Davonne Reaves knew she had the passion and drive for becoming an entrepreneur, especially as she noticed a void within the hospitality ownership space.
That void was the lack of people she could relate to.
Reaves first entered the hospitality industry as a front-desk agent at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta while she was attending Georgia State University. Today, she’s the owner of three hotels, including the Home2 Suites by Hilton El Reno; Staybridge Suites Indianapolis-Fishers, an IHG Hotel; and Hampton Inn & Suites Scottsburg, Indiana.
She is also the founder and president of Atlanta-based hospitality consulting firm The Vonne Group and, most recently, the creator of a crowdfunding platform called Vesterr.
“What inspired me to start The Vonne Group was while I was working in corporate, I noticed there was a lot of people who didn’t look like me in the hotel ownership space. In 2017, I took the risk and started the company,” she said.
The Vonne Group’s mission is to teach Black entrepreneurs how to become hotel investors and owners through relatable and educational training.
Reaves said one thing she wished she had knowledge of earlier in her career was underwriting.
“I’m a learn-from-experience-type person. I think people need to understand what their learning style is and grow from there. Some people, they need to sit in class, and I don’t really learn that way,” she said.
She added it’s important to bring people onto your team who understand your strengths and weaknesses, “and get people who are better at your weaknesses.”
Reaves described herself as a solutions-oriented person, which led her to launching Vesterr. With the current lack of access to capital, she said she often has heard people say they are looking for a platform to invest in and a place to raise capital.
Reaves said owners today are coming up with more creative ways to finance deals as uncertainty remains within the capital markets.
“With the new generation … we’re not doing what our previous [peers were doing],” she said. “The traveler is changing, the owner is changing. I think that the industry is going to change and for the better.”
Reaves recently visited Marriott International’s headquarters, which she noticed had a rich culture of catering to a different generation of employees.
“I’m sure 10 years ago, 20 years ago, the headquarters didn’t look like that, what it is today. It’s not even just Marriott’s headquarters, it’s other headquarters as well,” she added. “Things are changing and in order for us to keep folks in our industry without movement to other industries, we have to stay with it. Unfortunately, the hospitality industry is one of the industries [that’s] slow when it comes to change.”
The next generation of diverse leaders needs to be a focus, she said.
“With so many different cultures, so many different communities and backgrounds, we’re bringing all of those different ideations and we’re changing the face of the hospitality industry,” she said.
Automation within many industries has been a hot topic, but Reaves said at the end of the day the hospitality cannot be automated.
“It’s still a people industry,” she added. “You can implement robots all day, but it’s not the same. I know [artificial intelligence] is coming but guests need to talk to somebody.”
Reaves hope for the near term is to educate more people through The Vonne Group and bring investment opportunities to people through Vesterr.
“When you think of hotels, I want you to think of Davonne,” she said.
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