The stars came out for Southern Arizona’s premier entertainment and hospitality destination – literally. For the first ever, Forbes Travel Guide awarded its prestigious Four Star Award to a Tucson casino resort. The highly regarded publication recently unveiled its 55th annual listing of Star Award-winning hospitality establishments worldwide, naming Casino Del Sol Resort, Spa and Conference Center to the distinguished list.
Along with its full-service Hiapsi Spa and already award-winning PY Steakhouse (home of the universe’s best ribeye based on my “selfless research”), the Resort will be showcased along with the other 2013 award winners on Startle.com, the online home of Forbes Travel Guide.
The next project for the management of the recently completed 215-room, 161,000-square-foot resort to consider will be to build a larger “trophy case,” as they add the Four Star Award to their AAA Four-Diamond destination rating. And with the Casino’s 18-hole, par 72-hole Notah Begay III designed championship golf course scheduled to join the impressive amenities in 2013, more honors are sure to follow.
The Four Star Award represents the fruits of an expansion effort that began just a few short years ago. The tribe began construction on the exceptional hotel and convention center late in 2010 and completed it in time for an 11/11/11 grand opening.
But without question the most remarkable thing about the grand hotel is that it was completed under budget and ahead of schedule during one of the worst economic periods in the state’s history. And they managed to do it while using local contractors.
Sol Casinos’ new Chief Executive Officer Alex Amador was even surprised at the extraordinary feat. “The economy wasn’t so good. There were a lot of people out of work. We actually created more jobs at that time. The contractors and subcontractors were an extra 325 jobs. The workers were local contractors. That actually helped us because if there are people out of work, you’re gonna get some of the best you can find.”
In some cases Sol Casinos actually paid more to get Tucson people. The use of local workers is just one example of the tribe’s continuing commitment to the Southern Arizona community. “It’s a Council philosophy,” said the unassuming Amador. “It’s a community partnership, whether it’s through the schools or just the surrounding community.”
The significance of the recent accolades wasn’t lost on the new CEO, professing that Sol Casinos was “honored to receive three of the highest awards our industry can bestow and thankful to all of our team members who helped make it possible.”
“We recognize this is a tremendous accomplishment for the resort and one that will continue to help grow our reputation as a destination of choice for the leisure and business traveler when they come to Southern Arizona.”
After making the trek north for too many years, music fans will also be traveling south on Interstate 10 more to catch their favorite artists. Over the last few years, concertgoers have noticed that the roads actually do travel south as Casino Del Sol has continued to bring in quality acts to Anselmo Valencia Amphitheater, its 5,000-seat open-air concert venue.
Over the last three years, Tucsonans have enjoyed the likes of The Goo Goo Dolls, Roger Daltrey, Robert Plant, Rihanna, The Moody Blues, Tim McGraw – the list is endless. This season alone, fans feasted on the likes of ZZ Top, The Beach Boys 50th Anniversary Tour, and Sixto “Sugar Man” Rodriguez.
Amador plans to continue the progression of outstanding shows established by his predecessor, Wendell Long. “We do put on a lot of great shows. Sometimes we do a show for branding purposes, knowing that it’s not going to be in the best interest of our bottom line. But our branding puts us in a great position because of the shows you mention.”
Don’t be surprised as the awards and accolades continue to roll in “under new management.” Amador, one of five candidates groomed as possible nominees to replace the departing Long, prepared for the transition as part of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe’s STEP (Supporting Tribal Employment Partnership) program. The unique plan trains employees that are members of the tribe in professional development and management succession.
“Both of my maternal grandparents are full-blooded Pascua Yaqui tribal members, so it’s very meaningful for me to advance my career at a place that encourages the professional and personal growth of its employees and the tribe,” pronounced the appreciative Amador.
Amador moved to Tucson after graduating from Fresno State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration in 2000, to give back to the community that provided him scholarship assistance during his studies.
After a period of employment within tribal government, Amador began with Casino Del Sol’s operations in 2004, rapidly advancing through the STEP program. Since that time, the new CEO has worked in a number of different positions including operations analyst, controller, director of financial operations, and most recently, assistant director of marketing.
Amador could only chuckle when I asked him if his years of training had prepared to him to be “handed the “keys to a Maserati.” But after spending some time chatting with Casino Del Sol’s new driver, I’m convinced that he’s going to keep the pedal to the metal…