For many in the South Bay, it is difficult to imagine a time before Terranea was part of their local landscape. In the eight years since the resort’s impressive June 2009 opening, Terranea has built a sterling legacy. Beloved by members of our community and revered by travelers and hospitality industry professionals alike, Terranea has earned a reputation for consistently delivering an exceptional and memorable resort experience to every guest who enters its doors.
By any measure, Terranea is a sensational success. Since its opening, the resort has generated more than $30 million in Transient Occupancy Taxes for Rancho Palos Verdes, created approximately 1,500 jobs, restored an indigenous natural habitat and brought well-deserved international recognition to this exquisite corner of Southern California. It has welcomed sophisticated travelers from around the globe while becoming the “go-to” local venue for every occasion.
Terranea’s prominence can be attributed to a multitude of factors. Without question, its spectacular location and stunning physical attributes make it exceptional. It is further enhanced by its gracious associates who consistently deliver incomparable service with superb attention to detail—ensuring every guest enjoys their own quintessential Terranea experience.
Perhaps slightly less obvious—yet no less essential to Terranea’s overall success—is the leadership’s ongoing pursuit of excellence. This dedication informs and compels the Terranea team to continually improve, develop and evolve.
When some companies reach the pinnacle of success, they become complacent—coasting on their elevated position. Not Terranea. The resort’s team is always striving to be better, to innovate, to grow.
This pursuit is reflected in a whirlwind of changes, some subtle, some more notable, that have ensued at Terranea since 2009—all in an effort to be the best and continue to create memorable experiences for every guest. Over the past eight years, Terranea has reinvested approximately $40 million into the resort via property-wide enhancements and renovations—from discreet touches such as upgrading guest room amenities to major projects including adding a fourth resort pool and completely redesigning catalina kitchen.
To get an insider’s perspective on the exceptional evolution of Terranea, we met with Agnelo Fernandes, senior vice president of sales and marketing. Over lattes at sea beans, Agnelo walked us through the countless enhancements and innovations—large and small—that have happened over the past eight years, ensuring that Terranea continues to thrive.
When asked about the evolution of Terranea since its opening, Agnelo explains, “If I break it down day by day, there are a million unique stories. Our evolution has been nothing short of phenomenal. The first five years included a lot of trial usage…a lot of finding ourselves, understanding who our guests were, understanding what their preferences were and determining how we were going to fulfill them.”
Agnelo notes that the first five years were spent moving from the transactional to the emotional. Early on, during the difficult recession, the resort promoted more affordable rates to guests out of necessity and survival. “We did that effectively and got through a very volatile time, both in terms of the economy and the growing pains of a new property,” he says.
But in the last few years, as the economic climate began to improve, Terranea inched closer to becoming an emotive brand that speaks to somebody’s heart and says, “Terranea is the best in my mind, because it is my most favorite place to go on vacation.”
“It’s the word favorite. That’s what we work on,” says Agnelo. “That concept has not changed. We still work on delivering memories—delivering those memories through experiences. And we hope that those memories and experiences create unbelievable stories.”
Ultimately that is the magic formula. When a guest leaves the property, it’s the resort’s hope that he or she enjoyed a transformational experience and then, hopefully, tells that story to someone else.
“We’re not forcing it on you,” says Agnelo. “But the fact that it has happened to you and has changed your outlook and perspective in some form or fashion—with everything that you’ve seen, felt and experienced—is our ultimate goal.”
Another aspect that has evolved over time is Terranea’s level of service. “We pride ourselves on having a team that delivers this heartfelt service because they want to deliver it, not because they have to,” he explains. “It’s what separates us from others.”
He continues, “I love it when I’m in the back of the house and I hear our associates speaking of a guest … where they live or about their company. I’ll ask, ‘How did you find this out?’ and they’ll reply, ‘We just engage.’ And it’s that engagement that creates those bonds with strangers. Our associates—they just do it. I think it’s in our DNA not to probe, but to really care about our guests. We want to know where you come from, what motivated you to come here and what we can do to make your experience memorable so that you can take this home with you and tell the story to your friends. That’s the service side.”
Beyond the desire to create experiences and deliver excellent service, the resort has undergone some major enhancements on the product side. Perhaps most notable was the addition of the age 13 and older Vista Pool in the summer of 2015 at a cost of $3.4 million. Agnelo explains, “It was born out of necessity for our guests with teenagers. Older kids wanted the feeling of their own space. As a result, we developed the Vista Pool adjacent to signature dining venue mar’sel. It gives families an opportunity to let older kids go off and do their own thing. Teens want to hang out in a cooler environment.”
Also in 2015, the Lobby Bar and Living Room were updated, and the guest rooms underwent a multi-million dollar renovation. Input from guests and Terranea associates played a significant role in determining the style of the redesign. The goal of the room upgrade was to deliver a comfortable yet minimalistic design, while incorporating cutting-edge in-room innovations.
Terranea guests typically want to be outdoors, and when they are in their rooms they still want to feel connected to the outdoors. The standout feature of a Terranea guest room is undoubtedly the spectacular view, so the renovation emphasized bringing the outdoors in while still feeling sophisticated and inviting.
Other resort additions since the 2009 opening include the opening of the retail boutiques marea—offering high-end clothing, accessories and one-of-a-kind jewelry—and pointe discovery, which features SoCal-inspired items from brands that give back to the community.
In 2016, Terranea upgraded its popular Kids Club, adding new seating, games and an aquarium. The resort enhanced the equally popular Beach Cove, adding umbrellas and lounge chairs along with games.
One of the most impressive features of Terranea is its diverse culinary offerings, with eight unique, on-property dining concepts. And since the original 2009 opening, culinary excellence has become synonymous with Terranea, beginning with the 2012 addition of bashi‑a restaurant serving a blend of contemporary Asian cuisine.
Since its opening, a core principle of Terranea’s culinary program has included sourcing food with a FLOSS philosophy of Fresh, Local, Organic, Seasonal and Sustainable. The concept of Farm-to-Terranea, hatched from this tenet, is the heart of Terranea’s culinary program.
Terranea has long been growing its own fruits and vegetables in the mar’sel garden. In 2014, Terranea took its penchant for locally sourced food to an extraordinary new level when it partnered with local grower Catalina View Garden. Leasing a 4-acre parcel on the property, Terranea established its garden.
At Catalina View Garden, Terranea grows a variety of fruits and vegetables including Meyer lemons, avocados, olives, kale, tomatoes, herbs and much more. The property is also home to four beehives with four queen bees and 150,000 “employbees” producing 50 pounds of honey for Terranea each year.
Also in 2014, Terranea introduced its Chef’s Table Dinner Series as part of its Farm-to-Terranea program. These bimonthly seasonal dinners curated and prepared by executive chef Bernard Ibarra are an intimate affair where guests can enjoy learning how to prepare the courses. Each dinner features a wine partner, and a portion of each chef’s dinner proceeds benefit local charities.
In 2015, the Farm-to-Terranea philosophy further expanded with the addition of a Sea Salt Conservatory and the debut of the Culinary Immersion Package, where guests can participate in workshops and chef-led dining experiences. In keeping with the quintessential Farm-to-Terranea philosophy, the resort makes and serves its own sea salts harvested in the conservancy and flavored with home-grown herbs. Terranea also makes honey, Meyer lemon preserves and house-pressed olive oil, which are served throughout the resort and sold in sea beans.
Perhaps the most significant development in Terranea’s culinary landscape is the 2016 comprehensive redesign and relaunch of catalina kitchen. The new restaurant features an open kitchen, new menus, redesigned interior and exterior decor, and the addition of a bar featuring signature cocktails. There are also a variety of experiential food stations positioned around the perimeter of the restaurant—most notably a seafood island where guests can observe chefs shucking oysters, carving sushi, and skinning and deboning fish.
Some other notable developments at Terranea include a partnership with Lexus to create the Lexus Experience, providing a fleet of cars available for Terranea guests to test drive. The resort also provides an Adventure Concierge located just outside pointe discovery, who assists guests in booking all the various experiences available at Terranea—from kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding and surfing to tide pooling, horseback riding, falconry and more.
In 2017, the Terranea guest rooms have undergone additional aesthetic upgrades. Among these enhancements are new décor, new mattresses and bed linens and new furnishings, including replacing existing desks with elegant round marble tables, offering a wider variety of guest uses. These in-room enhancements combined with those completed in 2015 total an impressive $7 million in capital improvements solely invested in the resort’s guest rooms.
Also in 2017, a new grill will open at the resort pool, providing guests another casual outdoor dining option.
Looking ahead, what do the next three to five years have in store for Terranea as it continues to evolve? “One of our biggest evolutions is in the profile of guests and how we service them,” shares Agnelo. “Over time, the profile of our guests has shifted into those seeking adventure. They want to come here to explore and discover. That shift is really critical.”
The resort also recognizes that its guests are highly sophisticated, well-traveled and desire curated experiences that are high-touch, personalized and specific to the location…something they would not find in that many other places in the world.
Adds Agnelo, “In the past it was, ‘Let’s go to Terranea.’ But it’s evolved into, ‘Let’s go to Terranea because it’s the best place to have seafood,’ or ‘It is the best place for a nature hike,’ or ‘It is the best place to go to the spa and get a signature treatment and relax by the ocean.’ But our guests are very specific. They tell us how they want to curate their experience, saying, ‘We’d like to do this hike, but with this twist.’”
In the past, a guest to Terranea may have come to “stay” at the resort, but now a guest may come to fill an item on their bucket list. They may have unusual requests, such as to dine by themselves overlooking the ocean at Catalina Point, or meet with Chef Bernard and create an experiential meal, or do a private wine library dinner. Fortunately the resort can create these micro-moments that transcend guest expectations.
So much so, Terranea enjoys a significant repeat business factor of 35%. “Our guests have no problem splurging for a customized experience,” says Agnelo, “as long as they know it’s the Terranea experience.”