Tulalip Hotel’s Executive V.P. Brett Magnan chosen SCBJ’s 2009 Executive of the Year

  • <b>By John Wolcott SCBJ Editor</b>
  • Monday, April 6, 2009 4:55pm

When Brett Magnan became vice president of hotel operations for the Tulalip Resort &Spa in Quil Ceda Village three years ago, there was only an empty patch of earth to manage.

There was no $130 million hotel with 370 rooms spread over 12 floors, no 400 employees, no top ranked Day Spa, no giant convention center, no landscaped indoor pool, no two-story wooden totem poles in the lobby and, of course, no lobby. It’s gotten a whole lot more complicated for him since then, but he’s never wavered in his love for the hospitality industr y he’s known since his youth.

“When I came here, I worked with the tribal leaders to create a facility that would reflect their long-time vision for promoting their culture and establishing a resort hotel and convention center that would — with the well established casino — make their properties a worldclass resort destination,” he said.

After many compromises and adjustments to the original plan, he helped guide the planning and later the construction of the new facility. Along with Ken Kettler, who arrived at the same time to serve as president and CEO of the overall Tulalip Resort Casino, including the hotel, Magnan said they achieved what the Tulalips had dreamed of doing.

“We have a four-star hotel suitable for a world destination resort, along with the amenities and attractions that support it in Quil Ceda Village,” he said. “Working with the Economic Development Council of Snohomish County and County Executive Aaron Reardon, we became the host hotel for the international Skate America and we’re preparing for the crowds coming for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, B.C.”

Involvement in two communitiies

He’s been active with the Marysville Tulalip Chamber of Commerce as well as the Tulalip Tribes, also recently joining the board of directors of Junior Achievement in Snohomish County.

“I really live in another country here and I’m enjoying going to Salmon Ceremonies as well as Marysville Strawberry Festival events, sharing the cultures of each one,” he said. Within the hotel, he’s established a Tulalip Hospitality culture within his 800 staff and is weathering the slump in the economy by watching expenses and continuing to promote the hotel. “We’re still doing well and we have no plans for laying off any employees,” he said.

Life as a well-traveled `hotel brat’

Born in Denver, he soon became a traveling `hotel brat’ when he was young, he said, not just visiting hotels but living in them.

“My father was president and CEO of Westin Hotels &Resorts Worldwide,” he said. “That gave me real insight into the hospitality industry. Being his son was a challenge for me, though, later on in the business. But it was good for me because I had to work harder and work longer hours that others to prove myself.”

After living in Singapore for six years, while his father was assigned there, his family moved to Seattle in 1980. Following his graduation from Mercer Island High School, he headed to Washington State University to earn his degree in hospitality and business management. Then, he worked 13 years with the Westin Corp., including in Seattle, then spent two years at the Sorrento Hotel. He helped open Willows Lodge in Woodinville, then became manager there.

“Interestingly, we hosted a group of hotel executives from the Green Valley Ranch in Las Vegas, who later hired me to help build a 300-room addition to a 200-room hotel, plus a convention center and a 50,000-square-foot spa, very much like the Tulalip facility,” he said.

`Show time’ on American Casino

“Las Vegas was a weird part of my life … for three seasons, I was one of a dozen people featured on American Casino for the Travel and Discovery channels, even while we were building the hotel and spa … I think the shows are into re-runs now,” he said, grinning.

Green Valley was an opportune assignment, too, he discovered. When the hotel hosted a group from the Tulalip Tribes, during their search for help with their hotel project, Magnan found he would be moving again, back to Washington.

“We talked a lot about what they should do and what to avoid. Six months later, they flew me up for an interview and the rest is history,” he said.

The Tulalip Tribes’ $130 million, 12story Tulalip Resort Casino Hotel &Spa opened in mid-2008 in Quil Ceda Village, fulfilling the Tulalips’ vision of creating a global destination resort that would provide a wide range of luxury lodging, gaming, entertainment, shopping and dining for its visitors. But that vision continues. Plans are already drawn for a second 12-story hotel that would link to the existing hotel on the southwest side of the casino, said Magnan.

Exceeding expectations Magnan’s goal

One of the reactions from guests that Magnan likes best is when people tell him the unique hotel, its expansive rooms, giant indoor pool, varied restaurants, Northwest decor and Tulalip artwork “exceeded their expectations.”

People know about “Southern Hospitality” and “Aloha Hospitality,” he said, but he wants the Tulalip resort to become known for its own cultural brand of welcoming hospitality. Much of the training we provided for the 800 new employees at the hotel — which brought total hotel, resort and casino jobs to 2,400 people — involved instilling a commitment to creating a positive experience for guests, at a level beyond their expectations. The hotel’s motto is: “Our best today. Better tomorrow.”

Great reactions began with the Aug. 15, 2008 opening, attended by hundreds of guests; state, county and city officials; vendors; tourism bureaus, Boeing and other potential corporate customers, he said, along with more than 400 tribal members.

“It was an opportunity to show what we could do and we pulled out all the stops,” Magnan said. “We’ve proven our ability to serve nearly 1,500 banquet meals at once while having pool parties, entertainment and a wide variety of foods.”

Magnan works as tirelessly at marketing the hotel, the Tulalip Tribes and the adjacent Marysville community as he does overseeing operatons at the resort. It’s paying off, he said.

“We’ve had people and groups who normally don’t think about coming this far north (from King County and other areas) to visit a casino or book a conference. But so far those who come up here to see us have all signed up,” he said.

In the months after the hotel’s opening, room occupancy was above 80 percent on average, with weekends sold out. More revenues flowed in from movie rentals, restaurant meals, entertainment venues and the hotel’s gift store and floral shop, he said. Each room has free high-speed Internet service and other value-added features, including free local telephone calling, within a `local’ area that goes far beyond just Marysville.

“We also have free parking and valet service and a much lower room tax than in the Seattle area, which adds to the attraction,” he said.

Adjacent to the hotel’s lobby is the Tulalip Casino’s 192,000-square-foot of gaming. Nearby is the 3,000-seat Tulalip Amphitheatre used for summer music entertainment and 110 stores at Quil Ceda Villages’ Seattle Premium Outlet Mall.

Giant story-poles welcome guest

In the lobby are three giant Tulalip story-poles, including the 19-foot-tall Welcome Pole depicting a Tulalip man with arms outstretched in the traditional tribal sign of peace. The other two, each 24-feet-tall, include the Gambling Pole, with its man playing Slahal with a bear, and the Story Pole, representing traditional stories from hundreds of years of Tulalip culture.

Significant attractions at the hotel include the T-Spa on the second floor, a 14,000-square-foot luxury spa with 16 treatment rooms and services that include a manicure, pedicure, makeup, massage therapy and a wellness program. Men’s and women’s locker rooms include Eucalyptus steam rooms tiled in mosaics, saunas built from cedar, and rock grotto showers.

Restaurant options include fine dining in the elegant setting at Tulalip Bay; Pacific Northwest salmon and seafood at Blackfish; the casual, relaxing environment at Cedars Café; a selection of international dishes at Eagles Buffet and sandwiches, pizza and pastries at Canoes Carvery.

A new high-energy lounge is a unique new nightspot with visual presentations that include the electric glow of holographic, backlit signage at the entrance and floor panels of “liquid lava” that swirl and change with each step. The gallery lounge, near the lobby, has a see-through fireplace, museum-quality Tulalip tribal art and red, white and black furnishings. A coffee bar, in the lobby of the hotel, offers complete beverage service using Tulalip’s Killer Coffee with pastries.

The hotel’s regular guest rooms on nine floors are large (500-square-feet compared to an average of 300-square-foot or less in the region), with rates starting at the mid $100s per night. Each one is fitted with a large-screen television set, a luxurious bathroom and a warm, high-quality décor with rich, warm woods and fabrics.

The hotel’s 18 Orca suites in the hotel offer even more spacious accommodations and the upper floors include five luxury suites in special Asian, technology, sports and entertainment themes. On the top floor is the 3,000-squarefoot Tulalip Suite, with a view of the Cascade Mountains for $5,000 per night.

Life with the Magnan family

“We have a strong family life,” said Brett Magnan. “My spare time is primarily spent with them, including our boat trips to San Juan Islands in the summer and school activities, as well as skiing whenever we can.”

He and his wife, Lana, have five children — Lauren, 19, is at Carroll College in Montana; Michael, 17, and Mathew, 15, are at Marysville’s Arts &Technology magnet school; and Anna, 4, and Joshua, 2.

Since his first wife’s death from breast cancer 10 years ago, he’s also been highly supportive of efforts to cure that disease.

His full life leaves little time for hobbies, he said, but he’s making time to make wine, through an opportunity with Woodinville Cellars. Through his hotel work he’s had experience with wine buying as well as providing classes for his hotel staff.

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