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Janis Clapoff Puts Guests First at Ojai Valley Inn

The resort's managing director has made a career out of designing the ideal hospitality experience

People plan dream vacations to places such as Santa Barbara. We are lucky enough to have several luxurious resorts nearby. They require teams of experienced staffers and a capable manager at the helm to ensure the high quality of service.

Janis Clapoff has made a career out of designing the ideal guest experience. Most recently named managing director of Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, she has worked in the luxury resort industry for 25 years.

Originally from Montreal, Clapoff went to school at York University in Toronto for psychology. Raised in the English-speaking section of Canada, Clapoff craved to learn French, so she attended the Sorbonne in Paris for a year of French immersion. She then returned to Montreal and began her career in hospitality by helping open an 800-room Hyatt Hotel Regency in 1977.

Clapoff began attending night school for a master’s degree in hospitality when she was recruited by The Four Seasons Hotel in Montreal.

“I learned early that the hotel business gets in your blood, and there’s no cure for it,” she said.

Clapoff took that job and eventually moved to manage its Toronto location. Several years later, she had the opportunity to get a green card by working for a boutique property under the Sheridan name on Park Avenue in New York. She jumped at the chance and stayed for three years.

Spas began to gain popularity and have more widespread appeal in the United States. Wanting to be ahead of the curve and learn that business, she moved to Vermont for a year to cut her teeth at one of the first combined resort and spas in the nation. Next, the call came from Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore in Santa Barbara. She says she recalled thinking, “It’s California. How bad can it be?”

She drove cross-country with her Great Dane and German shepherd and settled into this sleepy town. She said her first thought was, “Why would anyone want to live in such a small town,” but after two years, she didn’t want to leave.

As is typical in the hospitality business, she was asked to transfer to help a struggling property elsewhere, but Clapoff loved Santa Barbara so much that she decided to find something new with another company so she could stay here. She took the reigns as managing partner at San Ysidro Ranch for the next 10 years. After it was sold, she moved to the Simpson House Inn and then to Halekulani, a five-star beach resort in Hawaii.

“Any moment I was anywhere but the Santa Barbara area, I wanted to come back,” she said.

She got her wish when Ojai Valley Inn & Spa made her an offer. She has been there for 18 months.

The Ojai Valley Inn property was purchased in 1923 by a glass manufacturer, Charles Libby, whose family used to vacation in Ojai in the winter. He established the hotel as a retreat for the rich and famous Hollywood set in the late 1920s. In 1944-45, the inn donated part of the golf course to the military for practice training. Clapoff explained how they used dugouts and sand traps for practice shooting.

Going forward, Clapoff says she wants to make Ojai Valley Inn a nationally and internationally known property.

“People who work here are authentically and passionately hospitable,” she said.

Repeat clients are those who appreciate the inn’s nuances, such as organic produce, educational programming and the top-notch spa and golf facilities, she said.

While Clapoff acknowledges that the market has changed significantly in the past 15 months, the resort is seeing a lot of local guests who are choosing to take “staycations” during the downturn for security, financial and convenience reasons.

“People forget how close we really are located,” she said. “Guests can get here from L.A. or Santa Barbara in an hour.”

The resort recently completed a renovation of the spa, public areas and guest rooms, and built a 10,000-square-foot private villa and two new pools. Many of the spa treatments are indigenous to Ojai, with the Kuyam being the guest favorite. It’s a treatment that combines dry and wet heat with aromatherapy and mud.

Clapoff said a new treatment that is beginning to take off is Eau (French for water), an underwater warm treatment with a therapist who will guide you through relaxation positions.

Ojai Valley Inn & Spa is located at 905 Country Club Road in Ojai, or click here to visit it online.

Noozhawk contributor Jenn Kennedy can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here to see more of her work.

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