Taking a New Approach to Eco-Friendly Amenities to Increase Occupancy Levels at Resort Properties, with Brendan Carlin

Brendan Carlin, General Manager at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar in San Diego chats with Robin Trimingham, The Innovative Hotelier Podcast Host about the need to embrace and infuse Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) initiatives into every aspect of the guest experience.

In this insightful conversation Carlin reveals how taking care of your staff and how the guest feels about their experience at a property are inter-related. He also discusses a wide variety of environmental and social initiatives that are being introduced to both conserve resources and make a property more accessible for local community use.

Highlights from Today’s Episode

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Episode Transcript


Brendan: And then the environmental is a huge part of that. If you’re not looking at that as a future leader, then you’re missing the mark. We wanna make sure that we are giving back more than what we are taking. One of the very things that I’m very proud of here at the property, and I wanna mention is that 80% of the water that we use here at the hotel is repurposed.

Robin: Welcome to the “Innovative Hotelier Podcast” by HOTELS magazine, with weekly thought-provoking discussions with the world’s leading hotel and hospitality innovators.

Robin: Welcome to the “Innovative Hotelier Podcast” brought to you by HOTELS magazine. I’m your host, Robin Trimingham. And my guest today is Brendan Carlin, the newly appointed General Manager of the Fairmont Grand Del Mar in San Diego, California. Today we’re chatting about taking a new approach to eco-friendly amenities to increase occupancy levels at resort properties.

Robin: This podcast is presented to you by Franke Coffee Systems. At Franke, we think coffee is about more than beans and machines. It’s all about the moment when you create an amazing coffee experience for your customers.

Welcome, Brendan.

Brendan: Pleasure to join you, Robin.

Robin: Well, it’s great to get a chance to chat with you today. I guess I have to start by saying congratulations on your recent appointment. One of only 14 Forbes Travel Guide triple five-star properties in the world. That’s quite an accomplishment.

Brendan: Well, thank you very much, Robin. I truly appreciate that. I just wanna tell you real quickly that when I got this job, my husband and I were traveling through Europe, and he would catch me smiling, and he said, “What are you smiling about?” And I said, “I’m the GM of the Grand Del Mar.”

Robin: Oh, I love that. Yeah, that must do pretty well at dinner parties. But let’s be real here. With great honor, as they say, also comes great responsibility. What do you view as at least initially your core mission in taking over the stewardship of such an iconic property?

Brendan: Well, it’s very interesting because there are certain elements about whether it’s a AAA rating or whether it’s a Forbes rating. And when it comes to AAA, it’s the physical plant predominantly, and this Doug Manchester built us a palace. So, it’s a spectacular building to begin with. Then there’s Forbes. In the Forbes, there’s those boxes you need to check that you’ve done this and that. For me, my mission, and the most important thing to me is how did we make you feel? That’s my focus and we are this incredible luxurious property, but at the end of the day, my mission is to make this an approachable luxury experience. And my secret sauce there is take care of the staff. And I’ve always said, if you take care of your staff the way you expect them to take care of the guests, the guests will take care of the business. It’s a very simple equation.

Robin: I have to agree with you. Happy employees tend to be very happy serving the people that come through the door. So, I think that’s a brilliant strategy. Your property borders on a vast and extremely significant wildlife preservation area from what I was reading. How has that affected your approach to enhancing the guest experience?

Brendan: Well, what’s truly amazing is that we have 400 acres to play with. And I’m gonna butcher this, but the Los Penasquitos Canyon. So, it’s an absolutely spectacular area of the 400 acres. The property sits on 250 acres, and then there’s 150 acres that are part of the state park. And of the 250 acres, 150 acres of that is the golf course. So, that leaves us with a hundred acres to play with. So, it’s about activation for me. And there are so many things that we can do from tennis to pickleball, from foosball. We’re even talking about adding a pool table into the library. And so it’s all these levels of activation that are happening around the property that can entertain you during your stay here. Far and above, the traditional food and beverage experience, the spa experience, which by the way is epic. We are one of the only hotels in San Diego with a two-star Michelin restaurant. So, I think we excel in all those categories.

Robin: So, in San Diego, you have pretty decent weather, and you also have all this outdoor space. With all the global health challenges that we don’t really want to talk about today, has that really stretched your team to think of new ways to introduce activities outside?

Brendan: Oh, absolutely. One of the great things we’ve done is we’ve brought the horses back. So, the equestrian center is activated now. We’ve added archery. We had the tennis courts originally, but we added a pickleball court on top of those tennis courts, and that’s become quite popular.

Robin: I have to tell you, I don’t know what pickleball is.

Brendan: Well, it’s very similar, but it’s in a much smaller platform with paddles. And in a much smaller enclosed area. So, it’s actually the pickleball court is actually located on the tennis court, but just in a smaller platform.

Robin: Oh, cool. So, with all of this going on, how do you temper the business objective of Fairmont, which is to surprise and delight guests with the need to offer authentic, sustainable, unique experiences to your clientele?

Brendan: Well, I will tell you that one of the things that impresses me with Fairmont, a core family, is they’ve got a primary focus and they are leaders in this sustainability and eco-friendly environment. And one of their initiatives is elimination of single-use plastic. And they have this team that they refer to as Planet 21. And it’s their Planet 21 initiatives. And what’s fantastic is that we have a team that we can rely on that is sourcing products that we can replace and help us in that elimination of single-use plastic. So, you know, as part of the guest experience, we’ve replaced the water bottles, the plastic water bottles in the rooms with a glass bottle. It’s a much more elevated experience. We’re eliminating the small one-out amenities in the shower, in the bathrooms with a much larger amenity size.

Brendan: So, those touchpoints, and what’s really fascinating is that everything from Q-tips to slippers are being replaced with unique items. The property itself, you know, we participate in the Clean World program where, so we donate the used soap. We have a program, Plant the Preserve, where we partner with the rangers for the state park here, and we go out and we pull weeds and we plant, that’s a really cool program. There’s all kinds of other things that we’re looking at. We’re looking at a chef’s garden and make that part of the eco-friendly experience here on property. We have bees on property. We make our own honey. So, there’s all kinds of things that you can do to elevate the guest experience and make it part of the activation of the product.

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Robin: I always find things like that are very cool. You know, when you find a way to distinguish yourself from the pack with just something so simple like that, how can taking an innovative approach to working with local communities to protect the wilderness and the historic sites that are there as well, actually result in increased occupancy levels and RevPAR, which is what hoteliers always care about.

Brendan: It’s always about a good story, right? And so to be able to take a guest and create an experience and have a story around it. So, whether it’s taking in through the chef’s garden and talking about how the food goes from the garden to the table, we’re looking at a machine right now. I’ve got my director of golf and the director that handles the grounds is looking at a machine up at another property today, it’s a bottle crusher. And we essentially take all of our glassware and we crush it and turn it into sand. And there’s the possibility that we’ll be able to use this sand and fill the bunkers on the golf course, as an example.

Robin: It’s amazing. We do something quite similar here in my home country. They’re actually resurfacing an entire soccer field in this similar manner.

Brendan: Yeah, it’s absolutely fascinating. I’ve seen the demonstration and you can…they crush these bottles, these and particularly wine bottles. And goodness knows, we go through quite a few wine bottles here at the hotel, right? So, to be able to reduce the amount of waste, but then also repurpose that waste is absolutely incredible. So, there’s many other purposes for that sand. I understand there’s a huge sand shortage in the world because some of the finest crystal that is created requires beach sand. And so for us to be able to give back by returning that bottle back to its original form is fantastic.

Robin: I really like initiatives like that. What would you say to a hotelier who’s listening is the downside of not prioritizing eco-preservation as a luxury brand?

Brendan: You’re missing the mark. And we all know ESG is very important, environmental, social, and governance. If you’re not looking at that as a future leader, then you’re missing the mark. It’s so important. One, the environment, two, giving back to your community and the governance, making sure that you have equal pay, you’re taking care of your people. And one of the things that we’ve even learned from that perspective is understanding how people operate and function. Not everybody responds the same way. So, we’re looking at things like, how do you motivate individuals, but you have to look at it from generational. There’s so many perspectives that you can look at, and if you have an employee that loves lattes, let’s figure out a way to give them lattes. You know what I mean? The people are motivated and they all have things that drive them, and so that’s important. But then there’s that social aspect.

And on the social aspect, our vision and goal is to be the social epicenter for the San Diego area. We want you to come here and have all your family celebrations here for those life moments. You want your children to get married here. That’s what we’re really focused on, but it’s also giving back to that community. And then the environmental is a huge part of that because we wanna make sure that we are giving back more than what we are taking. One of the very things that I’m very proud of here at the property, and I wanna mention is that 80% of the water that we use here at the hotel is repurposed. And so it’s a recycled water. And so we water the golf course with recycled water. So, our use of potable water is minimal, just in the areas around the property itself, on the grounds. So, anything we can do to make sure that we can back to the community is key. And if you’re not doing that, you’re missing the mark.

Robin: I have to agree with you. You know, I’m fortunate in my position, I get to talk to hoteliers and people involved in hospitality all around the world. And everywhere, this is coming up more and more. We only have a couple of minutes left here. I understand that your property is undergoing what I’m gonna call a transformative renovation. So, how will the guest experience at your property be transformed as a result of this?

Brendan: Well, there’s two components. There’s a renovation component to that, but I think the big one is really the social, and really embracing the community. We sit behind these gates in a private community here, and it’s about opening those gates and bringing the community in and embracing the community. There’s all types of activation that occur. We’re gonna reimagine our food and beverage experience here at the property, at all levels. We are looking at activations throughout the property and trying to consider in any way that we can activate the land here on property for community use. We have owners that are very interested in these impacts that we have in place. And of course, we have this incredible brand, the Fairmont, that stand behind us.

Robin: Well, it sounds like you have a great deal going on and lots of things that will welcome the community. I’m sure they must be all so looking forward to seeing all of these things come online. Brandon, I’d like to thank you so much for your time today. You’ve been listening to the “Innovative Hotelier Podcast,” brought to you by HOTELS magazine. Join us again soon for more up-to-the-minute insights and information, specifically for the hotel and hospitality industry.

You’ve been listening to the “Innovative Hotelier Podcast” by HOTELS magazine. Join us again soon for more conversations with hospitality industry thought leaders.

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