|By Donna Hogan, The Tribune, Mesa, Ariz.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Nov. 24, 2005--Former Ritz-Carlton president Horst Schulze was in town this week checking out the Carefree Resort and Villas in the foothills north of Scottsdale.
Schulze, who founded the West Paces Hotel Group with several other former Ritz executives earlier this year to create and operate luxury hotels around the world, is taking charge of the 42-year-old rustic-but-upscale retreat at 37220 Mule Train Road.
He was in Carefree to take stock of the old hotel before deciding what physical changes may be needed, but Schulze said the most important characteristics of all his hotels are "immaculate surroundings, great food and caring employees." He said he had already begun employee training and next week will send a West Paces crew to tackle the menu and kitchen operation.
Carefree Resort's setting, tucked between Carefree and Wild Western-flavored Cave Creek, sets the tone for the resort, Schulze said.
"The most important thing is the setting. Customers want a unique, distinct Western experience," he said.
West Paces also is pegged to manage Montelucia, the planned $200 million makeover of Paradise Valley resort La Posada, scheduled to debut in 2007.
Schulze, who had already signed on to Montelucia, first said no when tapped by Carefree Resort owners to consider taking on their property.
"Then we looked at a customer survey," Schulze said. "The customers convinced us." And Schulze convinced his old friend Bill Eider-Orley, who retired in 2003 as general manager of the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Gainey Ranch, to come back to work and run the place.
Eider-Orley, who is an aficionado of local culture and established the American Indian museum-like lobby area at the Hyatt, sees the Carefree Resort as an even more fitting spot to highlight the area's Western history in an opera house-like setting.
"This belongs here. It is the story of the high desert. This (hotel) feels like what you should expect when you come to this (destination)," Eider-Orley said.
The 465-room north East Valley resort, formerly Carefree Conference Resort, and before that, Carefree Inn, is the second existing Arizona property to become a West Paces hotel. The company also manages L'Auberge in Sedona and resorts in Mexico and Germany.
In 2001, the Carefree Resort's owners formed Tiburon Hospitality Management to run the local hotel and two other out-of-state properties owned by the same investor group. Tiburon invested money to upscale the hotel's amenities and refocus its marketing efforts from just wooing business travelers to courting vacationers.
Schulze said the corporate business, which is coming back after several slow years, still makes up about half of the hotel's business.
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