On August 9, 2017, as management of the Hotel del Coronado was assumed by Hilton Hotels, Harold Rapoza, Jr. stepped into his new role as General Manager of the Del. Even though the Del, which is owned by the Blackstone Group, is now part of the Hilton family of hotels, it will retain its epochal identity due to the fact that it’s designated as part of Curio, A Collection by Hilton.
According to the Curio Collection’s website, “each hotel in the Curio Collection is a masterpiece that reflects the best of its surroundings.” As the newly assigned General Manager of the Del, this is Rapoza’s first time managing one of the Curio Collection properties as opposed to managing a hotel bearing the name Hilton. Of the Curio Collection, Rapoza explains, “The parent company, Hilton Worldwide, is the same, but the Curio brand has a smaller base of hotels. Curio is labeled as a soft brand, where you don’t have a lot of brand standards from the Hilton company, and you really keep the identity of the hotel the way that it is. The Del is the Del, and it will always stay the Del. It [the Hotel del Coronado] has a strong marketing base, and it has a strong name so we don’t want to change anything with signage or do anything that would alter the identity of the hotel. There’s only one small sign out in the front that says Curio; there’s nothing else.” (As proof, Rapoza hands me his business card, which makes no mention of Hilton at all.)
“When I came here, I think there was a lot of concern from the community that Hilton was going to change the Hotel del Coronado. It’s [Hotel del Coronado] been here for almost 130 years, and remains one of the most iconic resorts in the world,” says Rapoza. “I really want to stress that Hilton isn’t going to change the Del; they’re going to enhance it, add to it, and make it look even better from an aesthetic standpoint. Hilton is going to bring its renowned training and development to the team here. Hilton is one of the top companies to work with in the United States; it’s ranked number 26 by Fortune, which is significant, because we really take care of our team members.”
Recognizing the rich history that the Del has, Rapoza points out that as Hilton prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary, the Del is preparing to celebrate its 130th. Like Hilton Worldwide, Rapoza too is keenly aware that the Hotel del Coronado was prosperous well before Conrad Hilton founded the hotel chain which bore his name back in 1919. Conrad Hilton was less than two months old when the Hotel del Coronado opened its doors back in February of 1888, and Rapoza, along with his team, will strive to maintain the Del’s celebrated caliber of excellence rather than replace it.
Background and Education
General Manager Rapoza, who moved here from Dallas, Texas for this position, may be Coronado’s newest resident, but that certainly doesn’t mean that Coronado is new to him! Rapoza, who’s been managing hotels ever since he graduated from Hawaii Pacific University in 1990, spent eight and a half years in Southern California as the General Manager of the Hilton Anaheim. During that time, Rapoza, along with his wife Michelle and their three children, would visit Coronado, enjoying all that the “island town” has to offer. Rapoza has fond memories of family visits to the Del, where they would ice skate together at Christmas.
As he thought about what he wanted to study in college, it seemed like the natural choice for him to earn a degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Management. Rapoza, who was born on the “Big Island” of Hawaii, was familiar with the hotel industry. As he grew up, Rapoza and his family moved throughout the Hawaiian islands as his father was the general manager of several hotels on the Big Island, Maui, Kauai, and Oahu. Rapoza had no burning desire to consider following any other career path, saying, “All I knew was hotels.” Even though he was a competitive tennis player who played in circuits in Hawaii, he knew the future he envisioned for himself was in the hospitality field.
Of the knowledge bestowed upon him as he prepared to follow in his father’s footsteps, Rapoza shares that “adapting to change” was the most valuable lesson that contributed to his success. “Both my upbringing, where I moved around a lot, and my education at Hawaii Pacific University prepared me for that. As the economy and people’s expectations change, so do businesses, and my education prepared me for that,” he says.
Hotel Career with Hilton
Starting off as a desk manager at the Hilton Portland and Executive Tower, Rapoza spent the next twenty-six years of his career with Hilton and DoubleTree by Hilton, advancing to become the General Manager of some of Hilton’s most vital hotels. Before moving to Coronado, Rapoza served as the General Manager of the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, fitted with 1,606 hotel rooms, more than three times as many rooms as there were in 1991 when he worked in Portland.
General Manager of Hotel del Coronado
Including the Beach Village, the Del’s 757 rooms are obviously fewer than the number of rooms found at the Hilton Anatole, but that in no way means that being the General Manager of the Del is any less challenging! “Even though the Del is a smaller property in terms of room size, it has a bigger footprint. It has a bigger revenue base, more revenue streams with more departments, more restaurant outlets, more retail outlets, and it has a bigger recreation facility,” Rapoza says. “Even though it’s smaller in size, it’s still a little more complex,” he explains of the difference between managing the Del and the Anatole. “It’s just a different mix of business. The Anatole is a convention hotel while the Del has more of a mixture between business groups and a lot of leisure business as well.”
With Harold Rapoza taking on his new position as General Manager and Hilton assuming management of the Del, should residents of Coronado expect any significant changes at the Del? “It’s hard to say because we just started, but currently we’re redoing the wall coverings and carpets in all the corridors. We’re still in discussion with Blackstone on what enhancements we’re going to do over the next couple of years,” Rapoza answers.
Understanding how important the Hotel del Coronado is to the community, Rapoza assures residents, “When I talk about changes, it’s really aesthetic changes. Nothing will change as far as the Del’s history, what the Del offers, or the branding. All of that will remain the same.” (Cue the huge sigh of relief from the Crown City’s most loyal fans of the iconic hotel.) “It was really important to Hilton and to the ownership when they signed the management agreement that we keep the Del the way that it is. What we’re doing is bringing Hilton’s engine behind it to help with distribution and lifting occupancy. Hilton has seventy million Honors members who we can tap into now from a marketing perspective.”
Personal Life in Coronado
As Rapoza transitions from life in Dallas to life in Coronado, what does he miss most about Texas’ most populated city? “I miss the sports,” he answers, pointing to framed autographs he has hanging on his office wall of some of his favorite Dallas Cowboys, “and the culinary scene.” He laughs as he notes how he also misses “Dallas’ cost of living.”
What aspects of Coronado does Rapoza particularly enjoy? “I’m very excited to be back in Southern California because of the weather here. We spent the last six and a half years in Dallas, and had a great time. I love Dallas, but this is where we wanted to be,” he explains.
As someone who grew up in Hawaii, Rapoza is thrilled to live by the ocean once again, and notes how this beach community, with what he describes as “its small-town feel,” has been so friendly and welcoming toward him. “I’ve really enjoyed meeting the people in the community,” he says with genuine gratitude. “I love how passionate they are about the Del. If you live on the island, the Del is part of your life and part of the community. It’s important to me to get to know the people of Coronado, and keep them informed on what we’re doing here. I’ve had a lot of interactions with the mayor and the City Council, and that’s been a big plus for me.” Rapoza has already noticed how Coronado “tends to be more intimate” than Dallas, and how residents here have a deep affection for the Hotel del Coronado.
One aspect of Coronado that Rapoza finds especially impressive is the sense of patriotism that radiates from base to base and everywhere in between. “I love seeing the military as part of the community here. I really do! Watching the Navy SEALs right out front along our beach is very impactful, and I enjoy listening to the sounds of freedom as helicopters and planes fly overhead,” he says. When asked if the patriotic feel that he’s noticed here is different than other places where he’s lived, he emphatically answers, “Absolutely! There’s no question! You can have a stressful day, but when you see firsthand what our military members are doing, it really puts everything into perspective.”
As he settles into his new job and acclimates himself to the many features of Coronado that set it apart from other beach towns, Rapoza is excited about the prospect of reintroducing the Crown City to his family. Even though Rapoza’s three children are now grown, with his youngest in college, he’s hoping to recreate some of their childhood memories of ice skating at the Del this coming Christmas. “We’re hoping they’re able to come out this year, although you never know because they’re all busy with their own lives. It would be a nice first Christmas to reminisce about the things we used to do with them here in Coronado when they were little. It would be incredible just for all of us to be together here, and it would mean a lot,” he says.
While it remains to be seen how Harold Rapoza, Jr. will spend his first Christmas in Coronado, it’s safe to say that he will be busy making the changes necessary to keep the Crown City’s gem the same as always!