From brand new properties to those celebrating two decades in the market, Orange County’s pool of luxury hotels are stepping up to meet returning demand from the group travel market, with a specific focus on luxury additions.
OC’s luxury leisure market showed gains during the pandemic, as locals or those from drive-through markets opted for a safer staycation option over air travel. This in part prompted what local industry experts refer to as a new wave of luxury offerings in the county, as service expectations soared.
That trend is now seeping into the business travel segment, a harder-hit sector that showed strong rebound signals last year. Business travel is expected to surpass pre-pandemic levels this year, according to a national survey from Morgan Stanley Research.
Properties like the Montage Laguna Beach and the newly rebranded and renovated Viv Hotel Anaheim are taking their luxury approach to the boardroom with expanded options to lure in group travel and keep those travelers happy during down time at the resorts.
“Our guests are no longer looking for a meeting [place] only,” Montage Laguna Beach General Manager Mary Rogers told the Business Journal. “They’re modern and active-driven—they expect more these days.”
Post-pandemic business travelers expect luxury, according to Atlas Hospitality Group President Alan Reay.
“You’re not going to have an economy brand be able to pivot and give people that kind of experience they’re wanting from a leisure standpoint,” Reay said. “It has to be in the luxury hotel segment.”
As such, hotels from Anaheim to Newport Beach are investing millions in upgrades to attract and retain that segment.
Montage Hotel & Resorts saw events and corporate business return in 2021, at which point the brand decided to invest in an upgrade to its 33,500 square feet of meeting space at its flagship Laguna Beach property, the first renovation of its kind since the hotel opened in 2003.
“It was the perfect opportunity to renovate our space, so it was complete when people felt fully confident again to plan events,” Rogers said.
The hotel closed its major meeting rooms for a month at the end of 2022 to upgrade boardrooms and ballrooms to better reflect the property’s high-end California coastal theme. Updates were applied to the rooms’ furnishings, light fixtures, carpets and more.
The 259-room property was a landmark hotel sale for OC last year after billionaire Tilman Fertitta purchased it for $650 million, or $2.5 million per key.
In another move to prep for the meetings return, Montage added more wellness features to its resort—such as spa programs and health-centered classes on the beach—to provide in-demand options for group travelers outside of their event schedule.
Health and fitness continue to be a growing trend for guests looking to engage with resorts, according to Reay, with professional groups incorporating such options into travel packages.
“People are looking to detox,” Rogers added.
Rogers also pointed to the popularity of guests spending less time in the meeting room and finding more experience-focused activities that connect with the destination. Surfing lessons or whale watching are popular local options.
“Experiences are the way forward, and we’re making sure there’s an array of options for our guests today,” Rogers said.
Meet Pendry Newport Beach
The upcoming Pendry Newport Beach—expected to open this summer, replacing the former Fashion Island Hotel—will serve as a sister brand of sorts to the Montage, and is planning luxe travel additions of its own.
The Pendry portfolio started in 2017 as a subsidiary to the Montage company co-founded by Chief Executive Alan Fuerstman and his son Michael as the creative director.
The younger Fuerstman told the Business Journal last February that he saw the opportunity for branching into a newer luxury clientele.
The property, which sits across the street from the Fashion Island shopping center, previously counted 22,000 square feet of meeting space. New venue additions will include restaurants and a new members-only social club.
Pendry Newport Beach is the boutique brand’s first step into OC and its third location in Southern California.
Expect a foodie-focused dining scene at the property, according to Michael, who had the goal of creating a destination dinner and drinks location within the hotel.
Overseeing the opening is 20-year Montage veteran David Hoffman, who was named general manager of the 295-room hotel earlier this month.
Hoffman first joined the Newport Beach-based hospitality group in 2003 to help lead the opening of the first Montage hotel and later helped open Pendry locations as well.
This year’s 20-year anniversary for the Montage will bring luxury retail partnerships across the Montage hotel portfolio, such as a curated collection with designer Jonathan Simkhai, an exclusive tote bag from Jimmy Choo and an anniversary bottle of the tequila Clase Azul.
“We have remained steadfast in our vision of creating new and exceptional luxury experiences with a high level of gracious and intuitive service in remarkable destinations,” CEO Fuerstman said in a statement.
The Viv’s New Ballroom
The Viv Hotel Anaheim enters the new year under a new name and management after the former Radisson Blu passed the ownership baton to Crescent Hotels & Resorts last September.
The incoming partners took the opportunity to give the 326-room property a new look, and bring the property—a Marriott Tribute Portfolio—up to four-diamond hotel standards, according to Director of Sales and Marketing Gregg Haniford.
The 12-story hotel brought on a new general manager to its team, Siamak Nassirpour, as part of the change-up. The former leader, Steve Lindburg, left the position late last year.
“He’s already added a new ballroom,” Haniford told the Business Journal upon Nassirpour’s arrival in January, referencing the GM’s move to further utilize the top-level dining space of the resort, Top of the V, which spans 2,853 square feet.
The restaurant opens at 4 p.m.; during the day, it is available as a venue for receptions and socials for about 100 guests. The space opens up to the roof-top lounge, with fire pits and a view of the surrounding OC landscape.
“We’re finding that there are meeting options all over the property,” Haniford said. “It’s not just about having more space but unique space.”
The resort is not currently on the Business Journal’s list of hotel meeting rooms. It has two conference rooms totaling 810 square feet.
Viv will continue to upgrade offerings in the new year to generate new business travel, and match sister four-star properties in the city, including Westin Anaheim Resort and the JW Marriott.
“We’re stair stepping our way up,” Haniford said.
Other hotels that have turned to nontraditional spaces to add to its venue options include the Inn at the Mission San Juan Capistrano and Renaissance Newport Beach (see story, page 27).