Hotel Zephyr GM Creates Playful Guest Experience

Cruz“It’s a play day at Zephyr, how may I Zephyr you?” answers a cheerful woman with a Spanish accent. The unconventional phone greeting at Hotel Zephyr is likely to catch a first-time caller off guard. But that’s the exact reaction General Manager Carmen Cruz is searching for, because it establishes memorable moments with guests.

“We use the name of our hotel as a verb for a reason, because Zephyr is an experience,” Cruz says of the recently opened Fisherman’s Wharf hotel in San Francisco. In addition to connecting on a human level, Cruz aims to infuse personality and character into the hotel and provide a fresh, fun, unique, genuine, and, at times, irreverent service culture. “We are upscale, not uptight,” she explains.

The 361-room Hotel Zephyr made its debut on June 7 after a $32 million renovation and repositioning of the former Radisson Fisherman’s Wharf. Pebblebrook Hotel Trust acquired the Radisson in December 2013 for $132 million with intentions of transforming it into an upscale boutique hotel. In advance of launching the renovation in December 2014, operator Davidson Hotels & Resorts brought on Cruz to spearhead the project, and the hotel enlisted Dawson Design Associates (DDA) for the redesign.

Cruz, a Barcelona native, had previously worked for Davidson as director of rooms at the Hilton Pasadena from 2009 to 2010. When she moved on, the company continued to follow her career. Considering Cruz’s eight years of prior experience in the San Francisco market where she worked as director of front office operations at the nearly 2,000-room Hilton San Francisco & Towers, combined with her work in small luxury and boutique hotels in Europe, Davidson felt she had the right mix of experience to steer Hotel Zephyr. “They needed someone who knew both worlds, so it made sense that I would be able to lead the transformation,” Cruz says.


Cruz also says she couldn’t pass up the chance to help craft a distinct vision and identity for Hotel Zephyr. “I’m a very creative GM and operator, and knowing that I had the backdrop of such a unique design, and having the opportunity to bring it to life through the service experience was great for me.” The hotel’s prime location on Fisherman’s Wharf, and the partnership between Pebblebrook and Davidson, also made coming on board a no-brainer for Cruz.

The hotel remained open throughout the project, which Cruz says required a lot of planning and finessing to minimize the impact on guests. Unusual design materials, such as recycled corrugated metal, cargo containers, shipping crates, and nautical items, presented an additional challenge. “We had such a unique design, so it was very exciting for the construction team to be able to make that work, but that takes a little longer than a regular design,” Cruz says.

To convey the lively spirit of Hotel Zephyr, DDA concocted a maritime theme that captures the personality of rowdy sailors. The firm wanted to provide a journey of discovery and adventure for guests that’s reminiscent of childhood, Cruz says. The hotel’s 11,600-square-foot indoor/outdoor lounge space, which includes a game room with shuffleboard, a ping-pong table, and a pool table, as well as four fire pits, tube ping-pong, Connect4, life-sized Jenga, and a tabletop labyrinth maze, encourages guests to embrace their playful side.

The fun extends into the guestrooms, with bar-style workstations, magnetic dartboards, backgammon, and multi-device docking stations with smart TV streaming. Cruz describes the personality of hotel as upscale that’s approachable and relevant.

When Cruz came on board, her first priority was to help define a brand that would bring DDA’s fun, interactive design to life. “I wanted to create an experience for our customers that would capture that enthusiasm and excitement of the building,” Cruz says.

Cruz also wanted to break the mold by providing a distinct service experience. “People are looking for experiences. When you have a very savvy and sophisticated traveler who can stay anywhere, that’s what you remember.” Cruz encourages her staff to create “Z” moments, which could be as simple as asking a guest’s favorite color or whether they prefer sweet or sour. Later, guests might discover personalized notes featuring their color of choice or a small trinket as a thank you.

Cruz is focused on staking a claim in the market and positioning the property as a top-tier hotel in San Francisco, as well as solidifying the brand’s presence in the upscale, lifestyle environment. It’s also imperative for Cruz to ensure the financial success of the property and maximize the return on investment for the owners. Since the renovation, she says the average daily rate has increased approximately 25 percent, and the hotel is attracting a more sophisticated, higher-end customer.

Whether customers are in town for business or leisure, Cruz wants to leave a lasting impression on guests. “I want people to leave hotel and say, ‘I just got Zephyr’d!’”

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