Anyone else have the urge to travel? With the strides made in the fight against COVID, our minds can’t help but turn to thoughts of faraway destinations and how we can explore the world again, taking in new sights, sounds and cultures.
Travel can take many forms – from a plane ride to a brand new destination to a staycation in your hometown to simply reading about inspirational people who are breaking barriers, there’s no shortage of ways to find an escape from your routine.
We at oHHo were lucky to join forces with pioneering hotelier Atit Jariwala, the CEO of Bridgeton Holdings, which has an array of amazing hotels, restaurants and bars, including the Walker Hotel in Tribeca, NY. Atit has created some truly dynamic programming for this hotel, making it the ultimate downtown destination for tourists and locals alike.
With his innovative program A Room To Grow, which includes the “Mile in their Shoes” content series, Atit is reinventing the guest experience, and creating unforgettable moments that reach beyond the walls of his hotels. As a part of the content series, oHHo’s own Nicola Stephenson – dubbed the Queen of Cannabis – dropped in for a special podcast presented by The Walker Hotel, called Meet the Creatives, where she talked about branding, vision, legalization and more. Tune in here to listen!
We sat down with Atit to learn more about his vision for The Walker Hotel, the future of travel, and what CBD products he loves, amongst other things.
You aim to “reinvent” the guest experience – what does that mean to you?
It’s funny when you say that, it sounds very arrogant and somewhat vague. My aim is to focus more on the human experience, which starts with how we treat our team as equals – that we encourage feedback, that we listen to them, pay attention, and care about their needs. We then invite and encourage our team to also try these techniques with their own interaction with guests and anyone else who walks in the hotel. So you may ask, “what sets your hotel apart from the rest?” What sets us apart from other lifestyle boutique hotels is that we are not trying to prescribe or dictate our lifestyle, instead we are about adapting to our guests. From bar to boardroom to guestroom we are in it with our guests.
The Walker Hotel proudly presents A Room to Grow, which nurtures the individual experience and celebrates the risk takers. How do you create that within the hotel?
All that we have done in our lives and experiences has led us to this very moment. These past 14 months have been so heavy, and of course, the focus has been on people’s physical health, but you know something also happened to each of us, and we have all, whether we know it or not, changed. For the first time we really had to face ourselves as we all lived in isolation, and while it seemed scary, it also made me personally take some steps on my own that I never had room to take when I was surrounded by people and my own busyness. So I started to try new things out; some of which I loved. As I did each activity, I realized that not only did I learn about the activity, but I also got little glimpses into the people who are doing them.
This was my mini revelation, which I will of course use as a travel analogy. I realized that when I traveled I always went on site-seeing tours, which actually kept a barrier between m e and the things I was seeing, but now I would make my travels about site-doing. I want to understand more about the things and the people I see than keeping myself behind a piece of plexi.
A great example of this is our “Mile in their Shoes” experience. This is where our guests have the chance to see New York through the eyes of people who play iconic roles, like going for a bike tour lead by New York City Bike Messengers.
That was the long answer to your question; the short answer is we share perspectives and invite people to experience new things. We remove the plexi of site seeing.
What other programming do you have planned through the summer?
This summer will be full of opportunities to do more and experience more of New York from all different perspectives. A great example is for Mother’s Day we are working with a group of moms on a number of fun initiatives. The first is working with moms in the art world on an Art Mamas Escape. The second is working on a three-day benefit for New Yorkers for Children, called Tats for Tots, where all proceeds of tattoos saying the word “mom” will go to the charity.
For Earth Month, it’s actually the idea of a Room to Grow – about dedicating all we do to this idea of growing from the Earth. We have partnered with The Earth Day Initiative on their “Just One Thing” campaign, giving every guest a tip of the day for three days about one activity they can do to help our planet. We have also worked with FABSCRAP and Custom Collaboration for an installation that is about raising awareness around environmental issues facing the fashion industry.
Who inspires you? If you could curate the ultimate dinner party, who would be at the table?
I’m inspired by so many people. I’m inspired by Ian Schrager’s creativity in creating unique and memorable hospitality experiences. Danny Meyer for creating amazing restaurants, but as well as taking a stand on issues facing the industry. Barack Obama for facing racial and other challenges to become President. My friend David Garza who runs what I believe to be the most impactful nonprofit in New York, The Henry Street Settlement. Elon Musk for being a visionary and pursuing his dreams, both on Earth and in space. And Greta Thunberg to have the courage, at such a young age, to really try and make a difference in the world.
Travel has definitely faced challenges with the pandemic. How do you look at your hotel experience differently now?
Challenges is a very nice way to put it – the travel industry got shaken to its core. What I saw in regards to the generosity of spirit, strength of character and the resilience of people gave me more hope than I think I have ever had in my entire life. I have come away from this period with excitement every time I open a hotel room door, because I remember what a gift it is to be able to travel and see new places.
Tell us about how you came to know oHHo!
It was during a conversation on CBD and I was asking people who had taken CBD what some of the benefits were. What I found interesting was one name came up as a brand mentioned by various people – “oHHo.” Then one of them sent me samples and the balm sold me. Its consistency, smell, how it made my skin feel after, it is really a product I believe in. After learning more about the founders and their values, I knew this was a product I wanted to introduce to our guests.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
It’s definitely the ability to serve and work with great people. My job is a privilege in that I am able to make memories for our guests. And I’m also able to work cohesively with my team to make our goals a reality. It’s really a gift.