|By Marie Vasari, The Monterey County
Herald, Calif.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Sep. 9, 2008 - As general manager of the Portola Hotel and Spa at Monterey Bay, Robert DeVoe has seen a parade of guests 15 years long pass through the doors of his Monterey property: honeymooners and presidents, rock stars and an endless variety of trade groups in town for professional conferences.
DeVoe, polished and gregarious in his role as the hotel's top executive, has been showing up to work in a hospitality-related capacity of one sort or another for more than 30 years. He says it's been fun enough to hardly seem like work.
But work it is -- at the Portola Hotel and Spa, he manages a 350-person staff, 379 guest rooms, a microbrewery, restaurant and a constant stream of conventions, conferences and receptions. The Portola Hotel and Spa, a privately held, independent property, doesn't disclose annual revenues, but DeVoe said it's in excess of $25 million.
Work also means that while you watch other people take vacations, you seldom have time to do much traveling of your own.
Wednesday is DeVoe's final day on the job. At 63, he's decided to retire. Travel, he said, is likely.
He's been cleaning out the office he's occupied for 15 years -- an eternity in an industry where single-digit stays are more typical tenures for general managers.
John Lloyd, general manager of the Pine Inn and Tally Ho Inn in Carmel, came to the Monterey Peninsula around the same time as DeVoe. He recalls DeVoe quickly becoming involved in local hospitality and tourism marketing efforts.
"He became part of the community right away," said Lloyd. "He's well-respected by all his peers, and he's championed tourism for this area."
One of DeVoe's first major campaigns was to separate tourism promotion efforts from local chambers of commerce, with an eye to creating an entity that could promote the region as a whole. He sees it as one of his most significant accomplishments.
"There is strength in numbers," said DeVoe. "We have competition out there, and everybody is looking for the same dollars."
Today, the Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau has the ability to create a more effective message than a competing group of small agencies, he said.
"We're just trying to get them here," says DeVoe. "Once they get here, we can arm-wrestle for them."
DeVoe has held leadership roles with the State Theater Preservation Group and the Monterey County Overall Economic Development Commission. Three years ago, he was appointed to fill a seat on the Monterey Airport District. He was elected to a four-year term in November 2006 and currently serves as board chairman.
Mark Bastis, who arrived in Monterey three years ago as general manager of the Hyatt Regency Monterey, said DeVoe was generous in helping him understand the nuances of the local industry.
"We're a small community here in our industry," said Bastis.
DeVoe started with the Doubletree Hotel Corp. 30 years ago in Seattle, then went on to manage Doubletree properties in Scottsdale, Denver, St. Louis and Palm Springs. But his first job in the hospitality industry wasn't actually at a hotel -- he worked for Avis car rental before hiring on with the Seattle Convention Bureau, then as director of sales and marketing for Red Lion Corp.
Each property is unique, said DeVoe: Monterey is more meeting-driven than the rest, with an estimated 60 percent of the hotel's business the result of conventions and corporate events.
When DeVoe left his general manager's post at a Palm Springs Doubletree hotel in 1994, the hotel here was then known as the Doubletree Monterey. In 2004, it became Portola Plaza; late last year it became Portola Hotel & Spa at Monterey Bay.
Names aren't the only frequent change in the hotel industry: Carpets and furniture and decor are continually being replaced and amenities adapted to suit public taste. On average, DeVoe said the hotel reinvests $1million annual into the property.
Years ago, the hotel's top-floor lounge was shuttered to make way for suites, and a few years ago, the property added yet another level of premium rooms. So while a convention traveler might pay around $200 for a standard room, suites can run $450 and a full-service Presidential Suite can run $2,500 per night.
What does a guest get for that rate? A welcome gift, for starters. Then personalized room stationary, breakfast in bed, pressed linens, an assortment of candy bars and private floor access.
"I've always said, 'We don't just keep up with the Joneses,'" said DeVoe. "Let's be the Joneses and let them keep up with us."
Not everything changes: Four employees have been with the hotel since its opening 30 years ago. And the property deliberately celebrates the region's rich history: A statue of Gaspar de Portola stands outside the front entry, the choice of the name Jacks in its Jacks Restaurant is a tribute to renowned property owner and businessman David Jacks.
As for what changes lie ahead for DeVoe, he said his short-term goal is to work on his golf game.
"I've never been below a 16 handicap," he jokes.
Golf may be a short-term goal, but one of the biggest reasons that compelled him to choose retirement was time: Time with his wife, time to travel, time outside of the demands of work.
Yosemite looms large. Despite its relative proximity, DeVoe said he and his wife never had the time to visit the national park, choosing instead to spend their vacations with family. He started thinking about retirement several years ago, once he started receiving AARP and Social Security notices. Nonetheless, he said it wasn't an easy decision.
"There's never a good time," he said. "I love these people, I love coming to work, so when's a good time?"
He put in his notice three weeks ago. His last day is officially Wednesday, but DeVoe will likely spend that day at an airport district board meeting.
Hints of his Yakima, Wash., roots will remain: Peter B's, a microbrewery at the hotel, was built under DeVoe's watch. Apples may be Yakima's most well-known crop, but the region is also the biggest producer of hops in the country.
But DeVoe said the most significant impression he'll have made on the hotel is likely reflected in the attitudes of the people that work there. Most of them, he said, enjoy their work as much as he has.
"This Peninsula is supported because of hospitality," said DeVoe," the jobs it creates, the revenue it creates and the transient occupancy tax that's paid to the cities."
Marie Vasari can be reached at 646-4478 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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