Follow-Up File: High ratings don’t always fill the rooms

Name: George Marschall

Job: General manager

Business: Pelican Cove Inn and Sea Otter Inn

What he said then:

In late 2008, The Tribune noted that Pelican Cove Inn in Cambria earned the AAA Four Diamond Award from The Automobile Club of Southern California.

At the time, only two other properties in San Luis Obispo County had that rating: Blue Whale Inn Bed & Breakfast and Cayucos Sunset Inn.

About 4 percent of more than 57,000 hotels approved by the travel organization earn a four-diamond designation. Ratings are included in AAA’s annual TourBook for Southern California and Las Vegas.

The 48-room inn on Moonstone Beach Drive earned the rating nearly a year after completing enhancements aimed at securing the honor, George Marschall said.

Pelican Cove is owned by Dirk Winter’s Moonstone Hotel Properties. It also operates Cambria Pines Lodge and Sea Otter Inn in the town, plus four hotels and resorts in Monterey, Carmel and Oregon.

What he says now:

Travelers have been more cost-conscious in recent years, so the four-diamond rating may not attract customers as it might have otherwise.

“It’s been hard to measure the impact,” Marschall said. “Even if it isn’t bringing all the income we want, it will.”

Last year, Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa in Pismo Beach became the fourth facility in the county to earn the honor.

The area has no five-diamond properties.

Pelican Cove Inn — called Pelican Suites before its 2005 acquisition of Cypress Cove Inn next door — previously had a four-diamond rating.

It lost it early in the decade due to changes in the AAA points system, Marschall said. Rooms in the new building also needed upgrades, such as crown molding and granite counters, to earn sufficient points.

Enhancements made since 2006 cost an estimated $200,000, Marschall said. After a boom year in 2007, the inn recouped that investment even before improving its AAA rating.

The general manager could not release occupancy or income figures. But he said that after a few years of declining bookings, 2010 was about even with 2009. He expects to see an increase this year.

Customers who shrink from Pelican Cove’s average rate of about $250 a night are referred to properties such as Sea Otter, which charges an average of about $150.

To draw customers, Moonstone properties have expanded web discounts on sites such as Expedia, Travelocity, Yelp and Travelzoo.

To encourage repeat business, Pelican Cove offers comment cards that are entered into a drawing when returned. If a guest complains, an employee follows up personally.

“We get thousands of (comment cards) now,” Marschall said. “We do everything in our power to make that person happy.”

— Raven J. Railey