The saying the devil is in the details rings resoundingly true in the hospitality business. Guests at five-star hotels arrive expecting exceptional staff and service from top to bottom, so it demands that a particular type of person be at the helm. Karen Earp, general manager of the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara, thrives in this demanding environment — taking the countless logistics in stride.
Asked what she likes best about her job, the English-born Earp smiled and said, “Every day is different, and I love that. Last weekend we were filming a movie in one area and hosting a phenomenal wedding, complete with a groom arriving on a white stallion, in another area.”
Earp is responsible for quality control, which comes out in a number of ways.
“Some days I’m spot checking the rooms for our signature toe-tuck bed fold, and other days I’m tasting the orange juice to ensure it’s the right flavor,” she said.
She also swings by the posh Coral Casino Beach & Cabana Club Pool to test the water temperature and greet guests in the lounge.
Earp worked in London, Istanbul, Paris, Dallas and New York before landing in Santa Barbara. Handpicked by owner Ty Warner, she was brought on to oversee a $240 million renovation. Originally built in 1927 and recently restored to its former glory, The Biltmore, at 1260 Channel Drive and now a Four Seasons hotel, overlooks Montecito’s Butterfly Beach.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in hotel, catering and tourism management from the University of Surrey, Earp pursued a master’s degree in business administration from Cass Business School. She decided early on that she wanted to work in the best hotel in London and continued by working at luxury hotels throughout the world.
Earp says she is committed to providing exceptional service on all fronts.
“We ask a lot from our staff, who are highly motivated and work as a cohesive team,” she said.
While each Four Seasons location reflects the local culture, Earp said the core brand carries through.
“We often transfer existing employees as we open new hotels,” she said. “This ensures that guests visiting the new location will have the same high-quality experience they have come to know from us.”
The recession undoubtedly has hit the hotel industry hard, but Earp said The Biltmore remains a favorite destination. While the majority of its clientele remains North American business travelers, Earp said the hotel has seen more Europeans and Southern California locals in the past two years.
Locals also love The Biltmore for its decadent Sunday brunch and evening live entertainment in the Ty Lounge. Locals receive a 20 percent discount at the spa, which offers a host of exceptional signature massage options, including lavender hand and foot treatments, the Harmony — two therapists working in harmony simultaneously to perform a full-body massage for optimal relaxation — and Ty fitness, a full-body massage that incorporates light stretches, rocking motion, compressions, and joint and muscle manipulations.
The Biltmore has 110 weddings on the calendar for 2010 and will again host Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for those who want a nice dinner out. Leading up to Christmas, it also will offer sleigh rides via horse-drawn carriage tours through Montecito and along Butterfly Beach — complete with hot cocoa and cider. For children, there will be a cookie-baking and decorating workshop led by Mrs. Claus, as well as a workshop on making ornaments by hand.
Earp leads by example in encouraging employees to give back to the community. She sits on the boards of the Santa Barbara Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Earp personally painted fences during the last Day of Caring organized by United Way of Santa Barbara County, a favorite charity of the hotel.
“We are part of the community, so it’s important to give back and interface with our neighbors,” she said.
The Biltmore recently hosted a blood and marrow drive for United Blood Services and has been the presenting sponsor of the Cancer Run for the past 19 years.
When Earp isn’t captaining The Biltmore, she enjoys swimming, going to the theater, traveling and cooking.
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