Michael Hudson, director of brand projects for Gaylord Hotels and a former Walt Disney Imagineer, discusses two branches of the hospitality business – theme parks and hotel resorts – and shines a spotlight on the new Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center at the National Harbor complex near Washington, DC. He was interviewed by Blooloop’s Chad Emerson.
Q. Please tell us about your background in the amusement industry before arriving at Gaylord.
A. I spent the first part of my professional life working for Walt Disney Imagineering as a project engineer. I started as an associate engineer doing ride design and installation. I was very fortunate to work with many talented individuals on both the creative and technical side of ride development, and learned both the importance of storytelling and technical excellence. I grew through the Walt Disney Company, going from design to leading a team of engineers and craftspeople on ride design and installation. I helped open two theme parks along the way as well.
Q. What are some similarities between the general amusement industry and a highly themed resort company like Gaylord?
A. It truly is about an immersive experience for the guests. Creating unique environments that are rich in experience, and places that encourage exploring, is critical for both the amusement industry and themed resorts. Everything should have a back-story: Even if you don’t fully know what it is, it should feel like it was there for a purpose and it should invite discovery. Where the amusement industry typically uses fantasy for these environments, Gaylord draws inspiration from the local culture, geography and history of the region where the hotel is built.
Q. How has Gaylord incorporated theming and back-story into the new Gaylord National?
A. Our company started in 1925 as the Grand Ole Opry, so we have a real appreciation for the vibrant traditions and rich history of America. These themes are woven into the fabric of Gaylord National, but with a decidedly local-geographic feel. The lobby exudes a strong Federal Republic feel that is present in so many of our historic buildings in our nation’s capital. Our signature steak house, Old Hickory, provides a historic feel of Georgetown mansions from the turn of the century. The lower atrium evokes reminiscences of Colonial-style buildings, a waterfront pier from the Potomac and Baltimore Harbor areas, and even a throwback to the classic legends of regional sports. It’s like an archeological dig as you move through the different areas and levels of the hotel. All of these seamlessly flow together to create the tapestry of experiences inside and outside the hotel; they invite exploration.
Q. What differentiates Gaylord National from other themed resort hotels -including other Gaylord resorts?
A. Our STARS. Our employees are called STARS because they really provide outstanding service above and beyond any other themed resort hotel. You can have the most magnificent building in the world, but without people truly passionate about flawless service to guests, it’s just that, a building. Gaylord has a STARS first culture; we only hire “10’s” and put our STARS’ needs first; they, in turn, take care of the guest like no one else. This is where you truly feel the Gaylord difference at all of our hotels.
What makes Gaylord National stand out among its sister hotels is its location on the Potomac. The magnificent river stretches out in front of the hotel, and can take you to so many historic places right from the hotel’s pier; Mount Vernon, Old Town Alexandria, the Smithsonian, downtown DC, and Georgetown. Also, how we have integrated into the local culture really provides for a unique experience that you can feel the moment you enter the hotel lobby.
Q. There are numerous themed touches to be found throughout the Gaylord National. What is your personal favorite themed element of the property?
A. There is so much there it is difficult to point to one element. We commissioned the construction of three models of historically significant naval vessels from our nation’s history; the USS United States, the Ann McKim and the USS Constellation. The detail and accuracy on these models is phenomenal. The USS United States stands over 6’ tall from keel to top of mast with individual mini-copper plates on the hull; exactly as she would have appeared in 1797. This was the very first ship of the United States Navy signed into law and named by George Washington. The Ann McKim, a merchant vessel built in Baltimore, was very significant as she is the first of the Yankee Clipper vessels; all the tall sailing ships can trace their design lineage back to this one revolutionary vessel. The USS Constellation was the last all sail ship to be constructed for the US Navy and was our flag ship of the African Squadron during the Civil War; you can still tour the original ship in Baltimore Harbor. Those vessels invite you from the lobby to lounge area with sweeping panoramic views of the atrium and the Potomac River. They also tie into the lower atrium theme of the Star Spangled Banner, Francis Scott Key and the bombardment of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812; sometimes referred to as America’s 2nd War of Independence. It is from this struggle that we transformed from a loose collection of states to a country with a national identity. It really is a powerful theme that ties us all together as Americans and perfect given Gaylord’s rich historic past.
[Editor’s Note: In case you were wondering, Gaylord Entertainment still owns the Grand Old Opry. This classic country music venue is located in Nashville at 2802 Opryland Drive, online at www.opry.com.]
Images: Courtesy Gaylord Hotels
More from Chad Emerson:
Amusement Parks: Former Disneyland President Matt Ouimet Reflects
Amusement parks: Theme Park Operations – A Conversation with Lee Cockerell
Chad Emerson talks with Cindy Gordon about her time at Universal Orlando