What makes these San Diego hotels outrank all others: A canine scavenger hunt could help

March 4, 2019

Rancho Valencia has received a number of accolades this year, including the No. 1 California hotel ranking by U.S. News & World Report.

The annual hotel rankings are out, and a select number of San Diego County luxury properties have made the cut for the uppermost tiers in 2019.

As has been the case for much of the past several years, the Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa in Rancho Santa Fe, the Fairmont Grand Del Mar in Carmel Valley and the Park Hyatt Aviara Resort in Carlsbad received the top five-star ratings from the prestigious Forbes Travel Guide. They were among just 18 five-star hotels in California.

The same three hotels, in addition to the Lodge at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, were part of a similarly exclusive group of five-diamond properties rated by AAA. There are only 14 hotels in California that secured this year’s five-diamond level.

In the case of Forbes and AAA, the top ratings are based on exacting standards for luxury properties that are taken into consideration during inspections and unannounced overnight stays.

Forbes says it evaluates hotels on the basis of up to 900 standards, with an emphasis on exceptional service.

“In a time of information overload and fake reviews online, Forbes Travel Guide is the ultimate trusted source in luxury travel,” said CEO Filip Boyen. “Our objective, data-driven StarRating list features properties that achieved an impeccable standard of excellence in hospitality.”

The 45-acre Rancho Valencia, which underwent a $30 million overhaul in 2012 after being sold two years earlier, has the extra distinction of being named the No. 1 hotel in California by U.S. News & World Report as part of its 2019 best hotels in the U.S. rankings.

Nationwide, it ranks No. 9, while the Fairmont Grand Del Mar is 14th and the Pendry in downtown San Diego is 24th. The No. 1 hotel is the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai on the Big Island

Within California, the Grand Del Mar and Pendry were ranked fourth and fifth, respectively.

U.S. News uses a methodology that relies on an analysis of expert and user opinions.

Coni Thornburg, a general manager with Rancho Valencia, said she inaugurated a more narrowly focused training program last year when she arrived to concentrate more heavily on elevated service. The goal was to encourage the staff to interact more with the guests in hopes of exceeding their own expectations of service.

Considering that rates for the resort’s suites and villas regularly exceed $800 a night, superior service would seem to be a given.

As an example of over-and-above service, Thornburg recounts the story of a couple who checked in with their especially rambunctious dog, so she came up with the idea of distracting the pet with a canine scavenger hunt.

“We got applewood smoked bacon from the kitchen and put it throughout the property and let him run around,” Thornburg said. “Then we sent photos of the scavenger hunt to the guest afterward.”

Another idea she put in place is to go the extra step when a minor fix is needed in a guest’s room. After the repair of a leaky faucet, for example, the hotel’s staff will leave a couple of cookies in the shape of a hammer, along with a note, to signal the problem was resolved, Thornburg said.

“So we have trained staff to push into element of luxury and how do we personalize that for our guests,” she added.

Like Thornburg, Dennis Clark, managing director of the Fairmont Grand Del Mar, says it is an especially attentive staff that deserves the credit for the continued accolades the resort receives.

“We credit much of our success to our extraordinarily gracious and hardworking colleagues, and the combination of these recognitions is a powerful testament to their excellent work,” he said.

The Grand Del Mar is among just 11 properties from around the world that have the distinction of earning five-star awards for their hotel as well as their restaurant and spa. Its fine dining restaurant, Addison, joins eight other California restaurants that have five stars. Addison is the only five-star restaurant in San Diego County

Rancho Valencia, in addition to its hotel, also received a five-star rating for its spa.

Forbes Travel Guide also doled out four-star rankings for select properties, and just three San Diego County hotels made that list. They are The Lodge at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, the US Grant in downtown San Diego, and Viejas Casino & Resort in Alpine, which is the only San Diego County casino hotel to make the list.

Within the AAA rankings, there were 23 San Diego County properties that received four diamonds.

 


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