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Up and Comers: Southern Charm

Building upon his experience in several larger markets and Mobile’s Southern hospitality, Kent Blackinton is leading his staff to the top of Marriott’s Renaissance facilities.

Photo by Dan Anderson

Kent Blackinton’s success as general manager of Renaissance Mobile Riverview Plaza is built upon the opinion of others, namely that of his guests and those of his 160 employees.

Making customer service priority number one is what helped Blackinton’s downtown Mobile property garner a 2010 guest satisfaction ranking of number 7, out of 80 Renaissance properties in North America.

Not bad for Blackinton, a first-time general manager.

But this is all in a day’s work for the Renaissance Riverview Plaza staff. Being listed among the company’s top 10 in the state was their 2010 goal. They began in the high 30s, and beat out two of the other three Alabama properties. Now they rest in arms-length of Renaissance Ross Bridge, which ranks at number 6.

The experience has been a growth process for Blackinton and his staff. When he first arrived in late 2007, the Renaissance property, located downtown, had just received a massive renovation in an attempt to revitalize and rebrand its declining reputation. A little more than a year later, in 2009, sales were down by 15 to 20 percent, and the property experienced one of its worst years due to the economic downturn.

Then came the Gulf oil spill of 2010. It compromised the lifestyles of many who worked on the Gulf Coast. For the hospitality industry, however, it was a much-needed boost for business. “The oil spill actually helped the hotel business in Mobile,” he says. “It inflated demand.”

While business has seen a slight decline since the clean up ended, Blackinton says things are slowly turning around. “We smartly manage where we spend and how we spend, and do everything we can to bring business through the door,” he says. They utilize their ties and partnership with the Mobile Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Marriott brand. It also helps that this full-service property is one of the largest and most affordable in the state, offering more rooms, meeting spaces and access to downtown amenities.

Renaissance Riverview Plaza remains a crown jewel for the Marriott family of hotels; however, Blackinton says the challenge is helping people recognize the pleasures of Mobile, especially with larger cities, such as Atlanta, so close by.

“People don’t know a lot about Mobile or the state of Alabama,” Blackinton says. A University of Nevada, Las Vegas graduate, he gained experience in the hotel and hospitality industry working in Lake Tahoe, Manhattan, and Washington, D.C., before trekking to the South. He knows that selling people on a location often involves enticing them with the area’s landscape, including amenities like area beaches, casinos and golf courses.

But once potential clients visit for a look-see, booking them for a future stay is smooth sailing. One of the best gifts Mobile offers, he says, can’t be bought or taught and must be experienced first-hand. “People are genuinely hospitable here in the South,” he says. It’s that incomparable southern charm that has put Blackinton, his staff and his property at the top.

Chianti Cleggett is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Birmingham.

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