Ritz-Carlton Prepares For LA Opening

It seems counterintuitive to open a luxury hotel in this depressed lodging economy. Yet, even though the top end of the hotel market has been stung the hardest by the economic downturn, a number of luxury hotels have opened or will in the next few months. Last week saw the debut of Vdara, the first high-end property that’s part of the mammoth CityCenter project in Las Vegas; and the St. Regis Deer Crest Resort, an ultra-luxury hotel in Utah ski country.

Among those that will follow in 2010 will be the Ritz-Carlton Los Angeles that like Vdara is a component of a massive hotel and entertainment complex. The 123-room Ritz, which opens in February, will join a JW Marriott and a Ritz Carlton Residences property as the lodging anchors of L.A. LIVE, a $2.5-billion lifestyle center adjacent to the Staples Center and Nokia Theatre and near the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Why open a luxury property in this environment? We talked with Rajesh Khubchandani, manager of the Ritz, to learn how the property will complement the mixed-use center and the other Marriott products on the campus. Khubchandani is a 20-year hotel veteran who’s had posts with several lodging companies in North America and Asia. Most recently, he was director of operations at the Ritz-Carlton, Boston Common.

What’s so special about this hotel?
It’s the sum of the parts that make it so exciting. Being part of L.A. LIVE and a campus that includes the Staples Center, the Nokia Theater, 14 standalone restaurants gives it a Times Square kind of feel. The location is on the edge of downtown, has have been discussed as the future of L.A for more than a decade. That dream has finally come together.

Isn’t it risky to open a luxury hotel in this environment?
It’s important for the revitalization of downtown L.A., which hasn’t seen a luxury hotel built here in the last 20 years. The property will take market share away from areas like Beverly Hills and also gives the Los Angeles Convention Center the ability to compete with centers in San Diego, Anaheim and elsewhere.

How will the challenges differ with this property from the Ritz in Boston, which was your last post?
What is unique about this hotel is that being part of such a big entertainment complex the dimensions of the business—from sports teams, entertainment business, convention attendees, business travelers—give us just about all the business demographics you could possibly serve. The challenge will be keeping our brand integrity while serving a diverse customer base.

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