In search of hotel excellence: Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach

Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach is situated along the brilliant Southern California coastline in Carlsbad, 30 minutes north of San Diego. With 161 rooms, the property is ideally located for leisure and local business.

But alas, this is California, and you’ll ne’er find a valley, county or sandy beach lacking in hotel product. So, how is it, in a marketplace with dozens of options, that this HGI property excels at getting customers to not only rave about it online, but actually return for multiple stays?

What’s most appealing about the property is its distinguished quality of guest services, and I can’t stress this enough. For proof of this, glance through some of its TripAdvisor reviews. The staff is particularly friendly and ceaselessly helpful. After a recent visit, I had the opportunity to discuss this with Bob Moore, the general manager, to dig into the roots of the property’s continued success.

Larry Mogelonsky: Perhaps you can start by listing some of the hotel’s awards over the past decade.

Bob Moore: We’re proud to have won numerous awards including three times with J.D. Power for hotel guest satisfaction. We have worked hard and have achieved the highest quality assurance score from Hilton management 20 consecutive times.

LM: How did you get into the hotel business?

BM: I got my start in hospitality back when I was in high school. My first job was a dishwasher at the age of 16. Shortly after I began, the general manager at the time took notice of me and encouraged me to seek a job outside of the back rooms. The rest, as they say, is history — I worked my way through the ranks bringing me to where I am today.

LM: I have seen the TripAdvisor recounts. Guests love the property. What’s the secret?

BM: We have a 5-star service mentality. We are all about creating memories for our guests, and that is a large part of the culture we nurture in our team. We take advantage of every opportunity to engage our guests and try to find out information that will allow us to customize their experience while they are visiting our hotel. Further, we’ll often ask how they heard about us and what helped them choose our hotel. As expected, many guests will say they found us through TripAdvisor. So, during our conversation, we’ll politely ask that they post candid comments about their experience after they depart to help prospective travelers make an informed decision.

LM: When you stay at HGI Carlsbad, it does not feel like the standard, traditional mid-range property. How do you maintain this feeling?

BM: This feeling is based upon our approach, rather than the physical plant. Our rooms and furnishings conform to Garden Inn standards. However, our owners are very supportive of our somewhat untraditional methods. They’ve allowed us to develop and sustain many programs and service offerings that go beyond the minimum requirement for a Garden Inn. So, I would say the secret is to look at the property against world standards. 

For example, we have custom sea creature plush toys created with our logo on them that we give to children upon check-in. We hire an external yoga instructor to hold complimentary classes overlooking the Pacific Ocean once a week. We send a thank-you postcard to every one of our guests, and we send it a day prior to their departure so by the time they get home they already have our note. The most impactful program we offer, however, is our “Movies on the Lawn.” From Memorial Day to Labor Day, we set up an outdoor movie theater equipped with fresh popcorn and reserved blanket seating. This goes on for four nights a week where we project animated movies on an 18-ft (5.5-m) movie screen. It really allows the families to enjoy some quality time together in the evening hours.

LM: The location is a critical factor in the property’s success. Yet, you are not directly on the beach. How do you make the location work for you?

BM: It certainly does help having the beach right across the road. However, I would not attribute our overall success to the fact that we are a beachfront property. This location helps drive attention to our hotel. But getting awareness is less than half the battle; turning guests into raving fans is where we focus our attention, and this is how we create the hotel’s success stories and loyal base of support. It really is all about the team members; they are the ones who breathe life into a property and make it what it is, regardless of location.

LM: How do you stay innovative with your family-oriented programs? 

BM: Some of our most impactful beliefs are out-of-the-box thinking and the idea of reinventing yourself each and every day. After 11 years with the same property, I truly believe that this is how I’ve been able to avoid complacency. To this day, I’m still able to contribute fresh and new ideas to the property to keep us ahead of the curve. To do this successfully it takes an open mind for every facet of your operations. Just because something worked in the past does not mean that it cannot be improved or that an entirely different route might not actually be more effective.

For example, once a quarter, I take a specific, successful aspect of the hotel operations and dissect it to its simplest form, and then reevaluate whether or not it merits changes. It’s important to be humble during this process as well. Be open to the suggestions of others, and don’t shy away from collaboration; multiple brains focusing on one task will always produce more favorable results than one.

LM: With new staff and interns joining each year, how do you imbue the spirit of guest service excellence?

BM: It is my firm belief that it’s all in the training. Whatever you put into your team members, you can expect the same in return. Hilton corporate has armed all of their properties with some wonderful training programs that, when embraced, are able to guide all team members toward their full potential.

LM: What lessons can you give other mid-range properties striving for improvement?

BM: It’s all about being part of the guest’s experience and engaging all of your guests to have a better understanding of their wants and desires during their stay. This does not just apply to the frontline employees, either — it all starts with the management of the hotel.

For example, our front office manager makes it a point to spend at least three hours daily working the front desk, the restaurant or interacting with guests in the lobby area. He does not use his “desk work” as an excuse to disregard immersion in the guest’s experience. This creed pervades our entire management team, and it is noticed by the frontline staff, who then follow in kind.

Another motto we have here is, “The smallest things make the biggest differences,” which for us means that it doesn’t have to be a sizeable monetary cost or effort to create unique and memorable experiences for guests. All that’s required is an open ear and a willingness to take those small steps to make your guests feel truly valued and validated.

LM: What has been your greatest achievement?

BM: The greatest reward for me is being able to watch the successes and the career growth in the individuals who have worked with in a hotel that I have managed — being able to follow their careers from frontline employees with me, through the management ranks, and then on to the duties of GMs, DOS and VPs.  Knowing that I played an integral role in their continued growth through hospitality and helped guide them to success gives me the utmost of joy. It helps me know that I’ve done my job well.