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Renovations Key to Success

It can be as simple as buying new bedspreads or as difficult as restoring a historical landmark, but no matter the project’s size, renovations are a key to the success of meeting and convention facilites.

About half of the facilities on The List have either recently completed a renovation or are currently undergoing one of some kind.

“(Economic viability) is the No. 1 reason why people have to renovate. The public will not frequent your facility if you do not keep it (looking) fresh,” according to Reint Reinders, president and chief executive officer of the San Diego Conventions & Visitors Bureau.

Renovations may also be necessary due to normal wear and tear. All these facilites have had tremendously high visitor traffic in the last years, Reinders said. In 1998 alone, San Diego had a total of 14.5 million overnight visitors, according to ConVis figures.

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Competition between facilities is also very fierce, Reinders said. “We also compete with other destination centers.”

Sometimes updating the look of a hotel isn’t exactly the key to staying competitive. The Hotel del Coronado, No. 7, is in the final phase of a $50 million restoration scheduled for completion by spring 2001. “When you’re dealing with a 112-year-old structure, a restoration doesn’t even seem to be appropriate,” according to Michael J. Hardisty, managing director for the hotel. “It’s a labor of love. We consider it an honor and a responsibility to protect such a national treasure.”

Guest rooms, meeting areas, the lobby and other hotel areas are being refurbished and redecorated in a classic Victorian style. “One of the goals of the restoration, which began in July 1998, is to preserve and restore the Del’s historic elements to the greatest extent possible,” Hardisty said.

Guest rooms will be furnished with air-conditioning to provide “a quieter environment for our guests,” he said. The hotel is also consolidating the smaller rooms and will have a total of 676 rooms available when the project is completed.

While the Crown and adjacent Coronet rooms are restored, the hotel has erected two temporary pavilions to handle special events, meetings, conventions and dining.

The Prince of Wales restaurant is being expanded and Ocean Terrace, a new restaurant, is being built. Both restaurants will offer outdoor dining with a view of the ocean and will be connected to the Windsor Lawn. “We are trying to restore and bring back the lush garden setting that the hotel used to sit on,” Hardisty said. “When we are finished it will be a fresh new Hotel del Coronado for the new millennium.”

And while conventioneers may have accommodations such the Del available, the facility could have a strong competitor in a nearby region. Reinders notes conventioneers have other choices besides San Diego. It is at this point the quality of the facilities, food, services, meeting spaces and audio-visual equipment will become important to the conventioneer, he said.

San Diego has the advantage of having nice weather on a year-round basis, many extracurricular activities, and a city environment , a resort environment within a city, Reinders said. “We have a little bit of everything. So we can truly tell people that we, here in San Diego, can be all things to all people.”

Although the city may have advantages over other destinations, there are always thing that can be improved. Reinders believes that service, entertainment, and transportation can be improved.

For example, the city has very few signs in other languages and it can be difficult to convert foreign currency into dollars, he said. “Service today is very critical. You really need to service the customer really well. And I think we have to continue to work on our international customer service.”

Entertainment, such as restaurants, shopping centers, and nightlife, can be expanded, but Reinders believes that will happen as Downtown San Diego expands.

“We have some challenges with transportation, it will be very critical in the next 10 to 20 years,” he said. San Diego will have to address items such as traffic congestion on the freeways, public transportation such as the trolley, and the airport.

“I think we have a lot on our plate over the next 10 years,” Reinders said, adding that he is optimistic that San Diego will meet the challenges.

These challenges may become more important as the city’s profile changes. According ConVis, San Diego became a hot convention market when the San Diego Convention Center expansion was approved.

The Convention Center, No. 1 on The List, is undergoing a $216 million expansion that will roughly double its size. The expansion will add 40 meeting rooms, a ballroom, and expand other areas of the facility. It is scheduled for completion in September 2001.

Although renovations and expansions keep facilities competitive, keeping guests comfortable during the process can be a challenge.

“I think you have to be very upfront and tell (visitors) exactly what they can expect. The best policy is to have no secrets. The Convention Center has done an outstanding job in letting everyone know what is going on. Once you know what is going on, then you are prepared for it,” Reinders said.

The Hotel del Coronado discloses its ongoing renovation to prospective guests during the sales process “More people are intrigued by it than hesitant to experience it,” Hardisty said. “I think everyone recognizes that it has to be done for Hotel del Coronado to stay viable as a destination resort.”

Reinders believes that notifying guests, telling them the positive results, and inviting them to see the end result can help make the process smoother.

Hardisty agrees, which is why the hotel has instituted a sweepstakes to entice visitors to stay at the hotel and witness the project in progress. He is confident that they will want to return and see the final product.

And although all this construction can be considered problematic, Reinders said that most major cities in the United States have a lot of activity in this area.

“What it really represents is progress, and once it is completed, it will be a great amenity for all of us to enjoy,” Reinders said.

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