The Phoenician Resort on Camelback Road in Scottsdale features magnificent luxury with exquisite furnishings and decorative touches, a carefully manicured 27-hole championship golf course, crystal-clear pools and a variety of restaurants – all nestled at the base of Camelback Mountain.
But no matter how ornate or elaborate the buildings and grounds are, they wouldn’t attract the numbers and caliber of people they do if they weren’t also staffed by experienced professionals and employees whose every working moment is geared to making your stay at this resort a memorable occasion.
Overseeing the 1,000+ employees as resort manager of the property since December 2014 is Guy Bittner. Guy came most recently from Seattle, where for 10 years he served as director of operations and hotel manager at The Fairmont Olympic Hotel, which received Fairmont’s Hotel of the Year award in 2012. Prior to that, Guy was director of operations at the Fairmont Orchid in Hawaii for six years and had also spent 10 years in leadership positions at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louis and the Fairmont Winnipeg.
But his real roots are in Beersheva, Israel, the largest city in the Negev desert in the southern part of the country. “My siblings and I like to think that we were each born in a capital,” he says with a smile. “My brother was born in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel; my sister was born in New York, the year my father was on sabbatical. While New York is not actually a capital, its reputation and offering are such that it’s like a capital. And I was born in Beersheva, often called the capital of the Negev.”
Guy proudly shares that in the late 1960s, his father was one of the founders of Ben Gurion University, now called Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
Guy’s wife, Rada, was born and raised in Latvia. But in 1993 she came to Israel through a program called Na’ale, which had just begun the prior year. This life-changing program is sponsored by the Israeli Ministry of Education and the Sochnut (Jewish Agency for Israel) and enables Jewish teenagers from the diaspora to attend the top Israeli high schools and earn a diploma. It is a competitive process with a full scholarship as the “prize.” More than 15,000 teenagers have come to Israel without their parents to be educated and graduate from Israeli high schools. About 90% of the teens have remained in Israel, with about 60% of the parents immigrating, as well. Rada’s parents chose to stay in their home country.
“The life of a hotelier is hardest on the spouse,” Guy acknowledges. “We’ve done a lot of moving around. Rada says she knows that about the time we become very comfortable with a location and friends, that’s about the time we’ll be moving. And things are a bit different now that we have our boys, Ariel, who is 9, and Dorel, who is 5. Ariel got pretty teary at the thought of leaving his friends this time.”
Guy and his family have connected with the local Israeli community and are at least prepared for the climate here in the Valley, since it is pretty similar to that of Israel.
Guy is very pleased with the way things are going at his new location so far. “We’ve had a record 2015 already. With the Super Bowl and all the other major events in the Valley, we’ve had great numbers coming through. Things aren’t quite back to prerecession standards, but they’re on their way.” Guy believes in training all his employees to give their guests “eye-level, welcoming” service to encourage them to come back again.
The Phoenician also makes sure to give back to the community through various charitable events. For a recent Kentucky Derby party, for example, they partnered with After the Homestretch AZ. This is a nonprofit group whose mission is to protect former racehorses through reconditioning, retraining and rehoming. A portion of the event’s proceeds were donated to the group.
Another way the resort staff show they care is by the solution they chose to take care of a general nuisance. The Phoenician’s guests enjoy eating outdoors, of course, but were bothered by hundreds of pesky birds hoping to pick up some tasty morsels. Enter the Phoenician’s tame bird of prey program, introducing controlled natural predators to the scene. The birds – a red tail hawk, a Eurasian eagle-owl, a Barbary Falcon, an African Augur buzzard and others – were all born and raised in captivity for educational purposes. They perch on the arms of Master Falconer Robby Sinkler and his trained staff as they stroll around the property. Though they are tethered and therefore unable to attack the scavenger birds, the little birds don’t realize that and quickly make their way back to the trees.
The Phoenician houses the exotic birds in a specially built aviary next to its golf course. Many of the feathered creatures take part in regular Friday and Saturday night shows for the guests. The resort’s South American King Vulture, Zopilote Rey, reenacts the “Flight of the Phoenix” while the magnificent Arizona setting sun casts an array of light and shadow on the nearby Camelback Mountain.