Amid the glorious setting of La Quinta Resort & Club — its whitewashed walls, terra-cotta roofs, and everblooming flowers vibrant under a deep-blue desert sky — a group of insurance conference planners and representatives of KSL Recreation Corp. spent three days discussing the needs of insurance meetings and the future of KSL.
Peter Faraone, KSL's vice president of sales, led off the meeting by announcing that 2000 had been the company's best year ever in terms of revenue. Faraone told participants that KSL is focused on building customers for life: A primary reason for creating the annual advisory board was to provide a mechanism for regular customer feedback. Faraone went through the list of customer recommendations from the previous year's meeting and reported on KSL's progress in areas such as technology, training, growing the KSL portfolio, and adding regional sales offices.
Insurance clients had plenty of opportunity to talk about issues they're dealing with currently, and what they need from meeting properties. Faced with increasingly sophisticated and well-traveled qualifiers, for example, they need properties to work with them on creating unique experiences and themes that will set their events apart from the competition.
One of the board's specific recommendations: Institute a “conference concierge” position at all properties. The conference concierge is at the planner's beck and call during a program; in effect, the concierge steps in for the convention services manager on site so that the CSM can be returning phone calls and working out details of future programs. Eddie, conference concierge extraordinaire at La Quinta, was singled out for particular praise. In fact, said Roxanne Kohlhof, director of sales, Northeast, for KSL, the signing of one client'swas contingent on Eddie traveling to the property for the program.
Clients said they also appreciate support and involvement from the general manager during their programs. La Quinta's new GM, Johnny So, well known to many attendees already, was the embodiment of the involved GM during the advisory board meeting, participating in all events.
Also sending a message to the insurance advisory board was the involvement of Mike Shannon, CEO of KSL Recreation Corp. Speaking to the group, Shannon noted a trend that fits the KSL philosophy: “People are moving from consistency to uniqueness in the lodging business,” he said, pointing out that KSL emphasizes the uniqueness and local culture of each of its properties. “We'll continue to look for one-of-a-kind properties, including internationally,” he added. Shortly after the meeting, KSL announced its latest acquisition: the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa in Phoenix.
Travel Partner: American Airlines
Dennis Tucker, national sales manager, insurance and financial industry, for American Airlines, was on hand as KSL's air partner. Tucker reminded attendees of projects under way at the airline, including removing seats from the coach sections of all jets to create more leg room throughout the cabin.
The KSL Portfolio: What's New
KSL Recreation Corp. is unique among hotel companies in that it owns and manages each property in its portfolio — and intends to continue operating on that model. In the past two years, KSL invested $181 million in capital improvements. Here's a quick news clip from each of KSL's seven resorts:
La Quinta Resort & Club, La Quinta, Calif. — The 742-room resort will expand to 804 rooms by May. A new fine-dining restaurant, Azur by Le Bernardin, has opened, with cuisine modeled after the renowned New York restaurant. And La Quinta's original 52 casitas, which date from 1926, have been renovated.
Grand Wailea Resort, Hotel & Spa, Maui — KSL has invested $11 million in the 780-room resort since acquiring it in 1998. The 50,000-square-foot Spa Grande is Hawaii's largest.
Doral Golf Resort & Spa, Miami — Doral is renovating all 694 rooms this year. In 2000, the resort hosted the Shark Shootout, which highlighted the Great White Course, its fifth championship course.
Grand Traverse Resort & Spa, Acme, Mich. — KSL is in the midst of a three-year, $18 million investment in the 651-room resort in northern Michigan. The latest projects to wrap up were a refurbishment of the Tower guest rooms and public spaces and a renovation of the 20,160-square-foot Governor's Hall.
Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, Phoenix — KSL's newest acquisition, the 730-room resort has 64,000 square feet of dedicated meeting space and a 22,000-square-foot spa.
The Emerald Pointe Resort & Conference Center — Formerly the Hilton Lake Lanier Islands Resort, it is now a member of the International Association of Conference Centers. KSL has invested more than $20 million in Lake Lanier Islands, 30 minutes north of Atlanta, since 1996. Emerald Pointe offers 216 rooms at the main resort, 30 two-bedroom lake houses, and a fleet of 90 boats, including a 150-person party boat.
Claremont Resort & Spa, Berkeley, Calif. — A 20,000-square-foot spa opened to great acclaim last December. Claremont added shops to its renovated lobby and has redone 185 of 279 guest rooms, along with mezzanine- and lobby-level meeting space. The resort may add 80 rooms in 2002.