Skim the Google reviews of the now-closed Knights Inn on South Circle Drive in Colorado Springs, and it’s safe to say that you wouldn’t have wanted to spend one night of your life there. With an average rating of 1.7 stars out of 5, the hotel sounded like a scene from a horror movie. “It was one of the worst properties on the planet,” Ken Cruse told Convene. “There was virtually no guest service other than a handwritten sign that said ‘No refunds.’” It would seem that no one would want to stay there, never mind buy it.
Except for Cruse. The co-founder and CEO of Alpha Wave Investors, Cruse has spent his career in the hotel industry focused on asset management and real estate investment strategy, including serving in a variety of roles for Host Hotels and as CEO of Sunstone Hotel Investors. Those positions gave him “a great deal of respect for big brands,” but he said that he also recognized gaps in the hotel landscape. “The industry is populated by well-respected brands, but I think it needs some innovation,” Cruse said. “There is a lot of room for additional guest concepts.”
One of those concepts is Soul Community Planet (SCP), a new hotel with a mission “to make the world a better place by serving those who value personal wellness, social good, and the environment,” according to its website. The Knights Inn property, which Cruse said had “good bones,” was an ideal fit for his investment philosophy: “You always want to start with the right asset on the right street corner and get it at the right price.”
After a nine-month, $6-million renovation, the first-ever SCP Hotel opened last summer, and looks little like its former self. Yoga classes in the 12,000-square-foot fitness center, chairs suspended from the ceiling in a creative co-working space, a front desk that doubles as a bar where guests receive complimentary drinks at check-in — the hotel is now earning the kind of reviews that makes competitors sit up and take notice. It was recently awarded Colorado Springs’ Most Innovative New Business Concept by Visit COS, and it’s getting recognition well beyond home. SCP was named one of U.S. News & World Report’s 30 Hotel New Hotels to Check Out in 2019, and was featured in The New York Times as an example of a hotel carving out its own space in the hospitality industry.
One of the reasons for that media coverage is SCP’s unorthodox approach to room rates. The hotel operates under a Fair Trade Pricing program that allows guests to determine “the price they pay at check-out based on the quality of their experience.” There’s some guidance — guests make their reservations based on suggested rates — to help deter those who are aiming for a free stay. “It puts the accountability on us to deliver,” Cruse said, “and if we don’t, we should be responsible for correcting the mistakes.”
In more than four months, only one guest has requested a price reduction due to a water issue resulting from renovations that were not yet complete. “It tells you that people are fundamentally good,” Cruse said. “If you deliver on what you’re going to say you’ll deliver, guests will hold up their end of the bargain.”
It may be that they’re willing to do so in part because of SCP’s staff. While big brands replace the human experience of check-in and service requests with the efficiencies of mobile app notifications and chatbots, Cruse said that SCP uses — and will continue to use — a different approach.
“We’re never going to be on the leading edge of tech advances,” Cruse said. “We are taking things a step backward and reverting back to that high-touch interaction that the industry used to be known for. When a guest comes in, they know they’re not face-to-face with a corporate entity. They’re talking to a real person who helped them, and our employees have the ability to be themselves. Some of them have purple hair and tattoos. It’s not a total bohemian hippie spot, but it’s a place where everyone truly cares about the brand.”
Cruse will be looking for more people who want to align with the socially conscious approach to the hotel experience. He’s aiming to open between 30 and 40 more SCP properties over the next three years. “We’re going to be opportunistic and find good hotels that we can find at a cheap price, primarily in secondary markets,” he said. “We would rather not compete with the land rush that takes place at some of these gateway locations. The data shows that our target demographic will travel a bit out of the way. With that in mind, we think buying properties a mile away from the core of the destination will work well.”
If the first few months of SCP’s existence are any indication, the brand seems to be on the right path. Current Google reviews come in at 4.4 stars out of 5 — a far cry from the Knights Inn experience.