Giuseppe Lama grew up in a restaurant family in Faenza, a historic city in Northern Italy. Doing his homework at one of the restaurant’s 20 tables and observing the goings-on around him, he learned the most important principle of hospitality: “If people are happy, they are going to come back.”

Today, as the managing director of The Resort at Pelican Hill, the Five-Star, Five-Diamond, 504-acre property on the Newport Coast, that mantra still guides him.

It’s the reason, he says, that 60 percent of Pelican Hill’s group bookings are repeat business. “We’re always providing new experiences so that people come back time and time again,” Lama says. Among those experiences is the Italian Street Festa, an alfresco festival set among the property’s olive trees. “This is a signature event we created for event planners,” Lama says. “People don’t want to be in a ballroom, they want to be outside enjoying the Southern California weather.”

Another signature group experience is the Cirque du Soleil-type performances that take place around the Coliseum Pool, which, at 136 feet in diameter, is one of the largest circular pools in the world. “We don’t have a ‘banquet’ department,” Lama says. “That word doesn’t work for us. Instead, we call it ‘special events.’ We provide highly customized events that are tailored to your and your customer’s needs.”

Lama was the first employee hired by Pelican Hill, even before the property was built and a full year before it opened in November 2008. It’s the longest time he’s stayed in one place in a peripatetic career that began at a hotel school in Bellagio, Italy, and continued with degrees in hotel management from Oxford Brookes University in England and Bermuda College, Bermuda. Lama spent five years with The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, traveling to wherever he was needed—Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, Cancun, Pasadena and Marina del Rey, among other cities. He went on to several general manager positions, with the Westin Century Plaza in LA, the Hotel Del Coronado and Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa.

What lured Lama to Pelican Hill was the property’s mission: “The possibility of perfection.” It’s a mission that drives him in his personal life, too, where he devotes many off hours to training for triathlons. “I could run or bike or swim. Instead, I do all three,” he says. “I don’t just do triathlons, I race. I don’t just race, I want to win in my age group. I don’t just want to win in my age group, I want to trounce everybody else.” He pauses, then states what makes him a fierce competitor and a superb hotelier: “There’s a drive in me from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to bed.”

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Jeff Dougherty, association sales director for Visit Sacramento, likes to leave groups laughing.

 

Group sales head Robert Donahue is ready to guide planners to a new galaxy.