Ease of planning/booking. If a guest can’t easily plan their visit or secure their reservation, no matter if it’s a one-night business traveler or a seven-night safari adventure, they won’t stay with you.

As part of my series about “How To Create A Travel Experience That Keeps People Coming Back For More”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Craig Strickler.

Craig Strickler is the Managing Director of U.S. for Valor Hospitality Partners. Craig joined Valor as Director of Operations in 2018 after spending more than two decades in various facets of the hospitality industry. At Valor, Craig oversees hotel operations across the Valor U.S. portfolio. He strongly believes in the development of his team and focuses his time on grooming and mentoring leaders throughout the company.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I enjoyed cooking as a child and always thought I wanted to be a chef. As a junior in high school, I joined a “restaurant class” for an elective and was the first junior allowed to join the class (previously it had only been open to seniors). In that class, we learned the restaurant business, from managing an operation to developing a menu, to preparing food, serving, all the way to dishwashing. Part of the course was operating a restaurant for the teachers once per week in the classroom. It was very enlightening, not to mention it broke up the monotony of the typical classroom. I was approached by the teacher at the end of the year to see if I was interested in doing the class again my senior year, to help her develop a second-year program, and of course, I gladly accepted. While I still assisted with the other students each week in our restaurant business, I also did the grocery shopping for the menu items, as well as prepare snacks and goodies for the class down the hall — the childcare class (yes, my high school had a class that specialized in childcare, where they offered preschool services). I basically did a little of everything while the first-year students learned what I had learned the previous year.

Those two years guided me from wanting to be a chef, to then wanting to own my own restaurant. I played basketball in high school and was offered a scholarship to a small business school in central Florida, Webber International University, who offered a Hospitality Management program. I enrolled and because of our location about an hour south of Orlando, much of the focus of that program was on the hotel industry and not stand-alone restaurants. Somehow during those four years, I moved from wanting to own a restaurant to wanting to run hotels. I did two internships with Hyatt in Orlando during my college days and started my career right out of school at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress in Orlando.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

While it may sound interesting, it happens all the time in this industry. I was transferred from Orlando, Florida to Grand Cayman with Hyatt Hotels and spent two years there. About midway through my tenure, I met a beautiful bartender who worked at the restaurant next door to my hotel. We seemed to hit it off and come this November we will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary together. Had I not worked in this industry, it’s possible our paths would have never crossed.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Once, while working as turndown service supervisor at a 750-room resort, one key responsibility of that job was to check guestroom discrepancies (i.e., front Desk showing occupied but housekeeping show vacant and vice-versa). One evening, I ran this report early in the shift and went upstairs. After checking a few rooms, I put my key card into the lock of a room on my list and walked in. I immediately heard water splash around in the bathroom, and left the room as fast I could, knowing I clearly disturbed someone taking a bath. From that point on, I’ve never mistakenly walked in on a guest again without knocking.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

The most memorable one involves the first manager I ever worked for, Garry Cox. While I was working as an intern in housekeeping, he was an assistant manager. From day one, he took the time to teach me everything he knew about managing the largest expense department in a hotel. In addition, he taught me that instead of telling your employees what to do, you ask them. You also work beside them to gain their respect. If they see you sweating along with them, and you treat them with the dignity they deserve, they’ll do just about anything you ask of them. I’ve used those sentiments for the rest of my career. We became great friends and still are today, nearly 25 years later.

Thank you for that. Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?

While I love the latest and greatest technologies to make our lives easier, I’m a big proponent of doing the simple things well. Yes, people want to be able to book a room on their phone, check in from the back of their Uber, and walk right up to their room using their phone as a key. Then they want to continue watching the movie they were streaming on that phone on the TV in the guestroom. All seamlessly. However, we can’t get away from focusing on how that guest is treated by a real person because we now have many fewer interactions with our guests because they’re more self-sufficient. This makes it even more important that we use our social skills to treat every guest like they’re the most important guest in the hotel at that time. A smile, a use of their name, thinking about their needs proactively, and wishing them a great day are all skills that seem to have taken a backseat because we think everyone wants a ‘touchless’ or ‘socially distanced’ interaction today. I’d rather focus on getting the teams to go back to basics to provide genuine hospitality service to our guests, than focusing on the latest and greatest technology.

Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation and how do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?

By focusing on going back to basics of providing genuine hospitality, we at Valor Hospitality are striving to disrupt the status quo. Unless you absolutely do not want to be around another person, most guests crave great service. I think technology has come along and affected the way people communicate in a negative way. Kids learn to communicate through texting each other from a young age. Conversations are had through email as they get older. This impacts how we speak to others in-person because it’s now uncomfortable. If it’s uncomfortable to speak to a person live, how do we make our interactions with them endearing and thoughtful?

As you know, COVID19 changed the world as we know it. Can you share a few examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers will prefer to travel?

Over the next five years, travel and hospitality companies will work to adapt to ever-changing guests needs and concerns. Guests will likely be more cautious of theirs and others cleanliness and hygiene, so travel and hospitality companies will need to ensure to keep up the most current cleaning standards to provide a safe environment for them. However, I think over the next five years we will see aspects of travel come back with minimal adjustments — such as buffets that are now back, just more protected, and reusable silverware, menus and cloth napkins available again, just held to higher cleaning standards. Finally, housekeeping use during guests stay is now back, primarily upon request which I think will be the most fundamental change, because many guests have realized they don’t need their bed made or towels changed daily, but also because of the expense savings that creates and support it provides in the labor market.

You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?

My perfect vacation experience is simple — make my stay, wherever it is — as much like home as possible. As a hotelitarian, I’m in and out of hotels every week but don’t get to spend enough time at home without working. I’d enjoy just being able to relax (mostly in the sun near a body of water) with food and drink always available within arm’s reach.

Travel is not always about escaping, but about connecting. Have you made efforts to cultivate a more wellness driven experience? We’d love to hear about it.

I’m a big believer in health and fitness, and COVID helped us realize the importance of our mental health as well. As a company, we at Valor Hospitality have selected leaders throughout our portfolio who went through extensive training to become certified as Mental Health First Aiders. This way our team members will always have someone available within the company that they can reach out to in times of need. Coupling this with our global initiatives to focus on physical health really inspires our team to not only stay healthy externally but also internally.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a travel experience that keeps bringing people back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Ease of planning/booking. If a guest can’t easily plan their visit or secure their reservation, no matter if it’s a one-night business traveler or a seven-night safari adventure, they won’t stay with you.
  2. Ensure the proper communication before their stay. That could mean sending them activities to do during their stay, or simply reminding them that they booked a king bed with breakfast and giving them the address of the hotel. No one wants to get frustrated looking for the information they need when they need it.
  3. Ensuring everything is as expected when they arrive, including their room is ready, and if not, offering them options. Additionally, ensuring the room is exactly what they booked (bed type, view, etc.), cleanliness (i.e., they should think they’re the only guest that’s walked into that hotel and stayed in that room), ensuring the staff is knowledgeable on the services that guest cares about (i.e., outlet hours, activity information, market knowledge, etc.).
  4. The hospitality service I spoke of earlier, including a smile at each interaction, a warm greeting and being socially aware of the situation. Finally, ensure your staff is being proactive to anticipate guests needs. These are all art forms that seem to be more the exception than the rule in many service interactions today across most industries, not just hospitality.
  5. If we knocked the first four out of the park, a genuine thank you for staying and then make it easy for me to stay again…going back up to #1.

Can you share with our readers how you have used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Our culture at Valor Hospitality is one where we genuinely care for our team and our guests. We try to show that in everything we do. If that can translate throughout all our team members and they take it out into their personal lives, I know the world will be a better place. Thinking about the other person and prioritizing their thoughts and feelings could go a long way in many interactions today.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Put other people’s feelings first whenever possible. In business, it’s not always that easy, but if you try, sometimes it’s easier than one might think and will keep you grounded.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/valor-hospitality-partners/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/valorhotels/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


  • Savio P. Clemente

    TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor

    Savio P. Clemente, TEDx speaker and Stage 3 cancer survivor, infuses transformative insights into every article. His journey battling cancer fuels a mission to empower survivors and industry leaders towards living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. As a Board-Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Savio guides readers to embrace self-discovery and rewrite narratives by loving their inner stranger, as outlined in his acclaimed TEDx talk: "7 Minutes to Wellness: How to Love Your Inner Stranger." Through his best-selling book and impactful work as a media journalist — covering inspirational stories of resilience and exploring wellness trends — Savio has collaborated with notable celebrities and TV personalities, bringing his insights to diverse audiences and touching countless lives. His philosophy, "to know thyself is to heal thyself," resonates in every piece.