In Search of Hotel Excellence: The Meritage Resort & Spa

Just an hour from San Francisco or Oakland International airports and buoyed by Silicon Valley money, California’s Napa Valley is an eclectic mix of boutique inns, quaint B&Bs, chic ultra-luxury hotels, gourmet restaurants and, of course, some of the finest vineyards this side of Europe. It’s this last aspect which serves as the main draw, but also perhaps a slight drawback for larger groups that need scale and facilities unavailable this far north of San Francisco. Their loss, really, as this area is home to some spectacular properties with important lessons for all hoteliers.

I was fortunate enough to find myself staying at a true Napa gem during my most recent trip there. Checking in at The Meritage Resort and Spa, a member of the Meritage Collection, my initial thought was one of awe. Along with the adjoining timeshare property, this hotel has over 500 guestrooms and suites spread across three levels, plus two pools, numerous dining options and a magnificent spa. Most striking, however, was the nine-acre, sloped vineyard just beyond the pool area and visible from my second story guestroom window, providing me with an immediate and everlasting sense of place. Milking the unique locale even further is the resort’s Estate Cave that is home to a luxurious spa, event space and a tasting room.

Needless to say, there’s a lot to talk about. And to help elucidate how this resort came to be and how it thrives, I sat down with Michael Palmer, the property’s General Manager.

Start by telling us the history of the Meritage Resort.

We opened in July 2006. Adjacent to one another, The Meritage Resort opened along with the Vino Bello Resort, a Wyndham timeshare product. A year later, Spa Terra, the world’s first underground spa, was completed with steam grottos, soaking pools, water walls and private treatment rooms. Adjacent to the underground spa, the Trinitas Cellars Tasting Room allows our guests to indulge in wines as well as artisan chocolate pairings. Over the past few years, our goal has been to make this property a real destination resort, for which we’ve added the Crush Ultra Lounge with six luxury bowling lanes and over 15,000 additional square feet of event space, for a total of about 50,000 square feet of flexible indoor and outdoor meeting space.

How has the group business evolved since the Great Recession?

Today, business meetings are more than just the business – they are about providing a stimulating environment. There is just no comparison between a meeting here in Napa and one held downtown in the Bay Area. With the growth of millennials and the importance of embracing this audience, we have seen an increase in the number of groups who want to come for more than just a meeting. They come to the Napa Valley to experience wine country! This means group wine tastings, tours of the valley, hot air ballooning, golf, onsite and offsite dinners, lunches at wineries, and so much more. Our facilities coupled with the region’s remarkable environment allow us to deliver meeting agendas that cannot be duplicated.

Can you expand a bit more on how wine is incorporated into guests’ itineraries?

We offer a variety of experiences that incorporate wine into our guests’ stay. First, there is a welcome bottle of wine in every guestroom (for guests 21 and over). Next, we have a nine-acre vineyard onsite and offer guided tours throughout the growing and harvest season. Thirdly, we have a tasting room onsite where, among many of their wines, you can taste the wine grown from our vineyards. Spa Terra also offers a variety of treatments that infuse grapeseeds and other wine country ingredients with refreshing and rejuvenating benefits. Throughout the year, we host winemaker dinners open to all guests (for an additional fee) with some of the top wineries in Napa. Lastly, others may choose our ‘Wine Club for a Day’ package which offers a variety of benefits to our guests at participating wineries, ranging from complimentary tastings to discounts on purchases.

I also heard that you were expanding…

Our current expansion of 145 guestrooms, including 39 additional suites, will help complement our existing resort and add to the amenities we already offer. Our tagline is ‘We Are Napa’, and this new development will help provide an even better Napa Valley experience to all our guests and groups. The expansion will also include additional wine tasting rooms, an upscale market, event spaces, a demonstration kitchen and a third shimmering pool. Right now, we’re on target for an opening in Summer 2018.

Will the property’s success create a ‘conflict’ between leisure and group?

We have always been able to balance the demands of both group and leisure guests. We believe that our expansion will allow all groups and FITs to experience even more of Napa without having to leave the property if they do not want to or have time to. By creating more space and adding more amenities, we expect that any potential conflict will be kept to a minimum, as we tend to avoid groups on weekends in favor of higher rated leisure guests.

How do you keep and attract entry-level staff?

This has become a major issue throughout the Napa Valley as well as in other communities. We are constantly working with the city of Napa, our employees and our recruitment team to come up with inventive ways to reach out to new employees as well as to retain our current associates. We do this by offering incentives. For example, in the case of housekeepers, we allow them to be ‘self-inspectors’ of their guestrooms to receive an increase in their hourly wage. We also incentivize staff with bonuses and offer a competitive hourly wage.

(Article published by Larry Mogelonsky in eHotelier on December 12, 2016).

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