AZ Republic – Montelucia resort finds bright..

by Diana Balazs – May. 16, 2009 08:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

Valeriano Antonioli couldn’t contain his excitement.

The InterContinental Montelucia Resort & Spa managing director recently reported that the first visitors from his native Italy had booked a stay at the luxury Paradise Valley resort.

It was a bit of good news in what has been a tough season for local resorts, including Montelucia, as business and luxury travelers curtail their activities in response to the deep worldwide recession and reductions in corporate spending.

The atmosphere has prompted the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau to launch a marketing effort aimed at luring back large-group bookings. Local resorts, meanwhile, have begun touting off-season deals designed to bring in Valley residents at special summer rates.

Montelucia, Paradise Valley’s newest resort known for its Spanish and Moroccan architecture, is one of two new area luxury hotels facing foreclosure. The other is the W Hotel Scottsdale. Plus, the Carefree Resort and Villas is in bankruptcy.

Montelucia opened last fall, just as the already struggling economy tanked. In February, Eurohypo AG filed a notice of default against the resort and its unsold single-family detached residential villas, launching foreclosure proceedings against developer Robert Flaxman.

What was to have been an April trustee sale has now been postponed until mid- to late June.

For Antonioli, it continues to be business as usual even though Montelucia could soon have new ownership. He said the resort’s operational agreement with InterContinental is solid, and despite the economic slump, the resort’s occupancy rate has been surprisingly good.

In March, occupancy was 75 percent. In April, 62 percent. Antonioli had expected lower numbers.

“People are coming in and trying us,” he said.

But the resort still faces the difficult summer months.

“It is a challenge for everyone, even during great times,” Antonioli said. “The summer in Arizona is not the preferred place for a vacation. I hope that many people in Arizona will try us for the first time.”

Since opening the 293-room property Nov. 4, Antonioli, 43, has worked hard to attract all means of guest – local, national and foreign. Antonioli’s Italian guests are not Montelucia’s first foreigners: Visitors have come from as far afield as Germany, Britain and France.

Conde Nast Traveler magazine, meanwhile, recently included the 34-acre resort in its 2009 hot list of new hotels.

And although still in its infancy, Montelucia got a boost when it hosted President Barack Obama during his February visit to the Valley. A number of unidentified celebrities also have stayed – the resort has two presidential suites that offer VIP guests privacy.

As summer approaches, the clientele is likely to change somewhat. Antonioli has opened the resort’s doors to local residents, hosting a Thursday salon happy hour, a summer jazz concert series on Friday nights, Saturday family dive-in movies and special events at Christmas and Easter.

There is a kids’ club, so parents can drop off their children, then treat themselves to dinner or a spa treatment.

Antonioli said the resort wants to be embraced by the community, which he hopes will spread the word to others.

“The concept is to be a success with the locals first,” Antonioli said.

Montelucia likely will remain Paradise Valley’s new kid on the block for some time, since plans to revive the shuttered Mountain Shadows resort remain in limbo and groundbreaking for the town-approved Ritz-Carlton project has now been postponed. “So we are six months old and still the newest,” Antonioli said. “I think for a long time, we’ll still be the newest.”

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