The Grande Dames
America's greatest destination resorts balance the charms of the past with modern amenities
From the Print Edition:
Camilo Villegas, July/August 2006
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A retail component was also added. Stand-alone boutiques owned by the Breakers and selling some of fashion's biggest names, such as Piaget and Steuben, now offer guests a rainy-day entertainment option while adding an incremental revenue stream. "When I arrived, they had a series of mom-and-pop hotel shops," says vice president of retail operations John Zoller, who brought his Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue résumé to the hotel in 1995. "That area over there," he says, pointing to what is now a Guerlain Institut de Beaute store, "had two Ping-Pong tables and a bike rack."
Rooms still span multiple categories (21 now), from a 250-square-foot Superior to an Imperial Suite more than eight times that size. But these days, even the smallest have dataports, on-demand movies, PlayStations and plush bathrobes. The two golf courses were remade and a 20,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor spa opened, with 13 types of massages, including aromatherapy, Thai and deep tissue. And slowly, what had been a rather child-unfriendly place, with dress codes and no special effort made to entertain anyone under the drinking age, became a true family destination. A supervised game room, for instance, now sits adjacent to The Italian Restaurant, divided by a glass partition, so parents can actually watch their pre-teens play without getting up from their osso buco. And men can eat breakfast in short-sleeve shirts now, which was forbidden at one time. "It was felt that women might object to the sight of hair on a man's arms," Walters recalls.
That this has been accomplished not only successfully but almost seamlessly is because of the hotel's unmatched service. Leone wanted guests to feel just as pampered in their Lacoste shirts as they did in their Palm Beach green blazers—and even more pampered, so nobody could accuse standards of slipping. "That was absolutely at the core of our strategies, to take no shortcuts," he says. "To step up the service and the value to an even higher level."
Bill Dadasis, 48, a guest who has been coming to the Breakers for 40 years, sits enjoying his umpteenth breakfast there and shakes his head in disbelief. He's in the hotel and restaurant business himself in greater Boston, and he's amazed at the warmth that accompanies the servers' efficiency. "We do training in our hotels, but this is beyond training," he says. "They just find these people who are both incredibly competent and naturally friendly. You can't train that." All the solicitousness in the world can't fill a 560-room, 88-apartment Florida resort at winter prices once the weather turns hot, but a new marketing campaign to turn the Breakers into a full-year destination has dropped the standard room rate from $470 to $290 in the summer. "We took a property that was running in the mid-60s occupancy on average to an 80 percent occupancy," Leone says. Floridians, already in the heat, have taken disproportionate advantage. They find a property that is more casual than during high season, where most employees are permitted to trade the dark suit and tie for sport shirts and khakis.
Yet for all that, the mere act of walking in a coat and tie through the Breakers' Renaissance-arched lobby, striding along the Tennessee marble on your way to a night of indulgence at L'Escalier, still feels exciting. Even if the hotel no longer requires your finest clothes night after night, something about it seems to deserve them.
The Broadmoor Colorado Springs, CO
The Broadmoor's standing in the celebrity world can be charted by the photos of guests displayed on the walls of the Colorado Springs resort. From Will Rogers, Jack Benny, Arthur Godfrey and Truman Capote in the 1940s and 1950s, the level of fame declines precipitously to present-day actor and economist Ben Stein, travel guru Peter Greenberg and assorted figure skaters.
But that's fine with Steve Bartolin, the hotel's CEO. Let the Hollywood types jet to Bali and St. Barts. What the Broadmoor uses to entice today's guests is predictable luxury in an incomparable setting. That may not be as exciting as having famous faces decorating the poolside and paparazzi hiding in the bushes, but it's a better business model. "It's dangerous to be trendy," says Bartolin, who served as the general manager of West Virginia's Greenbrier for four years before moving to the Broadmoor. "Trends come and go, and where does that leave you? We try to appeal to high-end frequent travelers, business groups, honeymooners."
The scenery helps. The ski resort of Vail may have been built in the image of St. Moritz, but no property in the United States evokes Alpine vistas like a stroll around the Broadmoor's centerpiece lake, with Cheyenne Mountain as a backdrop.
But scenery can't make up for lackluster service or amenities. When the current ownership, Oklahoma's Gaylord family, acquired the property from the nonprofit El Pomar Foundation in 1988, the Broadmoor, which originally opened in 1918, was fading fast. "It was teetering," says Bartolin. At the same time, the hospitality industry was just beginning a boom that would make it the largest consumer category in the world. New construction was happening everywhere, rendering many older properties obsolete.
Like the other grande dames that survived, the Broadmoor needed money. The foundation had been limited to how much it could invest, but the Gaylords weren't. They put $280 million into the 400-acre campus (excluding golf courses), beginning with a 90,000-square-foot fitness center that opened in 1995. In 2001, 21 lakeside suites were added. That same year, an infinity pool opened at the north end of the lake, featuring striking purple chaise longues. For a guest sitting there now, gazing out over the west tower toward the mountain, the view is almost too beautiful to be genuine.
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