Pursuitist presents its Q&A with Maria Zec, Regional Vice President, and General Manager, at The Peninsula Chicago. Named one of the top luxury hotels in Chicago, renown luxury travel expert Christopher Parr interviews Maria Zec as the celebrated Peninsula property celebrates 20 years of luxurious travel, spa, and dining experiences on Michigan Avenue.
Maria Zec’s legendary hotel experience throughout the United States makes her a particularly valuable leader to manage operations in New York and Chicago, having worked at a number of luxury hotels in both cities and understanding the markets, communities and hospitality industries well. She also possesses considerable knowledge and expertise of five-star culture and what it represents to the hotel’s customers.
Zec joined The Peninsula Chicago in March 2002, shortly after the opening of the 339-room property, located at 108 East Superior Street at North Michigan Avenue. Under her leadership, The Peninsula Chicago achieved the Forbes (formerly Mobil) Five Star and AAA Five Diamond awards within her first year as General Manager for the property. The hotel has continued to receive these coveted awards since 2002, with recognition from Conde Nast Traveler to Travel+Leisure.
Christopher Parr, Q. By the numbers, what does 20 years look like at Peninsula Chicago?
Maria Zec, A. In 20 years, we have hosted 2.4 million hotel guests, which is an average of nearly 120,000 per year, 10,000 per month. We have served more than 8.3 million guests in our restaurants in 20 years, which averages to 35,000 per month, 1,100 per day. 20% of our staff have been here for 20 years. Very few people work for the same company for 20 years. In fact, our entire laundry department, have all been with us for 20 years.
Q. As the Peninsula Chicago turns 20, what does that milestone signify to the Peninsula Hotel brand?
A. Bringing Peninsula Hotels’ renowned hospitality to the Midwest, provided the company with the opportunity to build awareness for the brand in a region that would likely have no knowledge or familiarity with Peninsula Hotels. Over the past two decades, guests and residents are now very much aware of The Peninsula Hotels’ brand either via The Peninsula Chicago’s reputation or their personal experiences at the hotel. This exposure to a midwestern audience has broadened the brand’s reach with more customers.
Q. Compared to the other luxury hotels in Chicago, how has the Peninsula Chicago remained distinctively different and unique?
A. We describe our service approach as ‘Midwestern Hospitality combined with Far Eastern Graciousness.’ This is represented in the reserved, discreet, refined type of service style one would experience in Asia, blended with the genuine, warm, caring, and friendly nature you find in Midwesterners.
Our service style is also anticipatory. We engage guests during the reservation process to understand more about what brings them to the city and through this brief conversation, we can anticipate the types of services and amenities the guest will likely need, and we mobilize from here.
Our goal is to create beautiful, lasting memories for our guests. This starts with our compassionate employees who are genuine and considerate, taking great pride in their work to go above and beyond for our guests and their co-workers at every opportunity.
Q. Luxury hospitality means a lot different things to a lot of different people, but what does it mean to Peninsula Chicago?
A. We strive to provide an attentive, personalized service experience in line with each guest’s individual expectations. In some cases, visitors don’t require or want much interaction. In other cases, they seek our advice and assistance throughout their time with us. We are thoughtful in our approach to ensure we understand the personalized needs of each guest and then tailor our services around them. We aim to create a memorable and meaningful experience and want all our guests to feel welcome and at home at The Peninsula Chicago.
Q. The property has received many awards and accolades over its celebrated 20 years, what honor has meant the most to you?
A. We’ve been honored to have received numerous awards over the years, every one of which is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our incredible team members. Many of these accolades have been awarded by various travel-related organizations which demonstrate how The Peninsula Chicago is viewed by our industry colleagues. But for us, our main focus is always on the feedback provided by our guests.
Q. In looking back at 20 years, how has Peninsula Chicago transformed luxury travel on Michigan Avenue?
A. Our goal is to constantly remain the leader within the industry and not a follower. To do this successfully one has to evolve and adapt to the changing expectations from travelers. We’ve never been ones to rest on our laurels; we’re always thinking about what we can do next. An example of this was conceiving and building Z Bar. It was a few years in the making, but this new venture has kept us relevant and allowed us to expose The Peninsula brand to the next generation of luxury travelers.
Q. And how is The Peninsula Chicago going to transform and evolve for the next 20 years?
A. It is important we evolve with the changing times—ensuring we develop our products and services based on the future of customers’ desires and passions (while still providing for our current customers), providing the very best in terms of accommodations, cuisine, wellness, and cultural experiences.