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The Valley’s Top Innkeepers

Editor’s Note: The following profiles feature some of the greater-Valley area’s veteran hotel general managers and owners as well as those bringing some new ideas to the industry. The profiles are not meant to be a ranking of the “best” in the business. • Thomas Gurtner Experience: Thomas Gurtner, general manager of the Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village and regional vice president for the chain, has been with the hotel since its 2006 opening. Gurtner, who has a family history in the hotel industry, has been working for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts since 1989. He also worked for Westin Hotels for 20 years. Challenges: After the hotel’s 2006 opening, Gurtner had to guide its growth, helping increase its exposure and occupancy rates even as the recession followed. The Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village was hit from the economic downturn just like every other hotel – it suffered from slower business, increased competition and shorter windows for bookings. Gurtner said the hotel has dramatically increased its occupancy rates, which now has a percentage in the mid-70s, compared to its 50s range in 2007. Ideas: Guests are largely drawn by the hotel’s unique offerings of health and fitness programs through its spa and its sister business, the California Health & Longevity Institute, Gurtner said. However, Gurtner has also helped increase the hotel’s competitive edge through other channels. Under Gurtner’s leadership, the hotel has partnered with the producers of the television show “The Biggest Loser,” providing a site for casting and filming of a few episodes. The institute has also provided medical and nutritional support for the show. As a response to the poor economy, the hotel started offering a more competitive package deal that promotes double occupancy. Gurtner was also involved in launching the Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village’s laundry service, which it performs for other hotels to make up for an overestimate of its own laundry facility needs. Four Seasons Hotel, Westlake VillageAge: 62Years at hotel: 4Years in hotel profession: 46Number of rooms in hotel: 270 • Bert Seneca Bert Seneca Experience: Bert Seneca has been the general manager at North Hollywood-based The Beverly Garland Holiday Inn for about five years. Before that, he was general manager at the Airtel Plaza Hotel and worked at the Van Nuys hotel for 14 years. Seneca is also chairman of the San Fernando Valley Conference and Visitors Bureau. Challenges: The greatest challenge Seneca and his hotel staff faced in 2009 was dealing with dropped room rates caused by the recession, which led to the hotel falling short on revenues. Seneca said the room rates likely dropped by a range of about 5 percent to 8 percent, though they have already started to improve this year. The hotel, along with many others, also saw drops in corporate event bookings, while businesses also started booking rooms and banquet rooms much more last-minute. Ideas: While Seneca has been at the hotel, he has helped mobilize a major remodeling project, which mostly took place in 2009. The changes included a new courtyard, pool, business center and fitness center. It also included gift shop and hotel bar upgrades, banquet room renovations and an expanded lobby. The hotel also recently added a poolside fireplace and bar and started showing movies by the pool, or “dive-in movies.” While the hotel has offered Universal Studios and Hollywood tour package deals for years, Seneca is helping start a new green package, which allows guests to donate a portion of their room rates to an organization that replants California forests. Beverly Garland hotel, North HollywoodAge: 45Years at hotel: 5Years in hotel profession: 27Number of rooms in hotel: 225 • Amy Commans Amy Commans Experience: Amy Commans has been the general manager of Westlake Village Inn for 20 years. She also worked for Marriott hotels in Century City and Woodland Hills. Challenges: The hotel’s greatest challenge in recent years has been finding ways to compete with about half a dozen other hotels, including those by big-name chains, that moved into the area, Commans said. Along with the new competition, Commans and her staff also had to deal with slower business due to the poor economy and major cutbacks in travel by corporations. She said business travel has started to pick up again. Ideas: Commans has overseen major renovations at Westlake Village Inn, which include two new spa rooms, a new poolside bar, pool renovations and expansion of the hotel’s restaurant patio. The spa rooms opened in early August, allowing the hotel to now offer services such as massage therapy, waxing and facials. Commans said she expects the poolside renovations to attract more private parties, increasing revenues and creating more incentives for visitors to stay at the hotel. Another recent development at the Westlake Village site is the addition of a vineyard, which is integrated into wine tour packages offered by the hotel. In 2008, the hotel was the first in California to be designated a member of the Summit division of Preferred Hotel Group, a group that represents hotels worldwide, Commans said. WESTLAKE VILLAGE INN, WESTLAKE VILLAGEAge: 47Years at hotel: 20Years in hotel profession: 24Number of rooms in hotel: 141 • Noel Pavia Noel Pavia Experience: Noel Pavia has been the general manager of the Courtyard by Marriott in Valencia for about two years. Pavia has also worked as a general manager at a Courtyard by Marriott hotel in Kentucky and as an executive chef at a Japanese boutique hotel in San Francisco. Challenges: Pavia started working for the Valencia hotel when it first opened in 2007. However, he left briefly to work at another hotel site run by the Courtyard hotel’s owner at the time, and he returned to the Courtyard after its ownership changed. One of Pavia’s greatest challenges was having to boost the hotel’s community presence once returning to the hotel he currently manages. He also had to deal with increased competition due to the industry’s dropped room rates, lower leisure and corporate business levels and last-minute room bookings, all symptoms of the economic downturn. Ideas: To bring more guests to the Courtyard by Marriott in Valencia, Pavia and his sales team planned a series of unconventional events and opened the hotel’s doors to community businesses and organizations. The events, which were open to guests and oftentimes local residents, have included free salsa classes, band performances and “dive-in” movies by the pool. The Courtyard by Marriott even hosted a video game competition for filming crews at a film appreciation event organized by the city of Santa Clarita, the hotel and a local organization. Pavia and his planning crew also decided to support local vendors, allowing them to sell their products onsite once a week without having to pay to rent the space. Pavia said the events have boosted the hotel’s image in the community and has helped increase bar and restaurant sales. Courtyard by Marriott, ValenciaAge: 45Years at hotel: 2Years in hotel profession: 20Number of rooms in hotel: 140 • Clay Andrews Clay Andrews Experience: Clay Andrews has been the general manager for Warner Center Marriott in Woodland Hills since October 2008. He also worked as the general manager of the Renaissance Agoura Hills hotel, owned by Marriott, from 2003 to 2006. Andrews has additionally worked at the Hilton Pasadena hotel, at Hotel ZaZa in Dallas and for Wyndham International. Challenges: Andrews started at the hotel right in the midst of the economic downturn. Room occu-pancy dropped by about 25 percent, and holiday party bookings dropped by about 50 percent during the recession. Andrews said business travel at the hotel started improving at the beginning of this year, and local catering services are also starting to pick up. Ideas: This summer, Andrews has worked to turn the hotel’s underutilized pool area into a club scene with DJs, entertainers and a busy bar on “Splash Sundays.” The Vegas-style pool party, free for guests and open to the public for an entrance fee, highlights the hotel’s renovations to the pool area. The changes include new paint, new cabanas and bright-colored furniture and the addition of cooling decks around the pool and bar. There is also now an 8-foot-tall wall that has water cascading down into a fountain pool and two fire torches that are lit at night. Andrews said the event, which usually draws a younger adult crowd, has been highly successful and has dramatically increased bar revenues. Even mid-week bar sales have risen by about 30 to 40 percent, he added. The idea of the event was to get guests to stay in the hotel and to boost revenues during the usual Sunday afternoon slump. As general manager, Andrews has also focused on providing employee performance incentives and keeping up the hotel staff’s morale during the difficult economic times. Warner Center Marriott, Woodland HillsAge: 45Years at hotel: 2Years in hotel profession: 16Number of rooms in hotel: 474 • Jim Dunn Jim Dunn Experience: Jim Dunn is the owner and general manager of the Airtel Plaza Hotel, which he opened in 1984 with a group of family members. The Van Nuys establishment was the real estate developer’s first venture into the hotel industry. Dunn is the president and CEO of Dunn Investment Properties, which has its corporate office in the hotel. Challenges: Dunn said the Airtel Plaza Hotel’s business fell by about 30 percent after the recession hit. Both room and special event bookings were down. However, the hotel opted not to drop its room rates as much as other hotels did and relied on its more personalized customer service to bring in guests, Dunn said. Ideas: To help bring business back, Dunn restructured the hotel’s sales department and hired some new sales managers. The team focused on bringing back customers who used to be regulars at the hotel but whose activity had become dormant due to the economy. In the past year, the Airtel Plaza Hotel increased its focus on its European tour group clientele and added to its team of tour operators. The hotel also started offering Universal Studios discount package deals. About two years ago, the hotel began offering complimentary helicopter rides touring Los Angeles for corporate clients who generated the highest levels of room stays. The hotel has also undergone several renovations in recent years, including remodels of its presidential suites and upgrades to its restaurant, lobby and banquet rooms. Airtel Plaza Hotel, Van NuysAge: 65Years at hotel: 26Years in hotel profession: 26Number of rooms in hotel: 267

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