Navigating an extensive renovation project during the pandemic along with challenges attracting and retaining team members were just a couple of the issues Bob Gregson focused on the last couple of years. He also talks about the new luxury, which is more about personal attention and experiential stays.
How important is your wellness programming to your guests? Are you seeing any trends emerging?
Health and wellness have always been a significant element of what we do at L’Auberge Del Mar. Because of our coastal California location, we generally attract guests that have adopted a lifestyle of wellness and are quite passionate about it.
Spa L’Auberge is really the focal point of health and wellness for the property. From a trend standpoint, we find that our guests enjoy the programming such as yoga, stretch sessions, Thai Chi, etc., more so than our traditional fitness center. We are also seeing a shift in our spa treatments towards more of a preventative maintenance strategy to fend off injury and sickness. A very popular treatment is our “Champagne of the Sea” detox mud wrap to help remove items from the body that do not support our immune system. The Eucalyptus-infused steam room is also very popular.
What have been your biggest challenges over the last two years?
The past two years have certainly had their share of challenges. It is surprisingly difficult to narrow them down to the most significant, but here it goes…
We took on a multimillion-dollar renovation project that reimagined almost every area of the property over a pandemic. This might seem like brilliant timing, and from a guest displacement perspective, it surely was. However, with supply chain issues around the globe, sticking to a schedule was extremely difficult as we were not able to trust delivery schedules. Believe it or not, we are still waiting on a few items from a renovation that was basically completed in May of 2021. As challenging as it was, we are thrilled with the outcome as it catapulted the property to a new level of modern sophistication while managing to keep its coastal charm and soul intact.
We are certainly not alone in this one, however, keeping up with the ever-changing CDC guidelines surrounding public safety over the pandemic is still a daily topic here at L’Auberge Del Mar. The additional training on safety protocols for our guests and team members ranging from cleaning procedures to social distancing and the amount of time spent on communication vehicles such as signage, website updates, guest letters, etc., and “PPE” protocols and protective barriers in various areas has consumed a staggering amount of time and resources.
Sourcing and retaining great team members remain our biggest challenge. It was frustrating to discover that even when we were able to find great talent to join the team, they were reluctant to accept a full-time position. It just seemed like people did not want to or perhaps did not need to work. Keeping everyone healthy and on the job, especially over the Omicron variant spike was the biggest hurdle yet. At times, there were enough people out on quarantine protocols to cripple the operation. At our particular property, we feel like we are on the backside of this spike with our team healthy and ready to deliver.
How have you attracted and retained your associates during uncertain times?
Attracting new associates has been very challenging. We have found ourselves competing against different industries outside of hospitality that is now offering historically high wages. In addition to revamping our compensation package, we focus on the concept of a career path in hospitality and the ability to transfer these skills to a global industry. We find that when we engage with potential associates in this manner, we can easily identify candidates that are focused on a long-term career vs a short-term paycheck which ultimately makes a better, more engaged member of the team.
We have also drastically increased our engagement with current associates. As an example, while our traditional “Housekeeping Week” remains in place, we now have expanded the concept to be a property-wide appreciation week with Food Trucks, Ice Cream Socials, delivering snacks/drinks to departments, raffles, etc. We have added a few categories to the traditional “employee of the month” recognition as well and have fun contests that related to guest feedback, and our core values.
How do you engage with the “always connected” traveler?
It is not uncommon in our industry to have extensive communication with a guest without ever having an actual conversation until they arrive in person at our door. Although we have certainly adapted to communicate with our guests in the manner in which they are most comfortable, ie text, email, website, etc., we certainly prefer to engage with our guests over the phone or in-person as it is still the best way to make a connection at a luxury level. Encouraging our guests to follow our social media channels is a great way to stay connected to them with relevant content supporting their lifestyle.
What do you believe are the big differentiators in the luxury hotel sector around guest experience?
I think luxury has changed a lot over the last decade. The things that impressed our father’s generation and the current generation are drastically different. Luxury is no longer defined by how much brass and marble you have. Today’s luxury is about personal attention and experiential stays. Even the traditional concierge role at luxury hotels is evolving. No longer do we sit at a desk and wait for you to come to us. We now have a dedicated Guest Experience team that will reach out to guests prior to arrival to determine how we can personalize their stay and create a locally driven personal adventure. The ultimate goal is to add value through experience. We encourage our guests to “Live like a local” while in Del Mar and have developed relationships with many retail shops, services, and restaurants that offer something unique to our guests.