President of Columbia Hospitality
Hospitality management and consulting company.
An established hotelier and restaurateur, Bret Matteson’s expertise draws from over 20 years of extensive hospitality experience. Early in his career, Bret worked and participated in opening luxury hotels in North America, Hawaii and Australia for both Ritz Carlton and Four Seasons hotel companies. He now considers himself a recluse from the world of large corporate hospitality companies, preferring the hands-on, entrepreneurial involvement with team members, owners, and guests that Columbia Hospitality’s premier hospitality projects offer. Since joining Columbia Hospitality Bret has been a significant contributor in the growth of the portfolio of properties, taking the company into international operations and expanding the wealth of services provided to its clients. This has resulted in the company growing from 6 properties in the state of Washington to 31 properties operating in seven states and Lisbon, Portugal. He credits this growth to the support, dedication and phenomenal results delivered by the highly talented Columbia Hospitality team members.
I wish I could say it was a vision I had from Day 1. In reality, I began by working as a dishwasher and busboy in a local coffee shop. While I really enjoyed it, I never dreamed it would be the start of a career in hospitality. However, when I graduated from college I didn’t find the right opportunity in the world of finance so I began working at a restaurant in my hometown. I was promoted up the ranks to management and after a few years, made the transition from restaurants to hotels finding full-service hotel operations to be much more dynamic and diverse. Throughout my career I have been privileged to work with many prestigious hotel brands including Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts as well as high profile independent hotels like The New York Palace.
What’s next is actually quite simple. We are going to continue to do what we do best—deliver excellence at every one of our hotels and properties. That said, partnering with several very creative entities, we are on the brink of an exciting growth period, developing unique hotel experiences including urban resorts, hotels, and mixed-use projects as well as secondary market hotels.
My first and foremost strategy is to deliver excellence within our existing portfolio. That means drawing outside the lines at times with the strategic partners and property owners. From there our relationships are strengthened and our reputation grows, serving up some fantastic organic growth opportunities both domestically and internationally. Word travels fast when you’re delivering results.
Columbia Hospitality is very entrepreneurial, nimble, and flexible. We are really collaborative and partner in different ways with each of our property owners. We focus on empowering and inspiring our team members because they are truly the key to our success.
My greatest success as president has been seeing both the personal and professional development of our team members. I’ve seen hourly team members become managers and managers become directors and vice presidents. Additionally, a testament to my success is when a current owner recommends us to one of their associates or entrusts a second, third or in some cases, even a fourth property to Columbia Hospitality’s management. I am proud to be trusted with their valuable assets. Some of our more interesting current projects I am unable to speak to quite yet due to confidentiality agreements. However, I will say I am very excited to see them come to fruition.
For me the ideal customer experience is when our guests are able to truly transcend into a different state of mind and leave the worries, pressures, and distractions of their business and personal lives behind to simply immerse themselves and enjoy the destination. We want our hotels to be a place that feels as comfortable as home, yet boasts the luxuries and amenities to leave you without a care in the world.
Get it done and have some fun.
Professionally I have many role models. The most known are probably Horst Schulze, former President of Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and Isadore Sharp, the founder of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. They have two different, but powerful, approaches to the luxury hotel world and have both been very influential in my career especially as a young manager. Additionally, the person who showed me it could be done with an independent hotel was Maria Razumich-Zec, for whom I worked at The New York Palace.
Personally my father is certainly my role model. He worked hard to gain a good education and to provide a great quality of life for his family. While he unfortunately died too young, he imbedded a strong work ethic in me which I will always cherish.
Hard question, but here are some of my favorites.
-Europe: It’s a toss-up between Barcelona and Portugal
-Domestic: a quick weekend escape to the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles
-Tropical: Peter Island in the British Virgin Islands
My go to books are: Setting the Table by Danny Meyer, Four Seasons: The Story of a Business Philosophy by Isadore Sharp, and Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul by Howard Schultz.
Design and architecture are certainly important to ensure the basic comforts of the guest. However, what I see as more important is the superb guest service our team members provide which puts the heart and soul into our buildings. They take the extra steps to relate with each guest, building trust and connections to anticipate needs, and learn preferences which ultimately create unique and memorable experiences. In my experience, that far outweighs the bricks and mortar of the physical structure.
Importance of location:
Location is very critical and at Columbia Hospitality we’re fortunate that each one of our properties is in a compelling and unique location that best represents that destination. For example, Kenwood Inn and Spa is pure bliss and relaxation in Northern California wine country, Salish Lodge & Spa near Seattle perfectly represents Pacific Northwest style and beauty, and Knob Hill Inn in Sun Valley, Idaho offers unparalleled guest service and European charm with a backdrop of amazing mountain views.
Qualities that make a 5 Star Hotelier:
A 5 Star hotelier must have a keen attention to detail; they must be resilient, and compassionate but uncompromising in regards to quality. A mindset of continual improvement and emotional intelligence—being able to connect with all types of people—are also essential. Finally, a 5 Star hotelier must check their ego and realize that they are there to serve.
His industry knowledge and management expertise is diverse and well-rounded, including operations, finance, human resources, food and beverage, training and development, process improvement, labor relations, pre-opening development, and overall management of hotels, conference centers, golf operations and unique venues.
Prior to joining Columbia Hospitality in 2001, Bret was the opening general manager for the 425-room Elliott Hotel in Seattle. He also made his mark on the opposite coast, serving as food and beverage director of the 900-room, five-diamond New York Palace Hotel. During his career, Bret also opened and operated two 400-seat restaurants, which included the launching of off-site catering and wholesale baking companies.
Bret is active in the hospitality industry, formally serving on the board of Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Washington State Lodging Association. He has also authored hospitality expert columns and articles for the Puget Sound Business Journal, National Hotel Executive as well as acting as the key note speaker for the African Hospitality Conference.
Bret earned a Bachelor of Science in Business and Finance from San Diego State University.