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The Comenian

The student news site of Moravian University

The Comenian

The student news site of Moravian University

The Comenian

Q&A with Bruce Haines

Photo courtesy of Lola Offenback.

Bruce Haines is the managing partner of Historic Hotel Bethlehem. He has been overseeing the hotel for about 25 years. He is a graduate of Lehigh University and its ROTC program and previously worked as an executive, corporate officer, and vice president of Technology and Management Services for U.S. Steel for over 30 years before taking ownership of the hotel. 

What inspired you to become involved with Hotel Bethlehem? How has your role evolved over time? 

It was when the hotel closed and was bankrupt and boarded up. My wife, Joanna, and I had stayed here. We lived in Pittsburgh, and I worked for U.S. Steel Corporation, and we came over here many weekends. This was our home away from home because I went to Lehigh events and my family was in New Jersey. So this was like a center point for us. When the hotel closed and went bankrupt … we put together a group to buy the hotel, renovate it, and bring it along. I formed that group and became the managing partner of the hotel for my 12 other partners. So, I oversee the hotel on behalf of my investor partners and I have overseen it since I retired. I retired early from U.S. Steel to come over here to get my hands around this. I’ve been overseeing the hotel now for 25 years. 

How did you maintain the hotel and its historic charm throughout the COVID-19 pandemic? 

It was a very difficult period. The hotel was thriving in 2019 and the first two months of 2020. It looked like we were going to have another record year, the economy was booming, and that’s when it hit. We had 221 associates that worked at the hotel and unfortunately, we had to lay off 200 of them. We kept 21 because while the hotel was open, nobody was really going anywhere. The only people staying here were the FedEx pilots who were bringing medical supplies over to the hospitals and maybe families coming to see sick relatives. The hotel was virtually dark. We kept the key management team together and they stayed here in a dark hotel where the restaurants weren’t even open. We were doing takeout orders and then eventually opened at 50% capacity. In 2021 things kind of came back to life again, but rehiring some of the people was difficult … That’s when we were reaching out to new employees … Really, we lost virtually a year. 

What is the most memorable or unique guest experience or interaction you have had during your time at the hotel? 

When I think about famous guests, I think about Harry Connick, Jr. He wrote a play and it was performed here in Bethlehem by the youth theater. He stayed here and played the piano in the lobby and practiced in the Mural Ballroom. He was very interactive and engaging, so that was a good one. Personally, being here on property, the most significant and memorable experiences are the many different interactions. Including one this morning with people from Virginia who talked about their experience here and how they found this hotel. They talked about how it reminds them of The Homestead or The Greenbrier, which are great historic hotels. To hear guests talk about and compare us to some of the most, you know, magnificent hotels in the country is very rewarding and very memorable to me. That was really our vision when we bought the hotel, to take it from bankruptcy to a truly memorable historic property.

What do you believe sets Hotel Bethlehem apart from other hotels? 

I believe, without a doubt that it’s our staff’s interactive, welcoming experience that they provide to our guests, from the time they are met with the bellman at the front, to the restaurants, to the housekeeper. We’ve really tried to instill a spirit of hospitality among our staff. As difficult as COVID was, I feel that we actually have improved our staff today versus what we thought was really good back in 2019. As we’ve transitioned to new staff and bringing new people on, the engaging personalities that we brought on, make guests feel like they are staying in their second home. I think that is what distinguishes us from a normal hotel in addition to the history. Conveying our history and sharing that history with our guests. I’d say it’s a combination of the history we have here to make us uniquely different and, the staff that we have and how they interact with those guests.

What advice would you give to individuals that are looking to succeed in the hotel management and hospitality industry? 

First off, you really have to like people. It starts with building off of your interactive social skills. Obviously, having a foundation in math, science, and business, if you want to move up in the organization. You need that financial background because you will be responsible for the financial welfare of the hotel. I think it starts with someone understanding their personality and their affinity, because we’re about trying to have a major impact on people’s lives that come to visit and making a positive experience for those that visit the hotel. You should want to be someone who really likes engaging with guests and with people and providing that extra special treatment. It has to start with a basic understanding and desire to be interactive and outgoing. 

What do you do in your free time? What are your hobbies? 

I’m a golfer. I do love golf and have my whole life. I’m also an avid Lehigh wrestling fan. I love watching Lehigh wrestling and nurturing the students who wrestle there. 

Where is your favorite place to travel? 

My favorite place is America. I want to see all of America. I’m a stay-at-home kind of person more so than a world traveler.  I have traveled the world in my career at US Steel. But I love going to historic destinations in America.  I don’t have any one particular great place, but, you know, history is my passion, so I like traveling to historic places in the U.S. 

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

Considering that my original vision was to move to the historic district, wear a floppy hat, and be a Moravian tour guide, it is very rewarding for me to see that we are about to become a World Heritage candidate. We are a World Heritage nominee and hopefully, we soon will be a World Heritage destination. To see the transition and be part of the transition of Bethlehem from a boarded up and closed hotel and steel plant into a World Heritage destination, bringing tourists from all over the world, it’s very exciting and rewarding, for me, to be a small part of that.

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