WHEELING - Wheeling Hampton Inn owner Robert Hitchman passed out $1,000 checks to each of his 37 employees Tuesday after telling them the hotel at 795 National Road was determined best in the chain for customer service by corporate leaders.
The Hilton Corp. oversees more than 1,900 Hampton properties throughout the United States, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom and Germany. The company determines its customer service ratings through customer surveys and by the results of quarterly inspections it does at each property, Hitchman said.
The Hitchman family has been in the hotel business in Wheeling for nearly 70 years, and Robert Hitchman credited the top honor to both his family and the "hospitality professionals" who work for him.
HAMPTON HONORS — Wheeling Hampton Inn owner Robert Hitchman, left, General Manager Jennifer Tiano, center, and Stephanie Hitchman celebrate the hotel’s designation as having the best customer service ranking in the Hampton hotel chain.
-- Joselyn King
"It's overwhelming," Hitchman said. "I'm unbelievably proud of my family's heritage in the hotel business in Wheeling - unbelievably proud."
Hitchman's father, Edward Thompson Hitchman II, opened the former Fort Henry Motor Inn in Elm Grove in the late 1940s. The family later built a Howard Johnson's Motor Lodge and Restaurant on its National Road property in 1958. That hotel was demolished more than 30 years later following completion of the current Hampton hotel facility in March 1989.
Robert Hitchman said he was nearly born at the Fort Henry Motor Inn - in room 12 - in July of 1951. After going into labor, his mother, Betty, awaited her vacationing doctor's return to Wheeling in that room. Hitchman would later be born at Ohio Valley Medical Center.
And Hitchman's father died eight years later.
"It broke my heart because he was the biggest person in my life," he said. "Since the time of his death, I've wanted to win for him. And the win is for our hospitality professionals. They are not employees. They are not associates. And the win is for my parents. And maybe someday, it will be a win for my children. I love Wheeling. I love the community. And I love sharing success with Wheeling, our hospitality professionals ... and most of all my family."
Hitchman said he told employees if the hotel ever finished among the top five among all Hampton Inns for customer service, he would give each hospitality professional there a $1,000 bonus. But after learning they had finished first in the company, he decided he needed to do more and also pay the taxes for them on the bonus.
Each of the employees received a full check for $1,000 on Tuesday, and Hitchman enjoyed his moment distributing them as the staff gathered in the hotel's lobby. He called up each of the hospitality professionals individually, telling stories about them.
Jennifer Tiano, general manager for the Wheeling Hampton Inn, and employee Jack Poling will travel to Orlando, Fla., the first week of April to accept the hotel's award during a general manager's conference there. Poling said customers service always comes through as the hotel's greatest asset on any travel survey.
"It's not our aquatic center or our gardens that people comment on the most," he said. "They say they feel like family here, and that the employees go all out for the people."
Office manager Trish Funkhouser said the employees have worked hard to gain the hotel's recognition for customer service.
"And they've worked hard for the owner to get this," she said.