By Mary Minor Davis
When Southwest Value Partners announced plans to renovate The Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa in January 2012, the community sighed with relief.
After the property had gone into Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2010, there was anxiety about what might happen to the popular, iconic destination. That anxiety was replaced by anticipation as work crews took over the resort.
In August, the $35 million makeover of The Westin La Paloma was revealed, along with a new GM, Glenn Sampert. Guests are now enjoying the refurbished amenities at this dove of the desert.
When La Paloma, which opened in 1986, was conceived by brothers George and David Mehl of Cottonwood Properties, it was expected to be the showpiece of the foothills. It featured a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course, a clubhouse and the resort. The course was the first user of effluent water for golf courses in Southern Arizona and set the standard for desert preservation, according to Westin.
A high-end residential community and an office complex completed the package.
The development was touted as Tucson’s premier country club community and was the first of its kind in Tucson, with panoramic city and mountain views coupled with supreme recreational and social facilities. The resort attracted visitors worldwide.
In 1988, the resort and country club were purchased by Aoki Corporation of Japan. Ten years later, a merger shifted ownership to Goldman Sachs, preceding a sale in 2007 to NCH-Transwest, a local property investment firm. Under the burden of the recession, Transwest suffered financial difficulties in 2010.
Southwest Value Partners, a San-Diego-based real estate company co-founded by Phoenix Suns owner and Tucson native Robert Sarver, bought the property in 2012 and announced the multimillion-dollar makeover.
Sarver, a University of Arizona graduate and chairman and CEO of Western Alliance Bancorporation, sees the potential of the Westin as the economy recovers and new marketing strategies are implemented.
“There was a lot of neglect,” he said, noting the property had never been renovated. “It just needed a little TLC.”
Sampert experienced the Westin as a guest when he and his wife vacationed in Tucson.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an extensive renovation of a property,” he said. “You could tell that a lot of work was needed.”
Sampert sees a great deal of potential for business development, beginning with the local community’s support and commitment for the property’s success.
“There is so much local pride in the resort of La Paloma,” he said. “We recognize what we represent to the local community, and our history is something to be proud of and to cherish.”
Now the challenge is to bring back business that was lost during the bankruptcy and renovation process. Sampert said the aggressive construction schedule forced the closure of rooms and resulted in the loss of corporate events and group sales.
Sampert is a 16-year veteran with Starwood properties, having also worked in Maui, the Bahamas and Los Angeles. He believes the skills he learned at each of those destinations and his international experience are strengths he brings in developing new markets.
He has hit the ground running in Tucson, teaming up with Visit Tucson and other resort partners to promote tourism and La Paloma. He’s making connections and getting involved in local business groups and associations.
“Our ultimate goal is to sell the destination, and we need to work together to do that. I really love the new (Visit Tucson) brand,” he said. “The message of authenticity and ‘Free Yourself’ is something that’s very closely aligned with Westin.”
Armed with a new marketing team, Sampert is implementing online and social media tactics to better connect with customers and potential guests. Regular Facebook postings are aimed at luring visitors to the luxurious guest rooms, sumptuous dining, sparkling pool, pristine golf course, Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa and other amenities.
“The Westin La Paloma is really committed to getting personal with customers,” Sampert said. “Our goal is to make the experience of staying in our properties a very individual, healthy experience.”
Sampert said the marketing team has a “vanity” website in the works, which is a complement to the corporate site with more focus on the resort and surrounding area. He said an online and social presence is important to reach the majority of guests who use online tools when in the “dream stage” of planning their next travel experience.
Diversifying target markets is also an important strategy. Sampert said La Paloma will look at different geographies and businesses that have previously been “untapped, or haven’t been targeted for a while.” For example, he sees targeting the international leisure traveler, conventions and groups, and industries that include major pharmaceutical companies that are reinstating corporate conferences.
“Convention and group business now makes up a little more than 50 percent of the travel market nationally, where once it was 70 percent,” Sampert said. “While we have challenges in Tucson – the lack of a convention center and air service, for example – we do see other opportunities.”
Sampert believes the resort will see double-digit increases in the next year.
The most important message he wants to convey to guests is one of warmth and hospitality.
“We are not ‘like new.’ This is not a renovation – this is a new place with quality amenities and a commitment to service in a terrific destination.”
What Was Done
Lobby, Rooms, Conference Facilities
Grand lobby renovation, with a guest reception area
New carpeting and furniture in lobby and bar
All 487 guest rooms – including 25 suites – were renovated and redecorated
– New HD-TVs, upgraded Wi-Fi and device charging stations
– Heavenly Beds, a Westin staple, remain with higher-quality bedding
– Expanded walk-in showers
Renovation of 60,000 square feet of conference space with new carpeting, furnishings and audio-visual equipment
Rehabilitation of the golf course greens and bunkers at the 27 holes
New fitness center
Resurfaced tennis courts
Upgraded pools and water slide
New cabanas, travertine stonework and patio features including negative edge reflecting pools with fountains and gas fire pits
Behind the Scenes
New heating and cooling systems
New laundry facilities
New computer systems