It’s not unusual for hotel companies to enter into strategic alliances with local businesses and cultural attractions as a way of generating additional bookings and distinguishing themselves from the competition. But New Mexico-based Heritage Hotels & Resorts has taken such partnerships to a new—one might say “cosmic”—level.
This month, Heritage Founder and CEO Jim Long revealed that the company’s 208-room Hotel Encanto de Las Cruces has been named the official preferred hotel of Virgin Galactic. As early as year-end, the first of more than 700 people who have signed up to take a suborbital Virgin Galactic spaceflight will be guests at the Hotel Encanto before embarking on their Earth-defying experience.
In anticipation, Long and his team have begun a series of upgrades at the hotel, including the creation of a number of Executive VIP Wing luxury suites suited to their new high-flying guests and their families, many expected to be traveling from international destinations.
Concierge services are being added, along with enhanced room service menus. The new suites will include marble bathrooms and custom-built furniture and cabinetry.
“Like all eight Heritage properties, the Hotel Encanto has been known for décor and an ambiance that reflects an authentic New Mexico experience. Historically, life here has reflected so many cultural traditions over the years. We’re retaining that sensibility, only with a bit more of a contemporary perspective,” Long said.
Other changes include the creation of a landscaped 2,500-square-foot outdoor patio area complete with fountains and fire pit that can also double as a pre-function space for group events.
Up to now, Hotel Encanto has attracted mostly business travelers, Long noted, but that is expected to change, once the Virgin Galactic flights get off the ground. “There’s already considerable curiosity about the program among leisure travelers, including families. Even if they’re not traveling into space themselves, people are fascinated by the idea,” he said.
The service and style of the hotel notwithstanding, the Hotel Encanto was of interest to Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides because of its proximity to Spaceport America, the futuristic facility from which the flights will launch and land.
Funded by the State of New Mexico to the tune of $200 million, the Spaceport—on a 27-mile tract of desert less than an hour’s drive from Las Cruces—is in the final stages of construction. Upon completion, all Virgin Galactic’s operations will shift there from its temporary headquarters in Mojave, Calif.
As the Spaceport has ramped up, the Hotel Encanto has benefited from an uptick in bookings from managers, designers, engineers, and others associated with the project. Whitesides has spoken of the salutary effect he expects Virgin Galactic, which is part of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, to have on the local Southern New Mexico economy, both in terms of job creation and economic investment. Long shares these hopes.
All eight hotels in the Heritage portfolio are in New Mexico, including four in Santa Fe and two in Albuquerque. The most recent additions to what Long refers to as a collection are the Eldorado Hotel & Spa in Santa Fe and the Palacio de Marquesa in Taos.
As he was assembling the portfolio, Long acquired properties that carried national hotel brands. But at the first opportunity, he left the brand affiliation, opting instead to give them names more redolent of the local culture. Subsequent upgrades and renovations added to that cultural connection.
In the same spirit, each Heritage hotel has what Long calls a community-based “cultural partner,” an organization dedicated to preserving the local history and tradition. The hotel and community group develop special programming together. In return, each hotel returns a portion of its revenues to the partner. “These have turned out to be powerful relationships for us,” he said.
Asked if he didn’t see a disconnect between Heritage’s connection to New Mexico’s history and a forward-looking endeavor like space travel, Long said, not really. “We’re not only looking back. Consider that 150 years ago, New Mexico was considered the frontier. Today, Virgin Galactic and Spaceport America have their sights set on what’s arguably the newest frontier: outer space. And coincidentally, their effort is based in New Mexico.”