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The day after Martin van der Laan pulled into Oklahoma City, the first of two back-to-back blizzards hit Oklahoma.
After days of being snowed in with his new staff, followed by a few more days one week later, the new Skirvin Hilton hotel general manager says it was one of the best things he could have asked for.
“Everyone has just been so fantastic in welcoming me to the city and the hotel,” van der Laan says. “The two blizzards were actually a blessing in disguise for me here, coming to work, because it really showed right away how my team is. There’s such a tremendous team over here with great heart and great personality. We were totally stuck together under very difficult circumstances during this blizzard.”
He drove in from Scottsdale, Ariz., the Sunday before the first storm earlier this year. With nowhere to go, van der Laan and his staff had no choice but to get to know each other. He walked away from the experience with nothing but respect.
“This property is so much bigger than one person,” he says. “When I came here the first time just to look at the hotel — and I’ve used this word a couple of times — there was just a sense of custodianship for this wonderful property.”
The new general manager comes to the No. 20 Hilton property in both North and South America. In service alone, the Skirvin has ranked as high as No. 7.
“What a great base. What a great thing they’ve accomplished so far,” he says.
Van der Laan replaces John Williams, who re-opened the Skirvin in 1997, and recently signed on with Devon Energy to manage the Colcord Hotel a block away. Williams is also reportedly charged with planning the food service operations for the new Devon Energy Center.
The last few weeks have been an ongoing learning experience for van der Laan, who was born in Holland and came to the U.S. in 1985 before becoming an American citizen two years ago.
He went to his first Thunder game when Blake Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers came to town in late February. The Skirvin plays host to the bulk of visiting NBA teams.
In the last 25 years, van der Laan’s job has taken him around the globe, trekking to Switzerland, the Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands, among others. Most recently, he held the same position for Marcus Hotels’ Xona Resort Suites in Scottsdale, Ariz.
“A lot of markets have done very poorly over the last few years. Oklahoma seems to be a much more steady market compared to others,” van der Laan says. “Obviously, there’s a great base of hotels in the city here with fantastic service and a very vibrant business community. There’s a lot of other markets that have fared a lot tougher during these times.”
He should know; he’s worked in some of the most brutal markets. Before Scottsdale, he was in Las Vegas, which has struggled with declining visitation, daily room rates and gaming revenues since 2008.
“We are confident Martin will continue to deliver on the promise of outstanding hospitality we made when the city entrusted us with the project,” says John Weeman of Skirvin Partners in Development.