In the midst of a $12.5 million renovation that will transform the Hilton University of Houston Hotel and Conference Center into a distinctive new hotel and student-learning laboratory, seasoned hotelier Fernando Cuéllar has taken the helm as the property's new general manager.
Cuéllar, a native of Colombia, has nearly 40 years of experience in the hotel and hospitality industry, winning accolades across the United States for sales and service. He has worked at numerous properties for Westin Hotels & Resorts, Marriott Hotels, Omni Hotels, Four Seasons Hotels and Rosewood Hotels, and spent 11 years as general manager of the Renaissance Houston Greenway Plaza Hotel. Most recently, he was general manager of The Lancaster Hotel in downtown Houston.
He is a Certified Hotel Administrator and is a graduate of Oklahoma State University's Hotel and Restaurant Management program.
In his long career, Cuéllar has worked in every facet of the hotel business, from food and beverage service to front desk and housekeeping. He's done what it takes to meet the needs of his guests, from serving green apples to Sophia Loren and escorting Margaret Thatcher to her suite to consulting with Wolfgang Puck on menu choices. He's learned all about the industry by working in a variety of roles, and now he'd like to give students at the University of Houston's Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management similar opportunities while providing top-notch service to hotel guests.
"We're combining the best of academia with the best of hospitality," Cuéllar said. "The hotel will be a totally new destination, and we'll also be providing new opportunities for students to practice what they're learning in class."
John Bowen, dean of Hilton College, said Cuéllar was the ideal candidate for the position.
"Fernando has a number of key attributes we were looking for as the hotel transforms into a true learning center for our students," Bowen said. "He's a first-class hotelier who led the Renaissance Houston Hotel to a AAA 4-Diamond status. He has taught at the Hilton College and has a true passion for educating students. He also brings a contagious sense of pride to the hotel."
Under Cuéllar's leadership, the hotel and Hilton College soon will launch a Student Leadership Program, in which students will spend 16 weeks in a rotational internship working in every area of the hotel-from foodservice to front desk. Once these students graduate, they will be fully equipped with the tools they need to succeed in the industry, Cuéllar said.
"You're more prepared if you know every aspect of the operation -that is our mission," Cuéllar said.
Cuéllar believes that true hospitality involves warmth, attention to detail and a bit of finesse, and that's what hotel customers can expect when the renovated hotel reopens, he said.
"In today's world, what hasn't changed is the importance of a passion for service, and that will be our focus," Cuéllar said.
This is the first major renovation to the 86-room Hilton University of Houston Hotel and Conference Center since it opened in 1975. The hotel, slated for completion in April 2010, will provide all-new accommodations for business and leisure travelers to Houston and create a first-rate conference center that will serve both the University and the Houston-area communities. It will also provide hospitality students studying at the top-ranked Hilton College with a new training laboratory and enhanced experiential learning second to none. A showcase for Hilton Hotels, the new facility is sure to be the crown jewel in the University of Houston's 20-year master plan, Hilton College officials say. The extent of the renovations will establish the Hilton University of Houston Hotel as a fresh, contemporary hotel and, as such, will be marketed as a new Hilton property.
# # #