Indian Gaming: Spotlight on DreamCatcher Hotels Founder and CEO, Greg Hnedak
START IN INDIAN COUNTRY: We have more than 15 years of experience in Indian Country. Even before I created DreamCatcher Hotels, my colleagues and I had long served tribes in this industry. I was the co-founder of Hnedak Bobo Group, which has a lengthy legacy of designing and building world-class gaming and hospitality properties throughout Indian Country. I fully believe I wouldn’t have gotten DreamCatcher Hotels successfully off the ground if it weren’t for the enthusiasm and support we received from our tribal friends and associates. We see so much opportunity to continue to support Indian Country.
FIRST TRIBAL PROJECT: DreamCatcher helped the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana develop Seven Clans Hotel in 2012, as part of Coushatta Casino Resort. Seven Clans is a seven-story, 401-room addition to Louisiana’s largest Native American casino. The hotel is the largest expansion of the resort since 2001. The tribe and casino management were attracted to DreamCatcher because of our business model. We were able to build them four-star rooms at a cost that was below your typical three-star hotel. At the time, there were people who thought we couldn’t provide that quality of hotel at that price. But we did it and this project is really what helped launch DreamCatcher to the success we are today.
MOST MEMORABLE PROJECT: Whenever I’m asked about my favorite project, I tend to agree with what Frank Lloyd Wright used to say, “my next one.” Really, every Native American project we’ve been involved with presents its own unique set of opportunities and challenges. Once the tribe catches on to our unique approach and once they understand that we can deliver a hotel that exceeds the quality they thought they could afford, they really get enthralled and can’t wait to take the message to their customers. But one of my most memorable experiences to date would have to be the opportunity to work with Priscilla Presley designing the suites for the new 450-room Guesthouse at Graceland hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience and one I’ll never forget.
CRITICAL ASPECTS: There is no more critical part of this entire design and development process than being 100-percent certain that you are starting a project off on the right foot. You do that by having a very detailed description of the project, often referred to as a program. All of the spaces needed for a successful hotel are put in writing and analyzed in terms of their cost so that a detailed budget can be developed. This is essential. This is why we do what we do. If you don’t start the project off on the right foot, it creates potential problems and headaches later. We are known for our ability to set the budget for a hotel at the very early stages and that forecast cost is what we guarantee when the construction bids come back. When we take that type of risk, I can assure you we will be monitoring that project very closely.
BALANCING DESIGN WITH ECONOMIC CONSTRAINTS: It’s our whole business model! This is why I created DreamCatcher Hotels. We found a way to control the cost to make it affordable. I don’t think anyone else in the industry is doing this. It all starts with the room in our opinion. The room is where the rubber meets the road. It’s the lasting memory guests take with them when they leave your property. That’s not to say that the architecture is not important. We certainly believe that the design should fit the character of the campus where the hotel is located. But they are going to spend hours in the room and that will have a much stronger impact on their overall experience. Because we have our branded hotel – we have design standards for the rooms – from the shower, to the bedding, to the TV, even the alarm clock. We know the cost of the hotel before the architect even starts, which puts the owner at ease and helps the architect create a design that is within the budget. We closely manage the development process overseeing design, construction, purchasing and installation, so the owner doesn’t have to. We work for them throughout the entire process, which saves them time and money. Everything for us comes down to our three beliefs: delivering the highest value to the hotel guests; providing the lowest development cost per key to the owner; and consistently challenging the norms of the industry. If we meet the owner’s budget but do not get great reviews from the hotel guests on sites like Travelocity, Tripadvisor, Yelp and so on, then we didn’t achieve success. One without the other is not success.
TRENDS: A trend that is positive today is that there is more money out there for development. Lenders are willing to lend. But the bad news is that they scrutinize how every project is managed and budgeted, more than they’ve ever done before. Delivering more bang for less buck is how innovative companies must think today. The simple fact of it is today, owners need to convince lenders that they have a way to control cost and that is what DreamCatcher does.
THE FUTURE: The future is very exciting. We continue to have success and are as committed as ever to supporting Indian Country. Whenever I travel to NIGA or visit with tribes I keep hearing, “Greg, we need a hotel and we like what we’ve heard about DreamCatcher.” I think that’s due to the spreading recognition that luxury hotel development at an affordable price is within reach. We have several projects on the horizon. And while we never thought too much about interest from the corporate hotel industry when we started, we are extremely happy to have broken ground on the 450-room Guesthouse at Graceland hotel. The value that we bring is helping to ensure the success of that project. We’ve also been in talks with a well known museum about a hotel, so the word is getting out. Going forward, we will continue to refine our product. Not a day goes by that we’re not talking about ways to improve our brand standards. It is that attention to detail that sets us apart. When asked what the future has in store though, we are in the research phase of looking at a new building prototype. We’ve heard from several people throughout Indian Country that there is a need for unique and innovative housing for tribal elders. We all want the best quality of life as we get older and I believe there is a great opportunity to come in and really make a difference. We are looking at a way to create four-star housing that can capitalize on all of the amenities of the hotel and casino to provide a truly one-of-a-kind living experience for these elders, with entertainment, food, housekeeping, whatever they need. As we continue to do research into what we can provide for this sector of the community, we are looking to partner with a tribe on a beta site to get this off of the ground. There is a lot of innovation and success in this company’s future and in Indian Country’s future. We remain humbled by the opportunities we’ve had so far in Indian Country and we are excited for what the future holds.