Career traveler settles in at the Arlington

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published December 2, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated November 30, 2012 at 11:22 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Bob Martorana is general manager of the Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa. He is also president of the Hot Springs Downtown Merchants Association and has just been named to the Advertising and Promotion Commission for the city.

— Bob Martorana used to have a pattern to his rising career in the hospitality industry.

“For a lot of the time, it was go to a place, then two or three years and out,” he said. “Ten years ago, I had a plan that included retiring at 65, but now I have no desire to retire.”

The big difference is that Martorana became the general manager of the Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa in Hot Springs, only the sixth manager in 100 years.

“I tell other hotel managers that, and they say it’s unbelievable,” Martorana said. “I’m blessed to have this job and be part of the organization.”

He was manager of the Hilton Hotel in Little Rock in 2009 when he was approached about the job at the historic Hot Springs hotel.

“I had heard that the general manager was retiring, and at first I turned it down,” Martorana admitted. “I felt I was done with moving, and I think I knew my wife after 37 years, and I was sure she didn’t want to move again, but she said, ‘Why not?’”

Martorana not only came to Hot Springs to run the hotel; he has taken on leadership roles in the community. He is ending a term as president of the Downtown Merchants Association in Hot Springs and was recently named to the city’s Advertising and Promotion Commission.

“We are really settled here,” he said. “My wife, Sharon and I have a house here, and I know this is my last hotel job. It will be a great ending to my career.”

Hotels were not Martorana’s original career path.

“In high school, I wanted to be a football coach,” he said. “My high school coaches had a big influence. They made good examples of leading teams and individuals. That was helpful in this career as well.”

Playing both team and individual sports in college, Martorana was a physical education major at Northeast Missouri State University, now called Truman State University.

“Going from New Jersey to Kirksville, Mo., was a shock, but it worked out well for me,” Martorana said. “I adjusted, and I met my wife. Sharon was a native of Kirksville. We both followed the same local band around to the places they played and got to know each other.”

In the summers, Martorana worked at Marriott Hotels in New Jersey, and while he tried out teaching as a substitute for a while, he decided to join Marriott full time and was soon enrolled in its individual development training that led to management opportunities.

The Martoranas enjoyed life in the Midwest, and within a year after the management training, he was in Kansas City.

“I was at the opening of the hotel there, as manager of the front desk,” he said. “It was a time when the economy was tough, and I had to double up as the manager of housekeeping a few days a week.”

Martorana said he will always remember one Thanksgiving at the hotel.

“The weather was bad and they closed the airport in Chicago, so a lot of planes were diverted, and many were taken to Kansas City,” he said. “We went from a quiet night with 10 rooms occupied to selling out all 250 rooms, and we had to get everything ready.”

Other assignments took Martorana and his family to St. Louis; Nashville, Tenn.; Ann Arbor, Mich.; and Somerset, N.J., where he was assistant general manager of the regional room operations office that supports Marriott franchise properties.

“We organized task forces from around the country to train and help with opening of hotels,” he said.

He left Marriott to be general manager of another hotel in Kansas City, and a few years later opened a hotel in Topeka, Kan., where he stayed for eight years before moving to

Albuquerque, N.M.

All of that moving might have been hard on his family, but Martorana said there were advantages.

“My wife could tell you better if it was difficult,” he said, “but I think it helped the kids develop their social skills. They made friends quickly, and they still have those friends today.”

Arkansas became home when Martorana worked for the Peabody Hotel, then the Hilton, before moving to Hot Springs and the Arlington.

The grand old hotel first opened across the street on Bathhouse Row at the site now known as the Arlington Lawn. The original hotel was built in 1875. The existing hotel was opened with a gala New Year’s party on Dec. 31, 1924. Once a favorite resort for gangsters in the wilder days of Hot Springs, the hotel has been a favorite for families in the region for generations, Martorana said.

“We do have a lot of repeat customers,” he said. “We see second and third generations of customers who first came here with their parents and grandparents, and now they are bringing their kids.”

Holidays and the annual spring breaks bring in families who are taking short trips to Hot Springs, the general manager said. Many come from Texas, the top out-of-state location for tourists to the Spa City, according to Visit Hot Springs, the city’s convention and visitors bureau.

Martorana said coming to the Arlington, even if tourists aren’t staying there, is part of the Hot Springs experience.

“I love the unique, historic feel of the hotel, but I also want to have some special touches for the new customers,” he said. “The first thing I did when I arrived was change the bedding. I wanted a fresher look.”

Renovation is a steady

process for the hotel under Martorana’s leadership. Work has been done on the restaurant, pool area and, most recently, the grand ballroom. He has also “gone green” by replacing more than 11,000 traditional light bulbs with energy-saving bulbs.

There are also rooms in the hotel where the hot water for showers and baths comes directly from the famous hot springs that gave the city its name.

“Getting water all year directly from the earth to the rooms is a challenge,” he said.

The next project is the conference center, he said.

Having settled into the community, he has also stepped out of the hotel to take a leadership role in town.

First as a member of the Downtown Merchants Association, then as president, he said he has tried to show business people in the area that the organization is not a

policy-enforcement agency, but a business group looking to promote downtown businesses, especially to local residents.

“It is not all tourism, and the downtown is not all about T-shirts,” Martorana said. “There are art galleries and unique shops with things you won’t find anywhere else.”

As a member of the Advertising and Promotion Commission, he said he has been impressed with its focus on the local community.

“I’ve seen a lot of visitors and convention organizations in other cities, and they are nothing like ours,” he said. “They promote tourism, but they also want to give back to the community that supports them. We need to keep that balance.”

He said he likes the way people take action in Hot Springs. That fits his management philosophy.

“My associates look for answers,” Martorana said. “They may not like the answers, and it is tough to say ‘no,’ but better to give it to them right now than say, ‘I’ll get back to you,’ and do nothing.”

He said business leaders in Hot Springs are stepping up to move the community forward, and Martorana is glad it works that way. After all, it is his home.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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