|By Maria Zate, Santa Barbara News-Press, Calif.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Mar. 27, 2005 - One of Santa Barbara's oldest hotels will soon shed its corporate name and return to its historical roots.
The Radisson Hotel at 1111 E. Cabrillo Blvd. at East Beach will break ties with the Radisson chain at the beginning of May and take on a shortened version of its original identity, Hotel Vista Mar Monte.
Soon to be called the Hotel Mar Monte, the 173-room hotel will retain the same owner, Chicago-based HDG Associates, and the same management team.
Ruth Grande, general manager of the hotel, said the owners have been thinking about going independent for about a year. The hotel has been part of the Radisson chain since 1993.
A number of hotels on the South Coast are privately owned yet carry the name of established national chains such as Best Western, Doubletree and Four Seasons. The hotel owners typically pay a fee to use the brand name and the chain's reservation system. Being part of a chain can help in advertising a small hotel to a wider audience, especially long-distance travelers who tend to occupy rooms for multiple nights.
But the explosion in recent years of hotel referral Web sites on the Internet and other travel sites has given independent hotels the power to reach millions of people around the world without the aid of the established chains.
"Most of the hotels in Santa Barbara are independent, and they do well without the support of a chain," Ms. Grande said. "We feel that this is a good opportunity to do this. The advent of the Internet has really helped in marketing independent hotels.
"The brands that do really well are those that are very established and have the rewards programs. If you're not a Hilton or a Starwood, then there isn't much benefit," she added.
By lowering the corporate flag and touting its historical roots, the Hotel Mar Monte's strategy fits well with Santa Barbara County's move towards promoting "cultural tourism," one of the hottest trends in travel, according to industry experts.
Cultural tourism has a broad definition, but it tends to target travelers who seek out historical attractions, museums and off-the-beaten-path tours that depict the lifestyle and livelihood of a particular area.
"That is a strong marketing angle for our area," said Kathy Janega Dykes, head of the Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau and Film Commission.
"We feel Santa Barbara can draw a strong audience interested in cultural tourism."
The Hotel Mar Monte has plenty of history. Built in June 1931, the then-100-room establishment impressed locals with its finery and attention to details. With its tiled roof tower and roof garden on the second floor above the dining room, the Mar Monte was called "a proper introduction to visitors entering by 'the front door' along the ocean."
Fred Bartholomew, who owned the Atascadero Inn at the time, led the investor team that built the luxurious Mar Monte. The Spanish structure was designed by Walker & Eisen of Los Angeles and cost $200,000. Furnishings cost more than $100,000 and included guest room pieces made of 17th century solid Siberian oak. The dining room tables were draped in Irish linen specially dyed in Germany, topped with gold glassware and fine china.
Rooms at the Mar Monte were around $5 a night when the hotel first opened. A deluxe dinner cost $2 and a lavish lunch bill ran $1.50.
Despite the glitzy beginning, the hotel quickly faced financial trouble as the nation slogged through the Depression. It changed hands a few times, and during World War II it took a hiatus from its role as hotel. It was leased for $96,000 by the U.S. War Department and served as a rehabilitation center for soldiers from 1944-1945. The Biltmore served the same purpose at that time.
In the late 1970s, the hotel became part of the Sheraton chain. During the 1980s, it was the headquarters for the press corps covering the administration of President Reagan.
The hotel's current owner bought the property in 1986, and a few years later the hotel switched its affiliation to the Radisson brand.
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