Preferred Hotels & Resorts held its 2018 annual conference at The Pendry, San Diego, 30 April to 4 May 2018 (this was a clever venue as all 350 delegates could be housed in the same place, and the meetings were held there too). The days started, indeed, in Provisional, one of the hotel’s five street-entrance restaurants that all attract masses of passing traffic. And then, after plates of fresh berries and other fruits – and whatever else a guest would want – we moved to the ballroom for main sessions.
Titled Inspiring Travel for 50 Years, the gathering was a celebration of the soft brand that started in Toronto in 1968. The event was opened by chairman John Ueberroth and his daughter, CEO Lindsey Ueberroth. Other powerful speakers, over three mornings and an afternoon, included Preferred’s president Michelle Woodley and CMO Kirstie Goshow and, in alphabetical order, Michelle Burns, Starbucks; Maureen Chiquet, former CEO of Chanel; Jan Freitag, STR Global; Alan Fuerstman, chairman of Montage Hotels & Resorts; Jeremy Gutsche, Trendhunter; Jackie Herd, Amex Global Travel; Onno and Alexa Poortier, NOW Transforming Travel; Douglas Quinby, Phocuswright; Patricia Schulz, author of ‘1000 Places to See Before You Die’; Nicholas Thompson, Wired magazine; Rob Torres, Google, and photographer Steve Uzzell, National Geographic.
Another really valuable talk was given by Steve Rudner, Hotel Lawyers, warning of the pitfalls of MICE contracts – do owners and general managers know what sales staff sometimes sign? He quoted a Maui hotel, unsuccessfully suing a client who cancelled, for over $1 million: the client claimed a small amount of re-tiling in another part of the hotel constituted ‘renovation and construction’ (the answer is to make sure the contract specifies ‘no renovation or construction in areas relevant to the event’). And remember too that ‘change of management’ can include the salesperson who signed the contract moving on, and lowest-rate guarantees can be breached if you have even one hotel employee rate room taken, and ‘confidentiality’ leaves the hotel vulnerable if a banquet server photographs a Google meeting document to sell to Samsung.
The fact that Champagne Laurent-Perrier was a main sponsor came in very handy for the opening reception, which I sadly missed, and also for the final banquet. This was the occasion for awards. Hotelier of the Year is Salamander president Prem Devadas, and lifetime achievement accolades went to Rob Cornell and Onno Poortier. Hotel of the Year is Finca Cortesin in Cesares, with regional winners Boston Harbor Hotel, for UA-Canada; NIZUC Cancun, for Latin America-Caribbean; The Pulitzer, Amsterdam, for Europe; Leela Palace, Bengaluru, for India-Middle East-Africa; Capitol Hotel Tokyo, Asia-Pacific (and new-member hotel of the year, Myconian Villa Collection, Mykonos). iPrefer Loyalty Members’ Hotel of the Year was Metropole, Geneva, and hotel group was Swire Hotels: #ThePreferredLife social media hotel was Montage’s Palmetto Bluff property in Bluffton, SC, USA. Hotels were nominated by regional directors, using inspection scores as a guide: shortlists compiled by EVPs were then submitted to the main award committee.
Honestly, I would like to give a special award to the host hotel, The Pendry San Diego, which only opened February 2017. Cleverly, the 12-floor building gives the impression of having been there for ever as it oozes the same aura of establishment as The Greenwich in New York. Both hotels were, in fact, formerly open car-parks. In New York it took Robert de Niro and his pals to convert the open space to a luxury hotel. Here in San Diego it was Robert Green, who had already developed what opened as Four Seasons Aviara, now Park Hyatt Aviara. Green turned to Alan Fuerstman and, with the help of Fuerstman’s son Michael, they developed a modern-luxury concept.
And it is lots of fun. Provisional Restaurant has the third Moët vending machine – the first was installed in Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas and I have yet to discover the second. Here the machine is called #CHAMPENDRY and yes, despite its $25-a-pop cost it does extremely well, especially at brunches and special occasions. Thanks to California laws, the machine has to be programmed not to work between two and seven, fortunately morning hours. If it had its way, Provisional could probably do good food and drink business 24/7 rather than its current 6.30am opening. It is an absolutely beautiful room with lots of different-height seating.
As always it is the high-up chairs at long communal tables that sell best to singles, of whom there are always a lot when the hotel is in convention mode. Being two blocks from San Diego’s convention centre means when there are events every hotel around is blocked out, but the Pendry itself seems to host back-to-back meetings. Specially built for the MICE market, all 317 rooms seem to be identical, nearly all coming in at 35 square metres. What does an international MICE group need? Instant and fast Wi-Fi, a good 24/7 gym – and it helps that San Diego’s airport is only 12 minutes away. It is not unusual for the entire hotel to be bought out. GM Michael O’Donohue, a former chef who was previously GM of W San Diego, has assembled the most charming team imaginable.
During the Preferred meeting, for instance, they opened Provisional at six and no one seemed to mind at all coming in early – Michael O’Donohue says they will also stay late, for gala events and after-parties. And when the sun comes out suddenly, it is all hands on deck to get the divine third-floor terrace pool quickly ready for the rush. I had an end-of-meeting lunch up there, poolside, with Lindsey Ueberroth and we personalised our orders. No-one turned a hair. And that is one indisputable sign of a luxury hotel for today.