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What can Detroit learn from the toniest hotel in town? It’s all about rolling out the red carpet

Townsend Hotel in Birmingham

Depending on your POV, Lynette Zebrowski has either the best or worst job in Metro Detroit – she is Chief Concierge for The Townsend Hotel, Birmingham’s AAA 4-Diamond luxury hotel.

Let’s get the obvious questions out of the way. Yes, she has seen those infamous riders that celebrities send ahead when on tour or vacation. No, diva-worthy singers have never asked her to sort the green M&Ms out of their bowls of candy. No one has ever pushed her in front of them to block the paparazzi. And, yes, she has gotten some weird, last-minute, hard-to-fulfill requests – more on that later.

I had a chance to check in with Zebrowski and Jason Hawkins, director of Front Office Operations, for a bit, hoping to glean some idea as to how these two hard-working stiffs help The Townsend roll out the red carpet. Our beloved little Detroit has some image problems, you may note, and it would be good to know how to boost our self-esteem and our perception throughout the world.

It’s a pretty easy equation, Zebrowski and Hawkins told me. You find out what people are looking for and then you give it to them. Never turn down a request. Forget the word “No.” Make it happen.

For this humble blogger, I will say I see the store owners, non-profit leaders, visionary corporate suits and tons of others doing exactly that to bring this city and region around. They are doing everything within their power to bring back every inch of Detroit. They are devoting countless hours of their time and earning potential toward a turnaround.

But can these little flames of success be sustained? How can we roll out the red carpet to every man, woman or child that comes into Detroit? We offer up our smiles, our best selves, our great welcoming Midwestern spirit, our full hearts that are busting with hope for those 140 or so square miles.

Sure, a hotel – even the best of the best here – may be a strange place to gain insights on how to turn a downtrodden city around. But I’m all about getting my head around this city, and I’m all about finding out celebrity gossip at the same time. Insert smiley-emoticon here.

“We definitely view ourselves as the hosts for a lot of VIPs and celebrities. They come to know the Metro area through us,” Hawkins says. “Our approach is simple: We find out their requests, and we try to be accommodating to those requests.”

Townsend HotelSome background: The Townsend Hotel opened in 1988. Its reputation for fanciness started pretty quickly and has lingered for good reason. In fact, Travel + Leisure magazine ranks The Townsend among its “World’s Best Hotels.” The hotel boasts 150 luxury guest rooms and suites, all featuring 100 percent Egyptian cotton sheets and other such high-end amenities.

Truthfully, Zebrowski is genuinely stumped when you ask her to name a celebrity who has been rude or obnoxious to her. Mostly, they’re just regular people who happen to have throngs of assistants, crowds of photographers and lots of craziness wherever they go. So if they want the windows blackened out in the fitness center so they can get buff in private, Zebrowski is happy to do so.

“You name it, we’ve done it,” the Michigan State University grad says.

So what are the takeaways for Detroit? Here we go…

  1. Be prepared. All of the hotel’s success with VIPs comes down to the simple understanding that it is important to be prepared. Zebrowski will spend weeks working with a celebrity’s manager, a tour manager or assistant to get the details right. They even have an advance group on call to make sure everything is set up ahead of time and nothing goes missed, Zebrowski says. “Everything has to go as planned,” she notes.
  2. Be available. Hawkins, Zebrowski and the rest of the staff are available any time of day or night. There is a full complement of people awake and ready to make any want become reality. “We’re accustom to people’s requests and we get it right the first time,” Zebrowski says. “We know what questions to ask. We’ve been doing this for so long that people know that and they want to stay here because of it.”
  3. Be flexible. The strangest request Zebrowski can recall is when a professional athlete asked her at the last minute to arrange a day on the water for him and his family. The athlete (who shall remain nameless – did you know that anyone who works at The Townsend has to sign a confidentiality agreement?) had the day off and wanted to take advantage of the great weather. So Zebrowski got a yacht, drinks and food ready in an hour.
  4. Be vigilant. The Townsend has a “no autograph, no picture” policy. That means the VIP guest can walk through the lobby without being hounded. Guests inside and out are asked to avoid using their iPhones or other cameras to bother anyone. Now, if a celebrity drives up in their fancy tour bus with their picture on the outside, there’s pretty much nothing to be done there. But otherwise, everyone gets elite status on this one.
  5. Be accommodating. Zebrowski knows exactly what spas, shops and stores are willing to shut down for an hour if an A-list celebrity needs to get a little shopping done. The salons and day spas especially have been great to work with in and around Birmingham when there is special request for services. In fact, Zebrowski says the whole city seems to have a laid-back vibe when it comes to famous faces showing up, mostly because the movie industry that formerly thrived here was so busy for so many years.

So I’ll be the first Detroit booster to be prepared, available, flexible, vigilant and accommodating whenever I can. I’ll share my best stories about Detroit. I’ll drag my friends, co-workers and strangers there. I’ll make Detroit my mission. However, I’m still researching where to find a giant red carpet, so I’ll keep you updated on that.

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13 comments on “What can Detroit learn from the toniest hotel in town? It’s all about rolling out the red carpet

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  2. Really great post. This answered the majority of my questions. When I read this I actually opened up a word document and started taking notes haha.

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