Are New Hotel Launches a Sign of Market Recovery?

I have interviewed Bob Moore of Wave Crest Resorts in the past when he was GM of Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach. Since that time, he has progressively moved within the organization to oversee the opening of Wave Crest’s new property, the Hilton Carlsbad Oceanfront Resort & Spa, just one mile or so down the road, as Vice Present and General Manager. Given the lackluster economic climate, it’s rare that we see new hotels opening or under construction, which is what makes this launch particularly fascinating.

When was the decision made to build the Hilton Carlsbad Oceanfront? What factors contributed to this?

The inception started nearly 12 years ago. The goal was to build the Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach and then shortly after to build the Oceanfront. However, with the change in the economy, there began the delay. On a good note, this hiccup allowed the developer an opportunity to obtain additional pieces of land to enhance the layout of the resort.

Given the state of the American economy, it’s rare to see new hotels erected these days. How did you justify this risk?  

A few factors. One is that the vision and the caliber of the Oceanfront is something that was truly missing in the north county area of San Diego. Secondly, the resort could be built more economically because you had multiple companies bidding for the project. As a result, we had our choice of builders, which would allow for a better finished product. The most important factor though was our market studies of both historical data and performance in the Carlsbad market as well as forecasts of upcoming business and demand filtering into the area. Carlsbad is such a diverse city that’s showing no signs of slowing its development. Where there’s demand, the supply will come, and we were fortunate enough to be that supply.

Can you describe the construction process? Were there any setbacks?

Smooth as ever. The developer chose an outstanding contractor, Soltek, a San Diego-based firm, to build the Oceanfront. Soltek was easy to work with and detail-oriented. They took pride in their craftsmanship and in the end product.

The July 2012 launch date was picked a long time ago. Why this date? Did you have to sacrifice anything in order to make this deadline?

The date was chosen based on the build out date. The builder was able to deliver what they promised and it was a comfortable finish without the feeling of being overly pressured or needing to make any sacrifice to meet a deadline. We thought July would be a good time as well because this is when Carlsbad is at its busiest and we wanted to open the doors to a full hotel, instead of an empty one.

What’s unique about this particular hotel?

The property is located across the street from the beach. It’s one of the only hotels or resorts with direct access to the beach, not to mention the views from the resort are magnificent at every turn. Unlike most other resorts, we offer a stunning ocean view from all floors, not just the upper levels. In fact, the entire property – from our spa and signature restaurant to the recreation area and meeting spaces are all geared towards having picturesque ocean views and ocean themes. Hence the name ‘Oceanfront’.

With a Hilton Garden Inn less than a few miles down the beach, what are the brand differentiators between the Oceanfront and HGI names?

The two hotels were built to cater to two different groups of travelers. The Oceanfront is a full-service luxury property whereas the HGI is a focused-service, mid-level property. There are numerous differences between the two, both in the physical plant and in the service offerings. These are laid out by Hilton to help clearly define the differences between the brands while also creating consistency amongst hotels of a similar brand.

Both under the Wave Crest banner, how do these two hotels share resources or complement one another?

We plan to operate the two hotels not as competitors, but as teammates. Having the two properties with such varying service and amenity offerings truly allows us to cater to and meet the needs of any traveler coming into the Northern San Diego Area. This is something that was in the original planning of the two locations over 12 years ago. We definitely did not want one to cannibalize the other. So, we made them physically different, with notably attractive features to cater to very different groups of people, but also the same service mentality at both. This is what has made the HGI the huge success that it is today and will hopefully propel the Oceanfront to the forefront of all Hilton Resorts.

What has been your long-term marketing strategy gearing up to the launch? What are your key demographics (both age and geography) for Hilton Carlsbad Oceanfront?

Long before the Oceanfront was opened, we had a full-time sales and marketing team on board. They’ve been aggressively seeking out business to allow us to launch with a comfortable amount of activity on the books as well as a wide-ranging client base. The goal now is to continue the search for new business while getting our name out there. Also, we have to ensure that everyone we’re now able to get in the building is well taken care of and will want to come back.

Are you doing anything special for the launch in terms of parties, local awareness programs or special offers?

Within days of opening, we announced two summer packages for leisure guests, and we have quickly reached out with special offers to our neighbors in Carlsbad as well. For the launch itself, we held a first-night party that attracted about 400 area decision-makers, followed by a neighborhood party three nights later. We also welcomed local media to a restaurant party held two nights before the official launch, while three weeks after opening, we hosted 200 wedding planners and brides to an event designed to show off our destination wedding offerings. On the radio side, we’ve already hosted the Peter Greenberg Worldwide, a national radio show, as well as an all-day local radio remote by the region’s leading soft rock station that has already generated measurable restaurant and lounge traffic.

How you are incorporating social media into the launch campaign?  How have you balanced these channels with traditional advertising mediums?

We are very cognizant of the impact of social media. In fact, we’ve been involved with these channels starting a year and a half before the launch. We have a constantly refreshed blog to detail the construction progress, alongside a very active Twitter feed, Facebook page and four Pinterest treads with beautiful property images. Chandler’s Restaurant has its own social media initiatives in place, including a dynamic Facebook presence that provides insider looks at each day’s specials as well as specific stories about new bar drinks and cocktails.

What’s your strategy for continuing the buzz for the rest of 2012 and for next year?

On the advertising side, we are working with key local radio stations throughout the year. We’re also running online and print advertising in wedding, spa, meetings, city lifestyle and local news outlets. Related to the online world, we’re using SEO, SEA and Google Adwords to drive clicks and impressions. As well, we’ve worked hard to ensure that we’re included in key local listings across all media types while also tracking reviews via a reputation management initiative. We have a full schedule of frequent news releases planned for the next 18 months, and we will distribute a number of these via a national wire service in addition to our own media hosting. We will host several major community events to further celebrate our opening between now and year-end, along with numerous important regional partnerships to be announced with local philanthropic partners. Going into 2013, we will unveil several exciting new holiday and seasonal traditions, many of which will be breakthroughs for the area. Having the ability to reach Hilton loyalists through Hilton HHonors and through our partnership with two area CVBs will also work wonders. Lastly, we expect to benefit from the Fall 2012 launch of a new international airline based at nearby McClellan Palomar Airport in Carlsbad, bringing further attention to our burgeoning coastal travel destination.

Anything you would have done differently?

No, this has been the most amazing project I’ve ever had the opportunity to work on. The finished product is even more spectacular than I had hoped for!

(Article published in eHotelier on August 8, 2012)

Larry MogelonskyAre New Hotel Launches a Sign of Market Recovery?