Earlier this year, a series of landslides in Big Sur forced the closure of Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge and made that famously scenic section of California’s Central Coast nearly inaccessible. But John Pritzker, founding partner and director of Geolo Capital and cochairman of the board of Two Roads Hospitality, didn’t despair—despite having good reason to. When the landslides hit, Two Roads Hospitality was in the midst of renovating its first Alila hotel on North American soil—Big Sur’s historic Ventana Inn & Spa—after having acquired the Singaporean boutique hotel brand a few years prior. The road closures in and around the area could have caused massive setbacks to the project, but Pritzker and his team forged on.
Now, the 59-room hotel, known today as Ventana Big Sur, has emerged from its multimillion-dollar renovation, with updates that include villas and luxury tents set amid 160 acres of redwood forest. And with Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge repaired, Big Sur is officially making a comeback. We caught up with Pritzker to learn about the impact of the landslides and what’s in store for Ventana Big Sur and Alila.
How did the landslides in Big Sur and the closing of Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge affect plans for Ventana’s renovation?
“As Joni Mitchell sang, ‘Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?’ The landslides in Big Sur created a huge challenge—not just for us at Ventana, but for the entire community. In order to move forward, our staff and construction workers had to hike to and from the property each day carrying materials and tools, we had to build a construction depot onsite; I could go on. But, at day’s end, the community pulled together and everyone—our folks, local businesses, and many state agencies—went out of their way to make things happen for Big Sur. It was very tough, but this experience gave us enormous pride in welcoming visitors back to Big Sur.”
What are the biggest changes at Ventana Big Sur that you, personally, are most excited about?
“Aside from the vast improvements to the look and feel of Ventana, we’ve enhanced the authenticity of the experiences we offer, which are unique to this little slice of coastal California heaven. Our team has worked very hard to ensure that our visitors feel a sense of peace and a spiritual connection to Big Sur. The hotel rooms at Ventana have been totally refreshed, and we’ve greatly added to our outdoor spaces. One of my favorite renovations is the restaurant terrace, which features a new bar overlooking the coastline. It’s exactly where you’d want to be as the sun drops over the ocean.”
Ventana is Alila’s first U.S. hotel. How did this partnership come about?
“Two Roads Hospitality purchased Alila in 2014 to join our stable of boutique hotel brands. We did so because we felt they’ve designed, built, and operated some of the world’s greatest five-star properties, and they’ve nailed a potent alchemy that combines exceptional locations with innovative design and transformational experiences.”
What other projects does Alila have coming down the pipeline?
“Alila has three exciting debuts this year: Ventana Big Sur, Alila Fort Bishangarh, and Alila Yangshuo. In 2018, the brand will open flagship, city-center hotels in Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, as well as resorts in Sri Lanka and Cambodia. Additionally, the spectacular Alila Villas Uluwatu in Bali will welcome The Cliff, a hip and contemporary bluffside haven overlooking the Indian Ocean. From a growth standpoint, Alila is on a tear. It was always our intention to bring the Alila brand to North America, but it had to be the perfect opportunity . . . and what could be better than Big Sur?”
What can visitors to the newly renovated Ventana Big Sur look forward to in the coming months?
“Well, Ventana Big Sur is located on the most enchanting stretch of Highway One, where postcardlike views of mountains, trees, and endless ocean are bountiful. The renovated property features multiple pools, a new Spa Alila, an organic garden overlooking the ocean, and some of the world’s best hiking. There are very few places where the ocean meets the mountains and towering redwoods. We want our guests to take in all this beauty and bring home memories that evoke the spirit of Big Sur when they depart.”