By Colleen Isherwood
LOS ANGELES — There's a night and day difference in Downtown Los Angeles a decade ago and today, Javier Cano, vice-president and market general manager at The Ritz-Carlton Los Angeles and The JW Marriott Los Angeles L.A. LIVE told CLN in a recent interview.
“Residents are moving back in and there's redevelopment. The tipping point came with this project [the JW and Ritz-Carlton] nine years ago. Then it all started to explode. We moved forward in the culinary scene as young chefs from Manhattan found affordable space. And in our sector, there was the addition of our hotel, and a number of other hotels that came along. It was a per diem market before, and we statistically changed the market. We added hotels like the AC, Nomad, Freehand, Indigo and Figueroa.”
Cano should know. He sits on the executive committee of the Visitors and Convention Bureau; and is the chair of the Los Angeles Tourism Marketing District. He's also head of the Homeowners' Association for the 224 condos in the Ritz-Carlton part of the dual-branded hotel. He has been named Marriott’s General Manager of the Year three times and received the City of Angels Award for community service from the LAX Chamber of Commerce in 2013.
“L.A. is one of the world's great cities — and we've had an opportunity to see our city centre change. Our city had a number of different centres — Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Malibu. Now, we are unbelievably proud of what's happened.”
Los Angeles reached a historic milestone in
2018, welcoming 50 million visitors for the first time ever. The new record is 1.5
million visitors higher than 2017’s total – a 3.1 per cent increase – marking
the eighth consecutive year of tourism growth for Los Angeles.
The JW Marriott Los Angeles L.A. LIVE is already a large convention hotel, with over 140,000 sq. ft. of event space, including 45 meeting and event rooms, the largest of which is over 25,000 square feet. The hotel is a member of the Marriott Convention and Resort Network (Marriott CRN).
Cano is excited that the JW will be doubling in size, adding another tower with 850 more keys to the existing 878 JW rooms. The $700 million
expansion will include a new 40-storey hotel tower with 110,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, including a 51,000 sq. ft.
ballroom, the largest in the City of L.A. The new hotel tower
will be constructed immediately adjacent to the West Hall of the Convention
Center. It will be connected to the existing JW Marriott and West Hall of the
Convention Center via new pedestrian bridges so that guests can start at the
existing JW Marriott, walk to the new hotel, and then enter the West Hall
without having to ever go outside.
phase of the new J.W. Marriott hotel tower is expected to begin later this year and estimated to finish in 2022.
When Cano talks about L.A. LIVE, he is referring to the 100-acre campus that includes everything from the Convention Center to the L.A. LIVE venue. “Our ownership owns the AEC, the STAPLES Center and the Microsoft Theater, and operates the Convention Center and retail as well. It's an integrated experience across the L.A. LIVE Campus.”
There are a number of myths about downtown Los Angeles that must be overcome. “When you think about Los Angeles, you think about traffic, but the drive from the airport is very short. It's a major airport with lift across the world — and it's close to downtown.
“Here you can do an event in the same space where red carpet events are held — the Grammy's and the Emmy's. You can close off the street, and because it's California, events can be held outdoors. It's an entire integrated experience. You never have to put attendees on a bus,” said Cano. The campus includes the Novo with 2,300 person capacity; the Microsoft Theater with 7,100 and the Staples Center with 21,000.
“Some groups choose to seek an experience different from the Convention Center,” he said.
A native Angelino, Cano arrived at the property in 2007. “It was a hole in the ground at that time,” he said. At that time, the area offered low rental rates for restaurants in the downtown area between four freeways. Chinatown was a growing district for restaurants. The Arts District and Fashion District were areas that had no development. The Convention Center was already there, but there were limited options for attendees. Then there was the Bunker Hill financial district that was then the core of downtown.
“The centre of downtown shifted down to this area. We have traditional hotels like the Westin Bonaventure and the Biltmore, that filled in with residential. And when people started moving back, the services followed. When we first came downtown and customers came in, there were two or three restaurants we knew well. We made an effort to try every restaurant in town, but after the hotel had been open a couple of years, there was no way we could keep up.”
Overall occupancy at the hotel is 60 to 65 per cent, with high occupancy almost all year. “We have beautiful warm weather, and we're a west coast destination with great lift,” Cano said. “From LAX, you can fly non-stop anywhere in the world.”
Membership in the Marriott CRN is an added bonus for the hotel, according to Heather Allison, director of sales & marketing. “Many groups have a West-Central-East rotation throughout the U.S. for their annual conventions. With Marriott CRN, we can offer them a group of experts so they don't have to start all over again with each hotel.
“Here, [the Marriott CRN network] gets together three times a year — it's an opportunity to bring this group together. Five years in, I'm still going to learn something. Conversations with people of different backgrounds are so useful.”