy me: my life, my talents, my goals, my clients, ME. Yes, I’ll likely have a notepad at my side to take notes when aHa! moments strike. But overall, it would be a valued gift of relaxation and enjoying the Good Life – now, in the moment, because ultimately I’m worth it!

    Thanks for offering this fantastic give-a-way!

  11. Sam says:

    Early in my young career in sales, I was at a beautiful hotel for a company conference when I struck an impromptu conversation with one of our Vice-Presidents. I thanked him for the trip and we talked briefly about some of his past experiences travelling around the world and he closed with one of the most true yet, simple statements, “I’ve been to many beautiful places around the world, but unless you have someone to share it with, it means nothing”.
    It was a touch of humanness in a sometimes human-less world of Corporate America. There may be times that we need to stop and smell the roses. If you are privileged enough to be able to go places around the world, don’t forget that you may have loved ones that don’t get those same experiences and if you can make it so, make it a priority to share that trip with them or go on a separate trip with them.
    Nothing is as beautiful as a moment shared.
    I’d love to share a trip to one of these hotels.

  12. Mike Kawula says:

    This is fantastic and each lesson made me reflect. Thanks!

  13. Stacy says:

    In January I am joining my best friend on her business trip to Reno in order to celebrate her 50th birthday. It would be a real treat to be able to stay at a Starwood Hotel.
    Thank you for the reminder about happiness starting with you – its all very true.

  14. “You don’t need a unique business to be unique.”, cannot agree more!

    Would love spend time at any of their resorts in India.

  15. Phillip Smith says:

    Try reading “MacKay’s 66″; 66 things you should know about every customer!! GREAT suggestions.

  16. I loved this article, especially as someone who longed to work in the hospitality industry as a young college student. Unfortunately, life has taken me other directions, but this post perfectly addresses and combines my love of travel, entrepreneurship, and the unmatched experience staying at a great resort can provide.

    For the past year I have been involved in a wonderful start-up fair trade organization called Teysha. I have contributed my marketing and sales skills to help the founders, Sophie Eckrich and Travis Briehan, in their mission to empower South American Artisans by establishing markets for their creations within the United States. We firmly believe that the greatest way to end poverty in these stricken areas of South America is to provide employment and concrete revenue streams.

    For this reason, I desire to explore the country of Paraguay, and while I fully intend to immerse myself in the native culture and the beautiful art forms of the country, I salivate at the thought of being able to retire in luxury at Starwood’s Sheraton Asuncion Hotel.

    Thank you for your insightful articles, and the opportunity to enter the contest. Keep up the great work!

  17. Scott Worthington says:

    Great article, James. You are observant and insightful in your assessment.

    I, too, am not a target customer for a luxury hotel. However, I will be attending the NAMS9 conference (Niche Affiliate Marketing System) in Atlanta in February. A free hotel stay would contribute to my happiness.

    Hope I win!

  18. Maryann says:

    Thanks James for the lovely article and sharing your enthusiasm to spark up. The give away is a great idea and wonderful for getting a response. You and I are similar in that I too am hooked into the energy of life and writing about it. It is not always easy to get recognized. I am very glad to see a response and I try to give you mine when I am facing your way.

    Lots of Light. Put me in the hat for those points and keep on trucking.

    Maryann Castellanos

  19. Tiago says:

    I would like to stay at a Starwood hotel because I need some vacations desperately! As you said, I need to take care of myself first! I fell I can’t give much more of me right now, I need a pause!

  20. Randy says:

    Someone once said the to get what you wanted, you just had to help enough other people get what they wanted. I as well don’t often stay at a luxury resort, but in the few times that I have, it didn’t matter that I didn’t look like I belonged there. We were treated just the same as the ones who did. I would like the Starwood points so I can take my wife for a second honeymoon. She really deserves it!

  21. Gary Baker says:

    Like many of the other responders, I am STILL looking for the right niche. However, I am working in a service industry, and I am able to see how the points you make could have a positive impact on our company goals, and will implement them as soon as possible. I really don’t care WHICH resort I go to…the point is to enjoy the moment, rather than a destination, right?

  22. Nataghia says:

    Thank you for the relevant tips provided from your stay at a luxury hotel. Number 1 and 2 are key, in my view and will help guide the planning and services offered for any business. The trouble sometimes is narrowing it down so you can focus on what you do best!

    As someone who loves new hotel experiences but rarely experiences luxury hotel stays, I would be thrilled to visit any of the Starwood hotels in New York! Thank you.

  23. Dan says:

    I would like to stay at a Starwood luxury hotel with my beautiful wife. We have been married 5 years, have two wonderful kids and we’ve never taken a honeymoon. This would give us an excuse to finally take one :)

  24. Kathleen says:

    I would love to win a stay at a luxury hotel. As a self-employed person, I am always on the go and don’t take time for myself or my husband. It would be fabulous to be able to “get away” and rejuvenate. Too much stress in my life. I need to give myself some margin and slow down.

  25. Thanks for this great article! From the hard core of the importance of finding your target market to the oft forgotten “take better care of yourself”, you had some great points for how to be a better entrepreneur from your stay.

    I would love to experience a stay at Starwood property. Part of my business is finding new clients across the US. And the chance to stay at a Starwood property would do amazing things for my company – both offering a great meeting place as well as good place to unwind with the family when the day is over.

    Whoever you select – I wish them all the best!!! Send photos.

  26. Pat C says:

    Thank you for another thought-provoking article James. #2 especially hits home for me – as I am developing my business, I am learning to define who my target customers are, and it is harder that I initially realized!

  27. tom o. says:

    How nice of StarWood and Amex to give up their greatest secrets.

  28. Ed says:

    James, Thanks for the tips. #7 rings especially true for me and my wife. We’re working on something that we think will bring joy to people’s lives. We can get caught up, however, in every new social media forum and forget to focus on the purpose.

  29. Whatever resort they have in Europe, I would like to get there.It isn’t for a fancy reason.It is just for being able to experience luxury,get inspired and have fun.

  30. Javeria says:

    Great article! What really hit home for me was point 6. I often find myself compromising on my health (i.e., sleeping less, relying on sugar for energy) when stress piles up. I would love to become an entrepreneur but I’m hesitant because I know someone who tried so hard on a business venture but it was unsuccessful. I’m on the lookout for a good mentor :) Thank you for the article!

  31. Keith Hubbard says:

    I would like to stay at the St. Regis in Bora Bora, French Polynesia. My wife and I have never had a honeymoon, and I would love her to be pampered at least once. Thanks for the great article!

  32. Nathan Barry says:

    Sounds like a fun experience! I’d love to hear more about getting those two as sponsors of your site.

  33. philip says:

    Hey i would love stay at StarWood because it makes you feel at home ,They have sense of belonging to the hotel they make you feel special when your in the hotel this through recognition hence making me to have chance to sleep in them.

  34. Brad says:

    Your 7 lessons did more for me than Mr. Covey’s 7 habits, not to mention at a greater saving of money and time!
    “Sharpen thy saw”


  35. Darren says:


    thanks for the article, Point 5 really stands out for me, I ‘ve been struggling lately. I think I forgot, that I am the only one that can do something about my own happiness. mmmmm.. bugger I guess I better start to work harder at it ..

  36. Jeffrey says:

    Great post here. I needed a little reminder that I should be aiming higher than I normally do. I’d stay at one of the Starwood Maui hotels. Let me know when I won!!!

  37. You are right: Know you target customer. Many business owners make the mistake of trying to sell to everyone possible. Apart from the fact that this is NOT a very smart move, it will dilute your marketing messages and make it difficult for you to meet the needs of your ideal customer. Sell to just one customer profile and you’ll do well in business.

  38. Jeff Turnbull says:

    My wife and I are constantly reading articles and trying new ways to improve service and increase sales for her two businesses. We loves networking and hearing new ideas to grow personally and to grow the businesses. We have five children that we enjoy spending as much time as possible with.. One of the wonderful benefits of being your own boss for my wife is that she controls her own work schedule. Even though she is very busy she is able to spend more time with the children than some career professionals that we know. She hasn’t had a real get away for a long time. We would love to get some points to take the family to the St. Regis Bal Harbour.

  39. Jeff says:

    I would love to stay at a Starwood location in either Scotland or Russia. Would love to take my wife on a nice vacation to either.

  40. Number 7 is definitely my favorite – that’s what it all comes down to. You can do all the marketing you want…but the best marketing is having a killer product!


  41. April says:

    Happiness is something you create. This struck me the most! No matter where you are and what you do – the end point of everything is you. In business, it’s not bad if you have big dreams. That drives you to move forward. Make short term goals and take some satisfaction for being able to achieve those. Be happy and stay positive! :)

  42. Richard Grogean says:

    The 7 critcal lessons for entrepreneurs dirves home the idea that to be special in the eye’s of your customers, you have to create an environment of customer centrict focus that results in an experience that is everlasting and return customers.

  43. Samay Chadha says:

    This is fabulous and each lesson made me reflect. Thanks!

  44. Kelly says:

    I’m not leaving a comment to win the hotel stay, I just enjoyed the article!
    I have a BIG sign up in my house saying –
    Happiness is not a destination, it is a way of life!
    Never loose site of that!

  45. Janise says:

    Great tips!
    I would like to stay at Phoenician Residences in Scottsdale, Arizona. This property looks amazing and so relaxing in a interesting and beautiful city that I always have dreaming to visit someday. I bet I will be able to make new contacts and had the opportunity to network a little bit. Thanks for the opportunity James.

  46. Jonathan Clark-Harris says:

    Very great article and everything that you said was spot on. I currently work a luxury hotel brand that is competition to the Starwood brand and the core goals of the company as well as each property follow these principles.

  47. Lisa says:

    Great article. I particularly like number 5 regarding happiness.I have come to the realization that we must have happiness within ourselves or it will not matter where on earth one is.

    Of course I have to agree with number 6 as a wellness practitioner. Self-care IS of the utmost importance. From my observations people that are the healthiest,happiest and have created the most optimal lifestyles are those who make self care a top priority.

  48. James says:

    Thanks for the great info. I would like to stay in Seattle, Washington to visit my family. Thanks again!

  49. kalaiva says:

    The hotel and Amex giving rewards is a warmhearted gift,like point 1, knowing what to stand for.
    Happiness is the sense of feeling that arouses from within, its a sensation of being part of the ambience, surrounding. This sensation will enlighten, evolve internally and enjoys everything around. You have to enjoy the moment and create it from inside YOURSELF, it’s all around us, create and be in harmony with nature, yourself. cheers!

  50. dan says:

    Best line IMO: Do you know what your most important tasks are for today? Are you actually working on them? Or are you spending all day refilling water glasses?

    so often we spend time on the ‘urgent’ (filling glasses, sweeping, doing things others want us to). Spending time on what’s important is key.

    I love to see different places, Travel a log, and would definitely stay at a Starwood hotel.


  51. Ana says:

    I’d love to stay at a Starwood hotel anywhere in the world. Let’s see … L.A. to visit my friends whom I haven’t seen in 9 years, Madrid or Barcelona, Spain in the country I consider my spiritual home, London where I’ve always wanted to go, Tokyo where I worked until 2010 … my dreams of travel and freedom will simply never end.

    They will never end until I do, in spite of present circumstances. After an illness that forced me to leave Japan, I’m now stuck back in the States working in a warehouse. Getting back to my real life seems now a remote possibility at best … but there’s got to be a way … getting an idea … building a business around it …

    Thank you for this opportunity!

  52. jennie says:

    I totally agree on taking care of yourself!! Prime example is family life and a full time job!

    I would love to go anywhere in UAE or close by!

  53. antonina adintsova says:

    what i particularly like about this article is that different people, living in different places, speaking different languages, having different life, educational and professional experiences, do not remain indifferent while reading it. there is something in it that each of us may find appealing, that will urge us to speak and to share our views with somebody else. it creates a wonderful forum for discussion – through the globe!

  54. ARTacrobat says:

    the sheer idea that this post might get me into a swanky hotel is brilliant. above all though..a deep thankyou to passive panda/james clear. you’ve yet to steer me wrong! p.s. i hear you were in my neck of the woods (raleigh,nc) hope you got smothered in some southern hospitality!

  55. Matt Osmundsen says:

    Great article. Thanks for sharing!

  56. Shell says:

    I have never been in an atmosphere like the Bal Harbour resort. It would make me a better person and better able to fill the needs of people that are different than me – to be able to experience these accomadations. Observation and interaction allows me to broaden my communication/relational skills which generates confidence and ability in each situation I find myself. Thank you for the wonderful article with tips that I can apply to my every day.

  57. Mark Doherty says:

    Great article!
    I’d like to stay at the St. Regis, Washington DC – visit friends and see the nation’s capitol with our 15 year old.

  58. Cameron says:

    If you have trouble getting the important stuff done, try to avoid letting your email inbox control your day

  59. Shyla Weith says:

    I like the bit about happiness being something you create. It is indeed the way of the world right now. Just like if you don’t like something, change the way you think.

  60. Liz says:

    Just discovered your blog courtesy of Problogger. I have over 20 years running my own restaurant. Just sold it, but I think I was doing a lot of the things you are talking about, without really realizing it.

  61. Santosh says:

    Great post. I am glad I went to this site, these are great ideas you suggested. I belong to a few Article, but someone I never thought or heard of. I will join some of what you suggested.


  62. I used to work at the Aloft. It was my first experience in the customer service industry…it’s all about creating an amazing experience for the guest.

    I read Jeffery Gitomer’s book Customer Satisfaction is Worthless, Customer Loyalty is Priceless which was super helpful.

    And I’m not much for incentive cards and programs but the Starwood AMEX is pretty dope. You can use your points for hotels, flights and things like Apple and Amazon gift cards. So if you’re thinking of a rewards card, I HIGHLY recommend that one.

  63. Vivek says:

    Hello James,

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful article with us. we all very thankful of you for this valuable article.

  64. Kurt says:

    I agree with Cameron above – i have at times let my emails take over my life and stop me from correctly promoting and maintaining my business. Your article has given me the motivation to succeed.

Leave a Reply