By Michael Overall • Tulsa World Magazine
A recent guest had to cut short her stay to rush home and take care of a sick child. But instead of hassling her about cancellation fees, the hotel staff passed around a condolence card and wrote personalized notes.
Will she remember the brand of soap in the hotel’s shower? Or the color of her room’s decor? Probably not. But she’ll remember that card.
“And when she comes to Tulsa again someday, she’s going to stay here. You know she will,” says Andrew Mungul, the Ambassador Hotel’s young and meticulously well-dressed general manager. “And when her friends are coming to Tulsa, she’ll tell them about us.”
The difference between a really nice place to stay and a truly world-class hotel has little to do with material luxury, although the Ambassador certainly does pamper a guest with soft sheets and spotless rooms.
“It’s the personalized touch that really matters,” Mungul says, relaxing one summer afternoon in the library under a black-and-white portrait of the hotel’s founder, Gen. Patrick Hurley.
“Every guest should feel like a VIP,” Mungul continues. “We have people who travel a lot, and they have stayed in some of the best hotels in London, New York, Paris. They know what first-class service is, and they have high expectations. So we’re always looking for something special, something a little extra, that we can do for people.”
The Ambassador, 1324 S. Main St., a block south of the Inner Dispersal Loop, seems an unlikely place to find a hotel that could be legitimately described as “world-class.” A long walk from the revitalized parts of downtown, it’s surrounded by parking lots and nondescript office buildings, not downtown but not really part of what people think of as midtown either. It’s nowhere.
Nonetheless, TripAdvisor.com — the largest open-rating platform for hotels — recently ranked it the ninth-best hotel in the United States. The rest of the Top 25, of course, tended to be in big cities like New York or in hot tourist spots like Key West. So Tulsa didn’t make the list on a fluke. And the Ambassador has been raking up a long list of other honors, including a Four-Diamond rating from AAA and a top spot among the 2017 Best Hotels ranked by U.S. News & World Report.
Mungul hears it a lot: “We didn’t expect this in Tulsa.”
“And our staff thrives on it,” he says. “We love hearing that.”
From desk clerks to housekeepers, the staff tries to anticipate what guests want before they ask for it. And that takes listening skills.
Somebody mentions a wedding anniversary when they make a reservation? Have a complimentary bottle of champagne waiting in the room. A guest wanted an obscure brand of bourbon the last time he stayed here? Order a bottle the next time he makes a reservation.
Does a guest have children? Or pets? Ask how they are doing. By name. Is somebody watching what they eat? Stock the room with fruit and Diet Coke.
“Every employee is empowered to make a decision like that and provide something to a guest,” Mungul says. “If it always had to come through me, we couldn’t be able to react fast enough. So if you think it would make a guest’s stay more comfortable, more memorable? Do it.”
A World War I hero who served in President Hoover’s cabinet and became the U.S. ambassador to China, Gen. Hurley built the hotel in 1929 for fantastically wealthy oil barons who needed somewhere to stay while their own mansions were being built farther south of downtown. He wanted elegance and understated luxury. So the Mediterranean-style architecture, with spiral columns flanking arched doorways, features a heavy dose of Italian terracotta and limestone.
The hotel became apartments in 1960 and seemed to attract mostly aging retirees, giving the building an old-fogy reputation. Then the building closed in 1987 and sat vacant for 10 years before local developer Paul Coury bought the property and gave it a $5.5 million renovation, reopening it as a luxury hotel.
Now part of Marriott’s upscale Autograph Collection, it has sister hotels in Kansas City, Oklahoma City and Wichita. But Tulsa remains the flagship.
“There’s really nothing else like it in Tulsa,” says Mungul, citing the historic and much larger Mayo Hotel, about a mile north of the Ambassador, as the most direct competitor.
But that’s about to change as Tulsa’s hotel market gets more crowded.
An $18 million Indigo Hotel began construction in June in downtown’s Blue Dome District. And another boutique hotel, a Hilton Curio, will move into the Deco District’s Tulsa Club building after an ongoing $24 million renovation.
“It will get more competitive, but I’m not worried about it,” Mungul says. “We will continue to do what we do best.”