Colony Luxury Hotel, Acquired from Marriott International
for $190 million
|By Sandi Cain
Staff Reporter Orange County Business Journal
July, 2002 - The new owners of the Laguna Colony Hotel say they're out to bolster Laguna Beach's appeal with their luxury resort set to open early next year.
Laguna Beach Resorts LLC, a partnership between Montage Hotels & Resorts, The Athens Group and undisclosed private investors - believed to include eBay Inc. founder Pierre Omidyar - bought a majority stake in the hotel last month from Marriott International Inc. The selling price was about $190 million. The hotel is set to be renamed Montage at the Laguna Beach Colony.
Alan J. Fuerstman is the founder and chief executive of Montage Hotels, a management company, and previously was the vice president of hotel operations at the Bellagio in Las Vegas and was managing director at the Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale, Ariz.
The 25-year hotel and resort veteran lived in Newport Beach earlier in his career when he worked at the Newport Beach Marriott. He met his wife on Balboa Island. Now he plans to move to Laguna Beach from Las Vegas with his wife and four kids.
Fuerstman sat down with Business Journal reporter Sandi Cain to talk about the new venture.
Why did you buy this hotel as your flagship resort?
The property itself is very inspiring. The community of Laguna Beach is so welcoming--a great community.
Why did you want to invest in it?
It’s been my dream. I started as an operator and was fortunate enough to manage some great properties and my dream was to eventually have my own company. Now that’s evolved to Montage Hotels & Resorts.
So Montage will be the operator and the owner?
That’s correct. The Athens Group is a partner as well.
Will they remain involved?
Absolutely. They’ve done a terrific job of developing the property.
Have you chosen a general manager?
We’re on the verge of naming someone, but it’s a little premature to say who.
Will there be any other personnel changes? Will Scott Evans (sales and marketing director) and Karyn Phillipsen (national accounts director) remain?
Scott will remain with (Marriott-owned) Ritz-Carlton I believe. It’s my understanding Karen will stay with us. We’re very excited about having her as part of our team.
How will you market the hotel in this kind of economy?
We’re going to market the destination of Laguna Beach. We’re going to market the artistic aspects of the property. We’re going to market how the property itself will become a luxurious retreat.
You have a lot of competition with the St. Regis in Dana Point and the Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Niguel.
I think we’ll add to the market, and the market will grow as we attract visitors. I think we’ll be healthy for the community. Many fine hotels are an improvement for their community and raise the prominence of the destination and help feed off of each other.
With many hotels, it takes at least a year to get up to average occupancy. Do you think that’s accurate for the Laguna Colony?
That’s correct. I think we’ll see growth in business the first year. We’re very confident in the marketplace here and think we’ll have a very good first year. Then I project we’ll continue to grow even after a successful first year.
If this is a flagship resort, do you plan to expand?
I envision us to be a small hotel company. It’s very difficult to find properties as magnificent as Laguna Beach. But I would like to be able to continue to gradually find other properties that would complement this property. At this point, my focus is clearly on making Laguna Beach a home run.
Is this a long-term investment?
This is my passion. This is my life. This is very long term. I believe that luxury properties require a long-term outlook to be successful. In a luxury environment, the decisions that are best for the guests are long-term decisions. Some companies are pressured to make short-term decisions that affect the success of the long term. That’s more prevalent in luxury properties than other tiers.
So you’re going to be around a while and you’re not going to sell the property?
No, no, this is not a real estate play. It’s not about making a short-term dollar. It’s about creating a company, creating a culture—a company based on trust, based on the arts.
What do you see as the biggest challenge in opening any luxury property--particularly this one?
In opening any property, especially luxury properties, you strive for perfection and to exceed everyone’s expectations. It just requires a heroic effort and attention to detail and we’re up for that challenge and we’re excited about doing it. The biggest challenge is just getting it done right. Not compromising service standards. At the Phoenician, for example, when you get a property that is so ideally situated, such a spectacular physical presence, it raises the level of expectation for service.
What would you want to say to the people of Laguna Beach to reassure them that you’re not just an outside investor coming into the city?
Coming to Laguna Beach is my dream come true. To work in Laguna Beach,
launch a hotel company in Laguna Beach—a company that will be based on
the arts, based on trusting, and relationships with guests and staff and
community involvement in a community that we can be supportive in is the
ultimate fortune. We will be very involved with the community. One of the
aspects of the Athens Group that we’re so excited about is how well they’ve
partnered with the community and related to the community. I look forward
to my children going to school in Laguna Beach, getting involved with the
schools, getting to know the city leaders and to being an active participant
Orange County Business Journal
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