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31 Questions for… Harold Rapoza Jr., Hotel del Coronado

31 Questions for… Harold Rapoza Jr., Hotel del Coronado

Born and raised in Hawaii, Harold Rapoza Jr.’s first pilgrimage to the mainland as a young boy came in the form of every child’s dream: a trip to Disneyland. With a father who worked as a hotel general manager for most of his career, Rapoza nearly grew up in hotels, much to his delight.

“There were times in my life when we lived on property, and being in the hotels and meeting so many people got me interested in this industry,” remembers Rapoza, who took a job with Hilton fresh out of Hawaii Pacific University and this April will celebrate 27 years with the company.

After a little more than six years as GM of the 1,606-room Hilton Anatole in Dallas, he and his wife, Michele, traded in their boots for flip-flops and moved to San Diego last summer. Rapoza was brought on as GM of Hotel del Coronado to assist with bringing the historic property under the Hilton umbrella (Curio Collection). The role was an extremely important—and potentially volatile—one, given the iconic reputation of “the Del,” which celebrates its 130th birthday this month.

“There were some nerves in how we transitioned this hotel with 1,200 team members,” says Rapoza.

It was also a role he was born to take on. Rapoza has established his career around building strong teams, surrounding himself with talented people and setting them up for success. Many of the players he’s brought onto his team at past hotels have gone on to become GMs elsewhere.

“People management is critical in our industry, and communication is the biggest part of any successful organization,” says Rapoza. “I think that’s my biggest strength and what I really want to be known for.”

Must-have hotel amenity?
Good food and beverage

In-flight reading material?
I love travel magazines and Bon Appetit because I like looking at what other destinations have to offer for F&B and culinary experiences.

Any pets?
We did have a pug that passed away last year.

What travel souvenir do you collect?
I’m a big collector of sports memorabilia. I try to collect something from each city I visit. I have a Pete Rose signed bat, a Wayne Gretzky hockey stick, a signed Walter Payton helmet… when I was in Dallas, it was all in my office. But moving to San Diego we had to downsize, so it’s now in a storage unit.

What was the last place you traveled that surprised you?
We went to Cabo [San Lucas], to the Hilton Los Cabos Resort. I was pleasantly surprised with the F&B, the service, and the overall experience of the hotel and the culture.

Favorite travel companion?
My wife

 Harold and Michele Rapoza on a recent vacation together.

Harold and Michele Rapoza on a recent vacation together.

Out-of-office: Yes or no?
Surprisingly I do not use it. I’m always connected through various tablets and phones.

What suitcase do you use?
Samsonite

Uber or Lyft?
Uber

What is your first travel experience you remember?
As a little kid growing up in Hawaii, my parents took my brother, sister and me to Disneyland. It was my first time to the mainland. Now I have three kids (all adults, ages 28, 26 and 20). When I worked in Anaheim for 8.5 years with Hilton, they gave all the GMs a pass to get three people into Disneyland any day of the year, so my daughter—the youngest—pretty much lived at Disneyland.

Favorite travel snack?
I’m a health freak. I love eating Pure Protein bars or almonds. 

On-the-go wellness hacks?
I drink a plant-based protein shake every morning, so I always travel with that. I love working out before I start my day and I try to eat healthy. On sales trips, you’re always entertaining and going to restaurants, so I try to stay light on the food.

Pain points of traveling?
The hustle and bustle of getting through the airport, and delays

Biggest fear relating to travel?
It can be frustrating when flights are cancelled. After a long trip, my biggest fear is just making sure I get home in time.

Best spontaneous travel experience?
Now that we live in Southern California, my wife and I love getting in the car and heading up the coast to spend the night at one of the beach cities. We’ve done that a few times over the last few months, to Laguna and Huntington.

Weirdest item in your carry-on?
Juice Plus capsules

One state you haven’t been to?
We are talking about going up to the northeast to Connecticut and Rhode Island. I’ve been to Boston once but would love to travel there and head down the coast.

One way travel has inspired the way you cook/eat?
When I went to Japan on a business trip, the portion sizes were smaller, and the food was really fresh and good. Coming back to the States, you realize the portion sizes are so large. Now when my wife and I cook, we tend to do smaller portions.

Travel lesson learned the hard way?
Once our flight got canceled out of Las Vegas coming back to California Instead of trying to get on the next flight standby, we ended up renting a car and driving back. It was during the holidays, so it took us eight hours to get back to L.A. Lesson learned: just wait.

Airline loyalty?
American Airlines, since I lived in Dallas. Hilton also has a strong partnership with them.

How do you stay informed about travel trends?
Hilton does a great job compiling daily news briefings each morning through Skift and other sources. There’s a section for Hilton news, industry news and competitor news.

Where do you take visitors in your hometown?
Coronado is such a unique area. We have a partnership with Seaforth Boat Rentals, so I like to take people out on the bay sailing.

Tried-and-true jet lag remedy?
When I come back from long trips I try to get back on the time zone I’m in. Stay up during the day and get to bed at night.

Favorite airports?
DFW and Dallas-Love Field

How do you spend wait times when traveling?
Usually I’m on my computer catching up on emails or making phone calls.

Travel gadget/product you can’t live without?
iPad

Typical travel uniform?
I try to be as comfortable as possible. If I don’t have to go straight to a meeting when I land, I’ll be in jeans and a pullover or casual shirt. 

First thing you do upon returning home from a long trip?
Try to unwind, disconnect and hit the gym or take a long walk. I try to not get into any work mode. 

Plan every detail or let it happen as it may?
Plan every detail. I live and die by my Outlook calendar.

One thing you miss most about your own home when you’re away?
Being in my own bed and feeling connected to my home experience.

An interesting person you’ve met during travel recently?I recently went to Atlanta to visit some friends and catch an NFL game. We were able to meet the family of the late Herman J. Russell, Sr., who was a big developer there and did a lot for the city.

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