Innisfree Hotel’s focus on hospitality is second-to-none, but what makes the company stand out among the rest is that their focus applies to both customers and employees. The hotel management company treats its employees as if they were “checking in.”
Julian MacQueen, founder and CEO of Innisfree, said the company’s unconventional approach to business and employment was a calculated move from the day its doors opened in 1985. He said he believes that hospitality can change the world one guest at a time.
“When we started Innisfree 30 years ago, we decided that we wanted to have a company that was different in that it bordered the lines between a personal life and a professional life,” MacQueen said. “We wanted our employees to feel like it is a safe environment to explore concerns that they may have about their feelings for diversity, or any conflict that is generally brushed under the carpet in a professional environment.”
Both MacQueen and his wife, Kim, believe that a service-first mentality has been a major key to success. Innisfree owns and manages 23 hotel properties, 16 of which are in Florida.
“My wife and I have decided that Innisfree is a wonderful opportunity to be an agent of change in any community where we have hotels. If Innisfree isn’t serving the community, then we don’t feel like our underlined principle is being served,” MacQueen said. “We can give guest that authentic experience and allow them to feel a level of hospitality that they don’t feel with other companies.”
This mentality has led to philanthropic deeds by MacQueen and the company, including building a new training center for Independence for the Blind of West Florida, located in Pensacola. The C.W. Gemmill Learning Center was gifted to the organization in honor of Kim’s father.
“My wife’s father was blind and he acquired blindness in his 30’s. So, it was his influence on my life that gave us the desire to serve the blind community in ways that we could,” MacQueen said. “Blind people can come in from Northwest Florida and learn from very simple to very sophisticated skills. Starting with the very basics like how to exchange money, work a computer or make your own meals as a blind person.”
In August, the MacQueens embarked on another journey to help further improve their company’s model. They traveled to 30 countries over the course of three months in an attempt to connect with hospitality services around the world. They called it “Around the World in 80 Stays.”
The pair used a HondaJet HA-420 for the exploration. MacQueen said the trip also helped them affirm that people around the world aren’t as different as they might think they are.
“In many ways, the biggest take away from that journey was that it confirmed that what we are doing is world-class. We confirmed our belief that we are all citizens of the world,” MacQueen said. “What we discovered is that we are not only neighbors, but we are all cousins. The things that separate us really aren’t at the core of who we are. The core of who we are is all the same.”
MacQueen said the fight for free enterprise is one that is needed because it is the only method of business that can survive.
“I’ve always believed that the market dictates any businesses’ success or failure. If the demand is there and the market says something will be successful, that is the north star of what we’ve done at Innisfree Hotels,” MacQueen said. “To the degree that government interferes in that process, where we create these false economies or tax-based incentives to create growth, those are not sustainable. Ultimately, everything comes back to a market-driven economy and that is what is sustainable.”