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Behind the list with Heather Kattouf

General manager of Comfort Suites in downtown Carlisle

Heather Kattouf is general manager of Comfort Suites in downtown Carlisle

Q: What’s the biggest trend you’ve seen in the past few months?

A: Military (bookings) have been fairly steady, which is great for us. Corporate (bookings) have been down about 15 to 20 percent. … The number of bus groups has increased. And there was a time, especially after our different national emergencies, when bus tours were down.

To what do you attribute the increase in bus tours?

I think our area is becoming better known — whether it’s from my own efforts, Choice Hotels International or (the Cumberland Valley) visitors’ bureau. I think a lot has to do with my own hotel and sales team. When we did a pro-forma (analysis) when the hotel opened 10 years ago, bus groups were not a target. Since then, times change, and it’s an up-and-coming market. When one market drops off, you seek business in others.

What are you doing to take advantage of this traffic?

Because we’re able to offer dinners, I’d say about half (of bus groups) are eating here. We’re letting them know more about the area, so they want to spend a longer time in the area. (We’re encouraging them) not just to use (the hotel) for sleeping over.

Are you seeing any major changes in what your customers want and expect in an extended-stay/suites hotel?

Value is always the big thing. You have to constantly be upgrading and showing the value for what (customers) are paying. Safety and security is a big issue. They want to know not only is it clean and safe, but that it’s secure. You’ve got to keep up with what’s going on in the newspapers, and reading journals, to know what people want. We have a good comment system that goes through Choice Hotels International. We receive comments on how we can improve, and we really, really do focus on that.

What’s next for your hotel — any new initiatives or changes on the horizon?

We did renovations on all of our rooms this year. There are 37-inch flat-screen TVs in all of our one-room suites and two 42-inch (flat-screen televisions) in the Jacuzzi suites. Next month, I start the ballroom and my different meeting rooms.

What’s your greatest challenge right now?

The economic environment.

What’s your best management advice?

Even in times when the economy might be down, I am always optimistic for the future, and I try to spread that optimism through the entire staff. You need to think outside of the box. The market is not the same as it once was, so what can we do to hold our own and do even better? You’ve got to constantly be re-evaluating your market. I don’t just sit (in the hotel). I am out there.

You were the general manager when the Comfort Suites in Carlisle opened a decade ago. Tell us why you’ve chosen to stay at that hotel for so long.

What has kept me in this for so long is I love Carlisle, I love what I do, and I work for a very good management company.

About Heather Kattouf

Heather C. Kattouf, 62, was born in Harrisburg. She received a college scholarship from Choice Hotels International and holds a bachelor of humanities degree and a Master of Arts degree in humanities, both from Penn State University. Prior to being the founding general manager at the Comfort Suites in downtown Carlisle, she worked for Crown American hotels for 7½ years. While she was with the company, Kattouf progressed from sales director to regional sales director to general manager, and was named the company’s first general manager of the year. Kattouf recently became a certified hotel administrator and is president of the Downtown Carlisle Association. She has three adult children: Jennifer, Jonathan and Paul. Kattouf lives in Susquehanna Township and enjoys reading, exercising, taking her puppy to the dog park and spending time with her four grandchildren.

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