Global Traveler: Tell us a little about yourself and your interests.
Carlos Lopes: I have always been passionate about the hospitality industry: most specifically, the development and positioning of luxury hotels and resorts. And while my recent tenure as managing director of Hotel Bel-Air is actually my third time at the property since the 1980s, I have to admit that my love of the Bel-Air has only grown over the past two decades, as it is truly one of the world’s finest luxury properties.
A native of Portugal, I moved to Canada as a child and remained there to pursue my education, including my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. I then traveled extensively as senior vice president and chief marketing executive for Four Seasons Hotels worldwide, so I cultivated a love of travel and luxury in the early stages of my career. My time with Four Season Hotels enabled me to hone my skills in developing and positioning luxury properties, and prepared me for my next step, when I founded the Windsor Group, where I served as co-chairman of Unique Hotels. Under this umbrella I was responsible for directing such luxurious properties as Cap Juluca Resort in Anguilla and the K Club in Barbuda – both British West Indies properties – as well as the Grand Hotel in Cap Ferrat in France.
In the 1980s and 1990s, when Rosewood Hotels managed the property, I spent a great deal of time at Hotel Bel-Air. Following my return in 2002, I am proud to say that I oversaw one of the most dramatic renovations to the hotel in years. In 2004, as part of our $20 million project, we introduced our suite customization program; upgraded all the remaining rooms and suites with new linens, flooring and drapery; and completed extensive work to the gardens, public spaces and signature pool. And best of all, I am still as passionate today about Hotel Bel-Air as I was when I first crossed over the bridge more than 20 years ago.
And my passion for the hotel has been shared by those in the industry, who have honored it with a variety of awards and accolades in 2004 and 2005, including the coveted Mobil Travel Guides Five-Star Award. It was also recognized by Departures magazine as the best boutique hotel in the United States or Canada, and by Travel + Leisure as one of the world’s best hotels.
When I am not at the hotel, I spend a great deal of time with my two daughters, who are in college. I also enjoy hunting and collecting vintage automobiles, china and masks, as well as spending time in Manhattan Beach, where I live. I am co-chair for the Manhattan Beach Wine Auction, which raises funds for local public schools.
GT: What do you think attracts travelers to Hotel Bel-Air?
CL: I believe that business and leisure travelers are attracted to Hotel Bel-Air because it is truly an oasis in the heart of Los Angeles, a place our guests consider to be their own private estate because of the size of the property, privacy and residential feel. The Bel-Air provides the opportunity to relax and escape from fast-paced city life, while still being about five to 10 minutes from Beverly Hills and Century City.
From the moment guests arrive, the environment is warm and welcoming. Our 12 acres of lush gardens and meandering pathways provide the perfect setting for leisurely afternoon walks, while our terrace restaurant is the ideal place for afternoon tea or a casual meal with friends and family. And our rooms and suites are unmatched, offering a true home-away-from-home environment, with fireplaces, beautiful custom fabrics and furnishings, area rugs and spacious living areas and bathrooms.
GT: Global Traveler takes a holistic approach to business travel, meaning that we recognize that business travelers are the best luxury travelers. How does the Bel-Air cater to this market?
CL: The business traveler is certainly one of our most frequent guests. Given our close proximity to Los Angeles business centers, Hotel Bel-Air is an ideal place from which travelers can conduct business. Our intimate, private environment is ideal for discreet meetings and business transactions, and we regularly offer incentives for corporate travelers – including complimentary town-car service to nearby Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Century City and Westwood. We also offer the use of laptops to executives interested in working in the privacy of their suite.
As part of our recent renovations, we converted one of our suites into an executive boardroom, an intimate space ideally suited for business meetings and functions. The boardroom accommodates up to 45 guests and includes all modern-day conveniences, including a 42-inch plasmascreen monitor, a projection screen, a laptop computer and high-speed Internet outlets.
GT: Hotel Bel-Air has undergone a massive renovation. Tell us a little about the changes and improvements.
CL: From 1999 through 2003, Hotel Bel-Air underwent more than $20 million in renovations. This included the customized refurbishment of nearly 20 suites – in which frequent guests met with the design team to help transform our suites into their suites, choosing the fabrics, flooring, custom furnishings and, in some cases, the suite layout. The renovation also included the development of our executive boardroom; physical improvements to public areas, including new custom walkways and updated landscaping in the gardens; a complete refurbishment of the hotel’s signature pool, including the addition of custom teak furniture; and extensive renovations to our ballrooms. And because dining is such a part of the Bel-Air experience, we also expanded our signature wine cellar to more than 35,000 bottles, which includes a sizable collection of boutique California wines, and one of Southern California’s largest selections of premium port.
And this winter we collaborated with the legendary interior-design firm Leo A Daly to give the restaurant its glamorous and sophisticated new ambience, featuring a warm color palette of buttercream, terra-cotta and gold; hand-blown Italian chandeliers, which I selected; and a floor-to-ceiling fireplace. It is truly stunning.
GT: The restaurant at Hotel Bel-Air is known for attracting members of the local scene. What makes it special or unique?
CL: There are many notable dining choices in Los Angeles, but I believe the Hotel Bel-Air restaurant attracts a loyal local crowd because our environment is incomparable and our service is unmatched. We take great pride in offering a dining experience that highlights our signature French-California cuisine, prepared by our expert culinary team and created with California fruits and vegetables, and herbs from our garden. The restaurant, terrace and bar are considered classics in and around the city, with more than 50 years of history and many notable visitors – from CEOs, entrepreneurs and government dignitaries to Hollywood’s A-list. And our Bel-Air and Beverly Hills neighbors have long regarded the property as the perfect place to celebrate such memorable occasions as anniversaries, birthdays and engagements. Our beautiful bougainvillea-draped terrace is truly one-of-a-kind, providing a unique outdoor dining experience year-round.
We also offer more than 40 monthly wine-pairing dinners and events with notable winemakers each year, and offer corkage-free evenings in the beginning of the week, encouraging locals to bring their own wines as they enjoy our magical setting.
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