Meeting at the newly renovated Doral Golf Resort and Spa in Miami, a group of insurance conference planners and KSL Resorts representatives spent two and a half days in early October discussing industry issues and KSL developments. Participants learned that the KSL family of eight luxury hotels — including the Doral, the Arizona Biltmore (Phoenix), the Claremont (San Francisco Bay Area), the Grand Traverse (Northern Michigan), the Grand Wailea (Maui), La Costa (Southern California near San Diego), and La Quinta (Southern California near Palm Springs), stand out from the pack for two big reasons. First and foremost, all KSL properties are owner-operated. This is unusual in today's marketplace and offers a host of benefits to planners, including lots of negotiating room, since KSL owns all the revenue streams in their hotels.

Second, KSL is aggressively investing in its properties — more than $150 million in renovations has been spent over the past two years — and also putting millions of dollars into employee training and reservations software. “We're the only hotel company that has made investments on this scale since 9/11,” said president and CEO Mike Shannon. “We know that if we cut back on our product, we're dead in the long term.”

Results of these investments were evident at the Doral, which gleamed from a major renovation (see sidebar, opposite). Even more significant was the friendly and accommodating service. Jerry Schmidt of Trustmark Insurance said that for him, the new KSL image was exemplified by Jose, the courteous bellman who greeted him by name on arrival and got his shirts pressed on a Sunday, a service normally available only on weekdays.

Facilitated by Pamela McQueen, the business meetings were lively and interactive. Among the highlights were creative discussions on two hot-button industry issues, service and contracts. Two case study groups had several brainstorming sessions to develop their novel presentations, complete with props and music. Group number-one tackled the fine points of service expectations by staging a “Hospitality Feud” quiz-show with the “concession meisters” on one side and the “happy bookers” on the other. Group number-two covered the thorny battleground of contract negotiations in a hilarious skit called “A Contract Carole,” complete with the ghosts of contracts past, present, and future.

The advisory board also sampled some of the amenities that the Doral offers to groups and got a taste of what makes the Miami area a singular destination. Where else can you experience a roaring Harley-Davidson motorcycle escort for a dine-around on property, and rides in Miami Vice-style cigarette boats that race on the ocean at upwards of 100-miles-per hour?

Travel Partner: American Airlines

American Airlines' Alynne Hanford was on hand as KSL's air partner. In her presentation, she noted that American is the only carrier with sales managers devoted to vertical markets, and she announced that Tonia Rachel will take on the role of the new national sales manager for the insurance market.

New Developments at KSL Resorts

The Doral is known for its five championship golf courses, but as the insurance advisory board discovered, a two-year, $75 million renovation has brought a whole new level of luxury to spaces throughout the property. The spacious resort rooms, completed this fall, reflect a rich residential look. Posh spa suites, located in the resort's huge, free-standing Grecian-style spa, are perfect for top incentive qualifiers and CEOs.Among the resort's 90,000 square feet of meeting space are two grand ballrooms, each accommodating banquets for up to 1,000 people; more than 40 meeting rooms; and an outdoor pavilion with panoramic golf course views.

Other news from KSL Properties:

  • Extensive renovations at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa in Phoenix encompass the main lobby, guest rooms, and meeting space. Existing conference space was refreshed with a $7 million renovation, and $20 million is being spent on a new ballroom and parking garage to open in July 2003.

  • KSL has spent over $24 million on The Claremont Resort & Spa since purchasing this Northern California gem in 1998. Among its amenities are the 20,000-square-foot Spa Claremont.

  • There's no space without flowers at the newly revitalized La Quinta Resort & Spa near Palm Springs, Calif., where renovations included the guest rooms, the lobby, and a new $3 million restaurant, AZUR by Le Bernadin.

  • Refurbished guest rooms, extensively renovated suites, and expanded and enhanced function spaces are among the new developments at the Grand Wailea Resort, Maui.

  • There's a fresh new look in all 663 guest rooms and the two VIP suites at Grand Traverse Resort & Spa in Michigan.

  • KSL's newest property, La Costa Resort & Spa north of San Diego, is undergoing a $50 million renovation that includes recently remodeled guest rooms and dining, and a fitness center, spa, and 42,000-square-foot conference center to open in summer 2003.