Saturday, May 25, 2024

Sanjiv Hulugalle’s Vision for the Hotel del Coronado

Sanjiv Hulugalle is the Hotel del Coronado’s new managing director. Megan Kitt / The Coronado Times

The greatest thing a leader can do is to walk around.

That’s Sanjiv Hulugalle’s approach, and it’s one that brought him from his start as a pool attendant at a hotel in Sydney to be the new managing director of the Hotel del Coronado.

“It’s important to connect with people,” Hulugalle said. “And not just about work – about life and family. Kindness is a language common to all of us, with our varied backgrounds. Now, kindness also means being real with people – being authentic about failure just as we celebrate authentically when we win. Sometimes you have to be vulnerable in being yourself.”

Hulugalle, whose father is Sri Lankan and whose mother is British, said he learned these lessons from his multicultural family as well as his 28-year-long career, which has taken him around the world.

“One of the greatest things my mother told me when I was very small was that the most important part of your career is the people you work with and the bonds you create,” Hulugalle said. “Everyone comes from different backgrounds, different diversity groups, and different challenges.”

When an early-20s Hulugalle became the youngest-ever director of housekeeping at a hotel in Las Vegas, he remembered the advice of his mother, who also worked in housekeeping. Some of his team members were single mothers working multiple jobs, and he said he tried to foster a family environment.

“A simple way of being successful in business is when people know you really care about them,” Hulugalle said. “But when people try too hard and are not authentic, that’s where we all tend to fall, because people see through things very quickly.”

In his new role, Hulugalle said he hopes to preserve the stories of The Del – the people who came before, the people who are here now, and those who will come. Every corner of the property holds stories from the past and present, he said.

“It’s a huge responsibility, because you’re a steward of the past,” Hulugalle said. “But you don’t really own it. You’re a part of its history in creating, but also in taking the journey of what was created years ago, decades ago, back to when it was first built in 1888.”

And as he does that, he hopes to preserve the history of the iconic hotel. The property is currently undergoing a $160 million restoration of its Victorian building.

Hulugalle said being charged with this restoration is a task he does not take lightly, and that a project like this is best done slowly, so it’s done right. It’s like restoring a treasure.

Construction at the Hotel del Coronado on Feb. 29, 2024. Megan Kitt / The Coronado Times

Peeling back the decades of renovations and building additions is its own type of archeology: You can watch, in reverse, as construction technology changes. It’s an interesting, labor-intensive process that is being undertaken with help of historians and architects.

“One example is on the fourth floor,” the hotel’s heritage manager, Gina Petrone, chimed in. “We discovered in one of the guest rooms that there had been pocket doors which were original to the hotel when there were parlor areas, and a group of guest rooms around the parlor.”

One of the doors was missing, but one was intact with its original varnish – so they are leaving it.

“It won’t have a function, but we kept it, because it’s a detail that was original to the building,” Petrone said. “It’s wonderful to see things that can be incorporated in keeping the integrity of the original design.”

Hulugalle has only been in his role for six weeks, but he’s done a lot of walking so far. He met a couple on vacation who had been coming to The Del for 55 years. He met a guest whose sons used to sneak into the hotel. He’s spoken to tour guides and servers. He’s gotten goosebumps thinking of all the brides, presidents, and people who have walked his same steps.

“My focus right now, and my number-one priority, is to take care of the storytellers, and make sure that people can feel the continuation of history,” Hulugalle said.

Hulugalle is coming to the Hotel del Coronado after a role as group president of hospitality & real estate at KOHLER Co. His previous experience also includes roles as regional vice president & general manager of Mauna Lani Resort in Waimea, Hawaii. He said he is glad to be trading one island for another.

“Coronado is a special place,” he said. “Everyone is so protective of the island, in a beautiful way, because they want to safeguard its relevance and history.”

Megan Kitt
Megan Kitt
Megan has worked as a reporter for more than 15 years, and her work in both print and digital journalism has been published in more than 25 publications worldwide. She is also an award-winning photographer. She holds BA degrees in journalism, English literature and creative writing and an MA degree in creative writing and literature. She believes a quality news publication's purpose is to strengthen a community through informative and connective reporting.Megan is also a mother of three and a Navy spouse. After living around the world both as a journalist and as a military spouse, she immediately fell in love with San Diego and Coronado for her family's long-term home.Have news to share? Send tips, story ideas or letters to the editor to: [email protected]

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