In the 1920s, the heyday of boosterism and civic pride, the principal hotel in smaller cities was the center of the community’s business and social life. More than just a resting place for travelers, a good hotel was the mark of a growing, dynamic city. In Denison, the Hotel Simpson (later renamed the Hotel Denison), which opened in 1924, was that town’s pride. In Sherman it was the Grayson Hotel, which opened in 1928.
For the most part, those grand hostelries faded away, replaced by strings of motels catering to the motor traveler and offering little more than a bed and a bath for the night. These days, travelers are asking for more, and the hotel industry is responding with newer, nicer and more amenable accommodations in smaller cities, and in some cases, the hotel is regaining its distinction as a place where important events in the community’s social life take place.
The Best of Texoma voters recognized the re-emergence of first-class inns, and chose The Hilton Garden Inn, the Hampton Inn & Suites, and La Quinta as the 2018 favorites, and so we spoke with representatives to find out what makes the hotels tick.
“I would say that the hardest thing about running a hotel these days, are the third-party websites — the third-party bookings,” Jonathan Jeffcoat, the front office manager at the Hampton Inn & Suites in Sherman, said of the rise of one-stop booking sites that promise lower prices in return for immediate payment. “Anytime you have prepayment, you make the experience more difficult.”
Bottom line, innkeepers would rather deal directly with their guests.
One thing that keeps Jeffcoat on the job is a variety of somewhat strange turnings that enliven almost every day.
“I’ve had a guest check in and when he got into the room, he took all of the pictures off the wall and piled them up neatly on the bed.”
It’s unclear where he slept.
“I had a guest who unrolled all of the toilet paper out in a long straight line,” Jeffcoat said. “It doesn’t happen often, but about every three months we get something weird.”
There are positives too.
“Even though we are primarily a transient hotel right on U.S. (Highway) 75, we get guests from all over the world, and it’s a treat to be able to socialize with them,” Jeffcoat said. “I’m a social person, and this is a good job for meeting people.”
One of Texoma’s newest hostelries is the Hilton Garden Inn in Denison. Regina Rhodes is the general manager, and has been an innkeeper for 18 years.
“The technologies of the hotel business are changing,” she said. “We are still in the amenities business, but how things are done has changed. We’ve gone to these huge TVs and now people use their cellphones rather than the phone they have in their room. The internet is very important, and you have to have Wi-Fi. Many years ago, if you wanted to connect to the outside world, it was plug-in, dial-in, and you had to pay for it. That is usually not the case anymore.”
In the category of strange guests, Rhodes asked for some time to think that one over, but she was quick to expound on why she loved the business.
“In this business, you either love it or hate it, and you usually know right away. I started in the business as a third job when I was in college,” she said. “I did an internship, and afterwards, they asked if I would like to come back and be the front office manager.
“I could think of nothing else I wanted to do. I love the people, and the team members, and it is something different every day.”
Meanwhile, back to the strange things and guests question.
“We had a gentleman who wanted everything in his room blacked out,” she said. “He wanted everything in the room covered with black paper — the walls, the windows, the carpet, the doors.”
Rhodes would not say why the guest wanted things that way — what happens in her hotel, stays in her hotel.
With more than 20 years in the hotel business, Maurice Stafford, general manager of Sherman’s La Quinta Inn, said the most difficult thing about the business today is keeping a solid staff.
“You’ve got to find the right combination of staff and keep them,” Stafford said. “To do that, you’ve got to treat them as you want to be treated.”
Next came the strangest incident question, to which Stafford responded, “Pets. We had a lady with a pit bull and a white bunny rabbit in her room. The lady swore that she didn’t have a bunny rabbit, but it was in the tub when the housekeeper came in to clean the room. We saw it, and we had pictures of it. We’re talking about a white bunny with red eyes. It freaked the housekeeper out.”
Stafford said the best part of the business is the interaction with the guests, meeting many people and the variety of people that you meet everyday.
“We don’t have as many business travelers, as say a larger city like Dallas; here, we have more leisure travelers,” Stafford said, explaining long-term hotel residents are also rare, but there are some. “We had a man in Temple, who worked there but lived a long way off, and he basically lived at the hotel. I stayed here for 72 days when I first took over this hotel. There are hotels that specialize in permanent residents,” Stafford said, “They are called residence hotels.”
Clearly, the modern hotel offers something for just about everyone, and in growing Texoma, there is always room at the inn.