Grand Del Mar President shares secrets to success

By Claire Harlin

Four years ago, a restaurant in San Diego became the first in the city to earn a Forbes AAA Five Diamond rating, and two years later, a local spa became the first in San Diego to earn the same honor. Now, a Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star award has been handed down to the first and only hotel in San Diego, marking a major feat for the local hospitality industry. And what do all these honors have in common? They were all awarded to the elite Grand Del Mar, which joined the ranks of only 57 hotels in the world when it earned its latest Forbes honor.

Tom Voss, the Carmel Valley resort’s president, said it takes more than just a beautiful hotel and great design to earn a Forbes Five-Star rating.

“Seventy-five percent of the five stars depends on the staff,” said Voss, a Carmel Valley resident. “How they speak and interact with the guests.”

For example, he said, an employee once overheard a couple in the resort cafe say they had left their Blackberry phone charger at home.

“That employee contacted guest services, someone went to Radio Shack and within 30 minutes we delivered a new charger to their door,” Voss said.

He gave another example of going the extra mile for guests: “Once the housekeeper noticed an empty toothpaste tube in the trash, so she delivered a new one to the room with a nice note.”

These are the types of gestures Voss said keep guests coming back and keep the positive feedback rolling in.

“Guests don’t have to even tell us,” Voss said. “We know when there is something missing to make the experience right.”

That’s what gives people the “wow factor,” Voss said.

“People say ‘wow’ when they walk in, but when they leave it’s the staff they are talking about,” he said.

Voss, who helped start the $300 million Grand Del Mar from the ground up in 2007, said having San Diego’s only Tom Fazio-designed golf course is another selling point for guests — and a good number of loyals have invested in the $30,000 lifetime golf and resort membership.

Voss isn’t a behind-the-scenes type of manager. As he strolls the grandiose halls of the luxury resort, he enjoys small talk and friendly hellos from passing staff members and resort guests. Everyone know him by name, and he makes it his mission to get to know each and every person under the roof of the 400-acre resort.

“I always know who’s coming in and they know me,” said Voss. “Guests want to know who’s the man in charge, and we have a lot of guests who just love to be here because they know everyone, like the people in the restaurants and the bar.”

Voss said that even through the recession, The Grand Del Mar held strong by maintaining quality, and it has even grown in success since British Airways began offering direct flights to San Diego in June.

“The flights have been 93 percent occupied,” he said. “It just shows that San Diego is where people want to go and San Diego is where people will stay.”

The Grand Del Mar’s signature restaurant, Addision, was not only the first restaurant in San Diego to earn the AAA Five Diamond and Forbes Five-Star Award, but it is the only restaurant in California to hold both honors. It also boasts a number of kudos from magazines such as the Los Angeles Times and Wine Spectator.

A native of Hamburg, Germany, Voss grew up in the hospitality industry — his father operated an oceanfront resort — and he said it’s like second nature to him. After attending college in Germany and working at upscale properties in Muscat, Sultanate of Oman and Abu Dhabi, Voss came to San Diego, where he opened the Hyatt Regency — now the Manchester Grand Hyatt — in 1992. After 17 years, the opportunity to build the Grand Del Mar from the ground up came before him, and he gladly accepted.

Starting from scratch is a recipe for success, Voss said.

“It takes four or five years to get the kind of rating we’ve earned,” Voss said. “It has to do with hiring the right people from day one, and everyone has a chance to buy into the goals and standards, and everyone can then be in harmony.”

To find out more about the Grand Del Mar, visit or call (866) 305-1528.