10 Questions for (42): Robert Cole of RockCheetah

Continuing with another hotel marketing pro, Robert Cole (@RobertKCole)
Robert Cole of RockCheetah

1) Who Are you?

I am Robert Cole – The founder of RockCheetah, a consulting practice that specializes in aligning marketing strategies with appropriate technologies for hotels, travel sites and destinations. The goal is to help clients reach more consumers, position themselves effectively against competitors, operate more efficiently, and ultimately, better engage with travelers to provide unforgettable experiences.
Before starting RockCheetah, among other things, I ran marketing planning for Four Seasons Hotels, oversaw Sabre’s global hotel program, helped start up Neat Group (the first dynamic travel packaging platform) and headed Mark Travel’s (a major US Tour Operator) non-air product contracting and supplier operations groups.
I live near Milwaukee, Wisconsin – my wife (a retired inflight supervisor from Northwest Airlines and former Braniff Flight attendant) and I have two daughters who are also total travel junkies.

2) What do you like about what you do?

I run my own show, set my own priorities and only accept consulting engagements that interest me. I definitely enjoy working with highly disruptive technologies, developing products & processes that create customer value, and fashioning highly efficient business models.
The best part however, is working with smart clients that are not satisfied with the status-quo and not only want to improve their performance, but are sincerely interesting in raising the bar in terms of customer experience – both online and in real-life.

3) What don’t you like about what you do?

Working solo requires discipline to know when to cut off from work and make time for other priorities, like my family, eating and sleeping. I have always taken a very immersive approach to my projects, so I have to consciously avoid saturating my time with too many business commitments.

4) Please tell us all about your blog and your aims with it.

In my spare time, I author the Views from a Corner Suite blog, where I provide commentary on any topic that interests me. This normally means long-form posts on a variety of travel industry topics, but I occasionally pursue a tangent like picking on poor Kevin May every April Fool’s Day…
The sub-head explains that I am attempting to prove hotel & destination marketing, travel technology, quality service & profitability can peacefully coexist. They can – it just takes a lot of work to keep them from killing each other…
Views from a Corner Suite provides me with a platform to share my views with people around the world. I found that it worked better than writing comments on other blogs that were longer than the original posts ( a habit I still have had trouble breaking…)
San Juan Orcas
Photo Credit: Martin de Witte – flickr

5) Your top 3 destination experiences you’ve ever stayed to date and why?

Paris, France. Before we had children, my wife and I stayed in a tiny 5th floor walk-up studio apartment in a residential neighborhood of the 17th Arrondissement for two weeks one December. It had all the comforts of home – heat (a hot plate), a shower (a small electric pump that drizzled some water out of an elevated hose) and a small, single twin bed. It was great – instead of a grand tourist experience, we felt we were exploring the city (and surrounding area) much more like locals.
San Juan Islands, Washington State, USA. I grew up near Seattle and would spend the summers in the San Juan Islands. When I was about 10, I was alone about 200 yards off the north shore of Orcas Island in a six-foot dinghy, fishing for Red Snapper. A large Killer Whale approached and circled me a couple times. That experience reminded me that tolerance of visitors is an important aspect of hospitality.
A couple years later, on a horseback overnight while attending Camp Nor’wester on Lopez Island, I drew the short straw and “won” the 5:00am shift to check on the horses. At sunrise, a pod of about a dozen orcas were feeding, playing and breaching about 50 yards offshore. It was a joyous spectacle.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming USA. Contrary to the beliefs of many ill-informed tourists, Yellowstone is not a theme park, nor is it the home to Yogi Bear… Yellowstone was the world’s first National Park. After working in Yellowstone for three months during a summer break from college and several subsequent visits, I sincerely feel every inhabitant of earth could benefit from a visit to Yellowstone – the combination of large mammal wildlife, scenic vistas and thermal features is arguably unparalleled on the planet.

6) Your top 3 accommodations you’ve ever stayed to date and why?

I worked for Four Seasons Hotels for 8 years and stayed in a good number of their great properties. That would be the easy answer. As I am a strong proponent of marketing to traveler personas, instead, I will highlight three very different, but outstanding properties for very different reasons. The following are three of my traveler personas and hotels that fit perfectly for each.
Family: Barcelo Maya Palace Deluxe, Riviera Maya, Mexico For this one, I polled my family – my wife and two teenage daughters who play an important role in determining family favorites (a key goal in finding family happiness & harmony while traveling.) Considering that we have stayed at a number of more luxurious properties, all-inclusive resorts and cruised extensively as a family, somewhat surprisingly, this was a unanimous selection. Great properties don’t need ultra-luxury facilities, but they do need attentive service and to exceed guest expectations. Barcelo delivered with welcoming hospitality throughout.
The 700+ room property is definitely not for those seeking an intimate getaway, but is located on the best beach in Riviera Maya and includes all-inclusive access to the dining, activities & amenities of Barcelo’s sister Maya Beach, Caribe, Tropical and Colonial properties located across the entire 2,700 room complex. There is something for everyone with specialty restaurants and extensive, well run buffets, beachfront dining, lots of bars, a great kids club, engaging entertainment and extensive water sports. Offsite, Playa del Carmen, the Tulum ruins and family-oriented parks like Xcaret and Xel-Há are not too far.
Business: Hotel Seiyo Ginza, Tokyo, Japan. 80 rooms, incredible address (1 Ginza), exceptional quality furnishings & facilities, amazing food, and best of all, outstanding service. It’s definitely an oasis within the city. The addition of personal assistants capable handling virtually any eventuality exceeds the expectations of even the most seasoned business travelers.
Romance: Young Island Resort, St. Vincent, West Indies. 30 cottages on a 35 acre island located 200 yards off the coast of St. Vincent. Great dining, attentive personal service, rooms with louvers for windows, open air showers and private yachts available for charter to tour neighboring islands. A great escape.

7) Your top 3 most memorable food / wine experiences to date and why?

30 years ago, I took my wife (then fiancée) to Houston’s Inn on the Park – at the time, operated by Four Seasons Hotels (now an Omni,) for the weekend. We enjoyed the Degustation, as I recall, pheasant mousse in blueberry tarragon sauce, frog legs in a green sauce, and three fishes in three sauces, plus a pear torte for dessert. It was outstanding.
A couple years ago on a cruise around the British Isles, we stopped in Greenock (near Glasgow.) I rented a car and drove the family 3 hours each way to Inverlochy Castle in Fort William, Scotland for lunch prepared by Michelin 1-star chef Mathew Gray (now at Chez Roux on Lake Conroe in Texas.) The meal was amazing, but dessert spoiled my girls for life… a selection of three perfectly tempered fruit sorbets, a perfect crème brulé and a heavenly-light, but devilishly rich chocolate soufflé exhibited a beauty that was only matched by the spectacular scenery of the Scottish Highlands.
My former administrative assistant at Four Seasons suggested that we should have dinner with one of her dear high school friends while visiting Hong Kong. We were a bit taken back to discover that her friend was Anson Chan, Chief Secretary for Administration for Hong Kong’s government, one of the few public officials that successfully transitioned from British rule to Chinese rule. We dined on classically prepared Peking Duck at her private club – outstanding food, exceptional company and fascinating conversation.

8) Your 3 worst destination / accommodation / food experiences to date and why?

My worst destination experience was bushwhacking with a full pack for 4 hours, then climbing a very steep couloir with an ice axe, but no crampons, only to discover that we had climbed the wrong peak in the Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountain range. However, as often happens with bad travel experiences, it mysteriously transformed into a wonderful experience. After retreating to a remote mountain lake to camp that night, we were able to enjoy truly unspoiled solitude and watch a lone mountain goat carefully traverse a cliff about 1,000 feet above us.
The worst food experience was accidentally getting ice in my drink from a street vendor in Chaing Rai, Thailand. I will spare you further details…
The most miserable lodging experience was easily staying in the New York City Travelodge on 42nd Street in 1978. The worst part wasn’t that the front desk was encased in bullet-proof glass, the neighboring theater marquee proclaiming “Live Sex Acts on Stage,” or another person’s room being infested with fleas. No, the greatest insult was, TrustHouse Forte, changed our planned accommodations at The Pierre (5-star) to the Travelodge (1/2-star) at the last minute (I was part of a group of Cornell Hotel School students on a week-long sales blitz for The Pierre… Forte managed both properties at the time.)

9) Can you offer the readers 3 destination / food / accommodation / things to do tips about the city you are currently living in?

For most, Milwaukee is best experienced in the summer and the best summer event is undoubtedly Summerfest – the World’s Largest Music Festival with over 700 bands playing on 11 stages over 11 days in late June/early July.
For food, I would have to recommend AJ Bombers – their Milwaukee Burger is a fresh ¼ pound burger, topped with double Colby cheese, double Nueske’s bacon and Schlitz onions. It won the best cheeseburger award from The Travel Channel’s Food Wars.
To stay, although it is a bit west of Milwaukee, the 38-room Delafield Hotel is a gem. It was converted from a turn-of-the-century warehouse into a boutique hotel in 2006. Not only is it a great property, but it is also the official hotel of the Ten Chimney’s, the nearby historic summer estate of Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, the most famed acting team in the history of American theater – another hidden treasure not to be missed.
RockCheetah

10) Any Question(s) you’d expected me to ask that you would like to answer

Most everyone asks me where the name RockCheetah originated. In 1974, I was an alpine ski racer for the Crystal Mountain Athletic Club in Washington State. As a slalom specialist, my races were two runs. At one race, I was sitting in 3rd place after the 1st run. On the 2nd run, I was pretty much flawless and won the event easily. A friend exclaimed “You ran that like a Rock Cheetah – That was solid, that was fast!”
Since it was so unique, I started using the RockCheetah name for song publishing rights from the high school garage band I was in. One of my band mates graduated from Harvard Law School and is a corporate lawyer, so I have both printed evidence and a reputable witness that can confirm prior usage of the name. Nobody’s going to successfully challenge me on the rights to that name.
When I went out on my own as a consultant in 2004, it occurred to me that my clients wanted solid analysis and fast recommendations. Since that aligned perfectly with the RockCheetah name, the naming decision was easy.
If any readers have any other questions they would like me to answer, I am @RobertKCole on Twitter.

My Take:

Thank you Robert for participating. We met in Berlin for the first time and I’m looking forward to meet you again whenever where ever.
I’m glad I could teach Robert – who must have forgotten what I still have to learn about running a hotel – one thing: How to carry a proper Avatar around the Internet and am proud he choose one of my portraits of him.

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2 Responses to 10 Questions for (42): Robert Cole of RockCheetah

  1. Great to get to know a little more about Robert, who I have been following for some time. I’m always interested in his insight and think he’s one of the brightest guys out there in travel marketing. Often I learn more about an issue through his comment on a blog post than from the post itself. So please don’t stop! DC

  2. Well I am honored that having clicked on this blog and thoroughly enjoyed reading about Robert (I had heard of RochCheetah but wasn’t sure what it was) and then find I am the second to comment after my “friend” Daniel Craig! I agree Daniel, comments are often where the real learning happens.

    Would it be possible to get Robert, Daniel, and the Happy Hotelier on a panel together?

    Steven

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