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Grand Del Mar president reveals how 'luxury' has changed

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Thomas Voss is the president of the Grand Del Mar.

Q: The Grand Del Mar opened in late 2007 just before the San Diego County wildfires and right at the onset of a recession. How have you positioned and sustained a luxury property in San Diego under such challenging conditions?

A: We adapted a long-term view, which is critical in this luxury niche, concentrating on our core mission -- to provide the ultimate in guest service -- rather than on quarterly earnings. From the onset, we focused on what we wanted to accomplish, keeping a keen eye on service, and carefully positioned the hotel for leisure, corporate groups and social events -- as well as pursuing excellence in our dining venues, Addison and Amaya. We designed services, hired the very best people -- and never compromised service, lowered our standards or changed what we originally intended to do: to provide the ultimate in guest satisfaction. So far this approach has worked well for us.

Q: Besides the economy, what has been your greatest challenge in opening a luxury resort such as The Grand Del Mar?

A: We are a privately held, independent resort and have to be savvy yet diligent to get national and international recognition. For this reason, we have never cut back on our sales and marketing strategies. In addition, we have worked extraordinarily hard to find and recruit the best possible staff -- all of whom take true pleasure in providing the best possible service. It can be challenging to find staff that can meet our exacting standards.

Q: Who are your competitors in the industry? Are you competing locally or regionally?

A: We are competing on a nationwide level. Our immediate competition: The Lodge at Torrey Pines; Montage Laguna Beach; The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel; St. Regis Monarch Beach and The Resort at Pelican Hill. These are all top luxury hotels with a great presence in the region, and we are honored to share the marketplace with them. We have a great concentration of luxury hotels in Southern California, and it behooves us to work together.

Q: How has the hospitality industry changed in the last five years and what new practices are hoteliers engaging in?

A: Guests are more savvy than ever and looking for value. There are a lot more deals in the marketplace -- hoteliers have to stay on top of their game and add value to their experiences, such as complimentary breakfast or parking, as well as creating interesting, intriguing programs and packages.

Q: What emerging trends do you foresee in the hospitality industry?

A: The meaning of "luxury" has shifted -- people want an ambience that feels comfortable, not formal or stuffy. Spa services and outdoor-oriented activities are also increasingly important for today's travelers, who are also knowledge-hungry. To that end, we offer interactive educational programs, such as wine tastings and cooking classes. Also, the green revolution is certainly impacting the hotel industry. Astute hoteliers realize they can increase revenues -- as well as make an important impact on the environment -- by adapting environmentally-friendly practices.

Q: Has the Internet changed the way you and your colleagues do business?

A: Yes, the Internet drives the hotel business today -- because booking rooms is infinitely easier, and it provides a way for brands to efficiently and effectively reach out to guests. The Internet also enables us to have a personalized ongoing conversation with guests, helps us recruit new employees and is a key part of our marketing initiatives.

Social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, also continues to grow in importance, and has become a critical tool in interacting with customers, as well as a key element affecting organic search and ranking for the property.

Q: As president of one of the region's luxury hotels, what do you personally look for when staying at a hotel or resort?

A: First and last impressions are key. In addition, I look for a wonderful ambience, for comfort and for great food. Does the hotel have a "soul?" You'll know it right away. From the sheets on the bed to the fragrance in the lobby, if it feels right, I will return. You know where you belong.

Chat with Tom at tvoss@thegranddelmar.com.

Kimpton's Hotel Solamar recently became official Green Seal certified, having applied for and met a rigorous set of environmental standards designed to reduce impact on the environment and human health.

Certification requires an initial evaluation by Green Seal, including an on-site audit of the property and annual monitoring to ensure ongoing compliance. To qualify for Green Seal certification, a hotel must demonstrate sustainable practices in the following areas: waste minimization, reuse and recycling; energy efficiency, conservation and management; management of fresh water resources; wastewater management; hazardous substances; and environmentally sensitive purchasing.

To celebrate its certification, Hotel Solamar is partnering with the Green Chamber of San Diego County for an evening with guest speaker Brother Ishmael Tetteh from 6-9 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 18 at Hotel Solmar.

For the second consecutive year, the San Diego Convention Center took top honors at Southern California Meeting + Events magazine's Best of Readers' Choice Awards held last month at the Park Hyatt Aviara in Carlsbad.

The SDCC ranked above the Los Angeles and Anaheim Convention Centers by readers of the magazine, a publication targeted to meeting and event planners and suppliers, where 1600 readers cast their ballots online this spring.

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