Mission Inn named business of the year

Employees have something to celebrate this week at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa. The Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce has named the luxurious hotel “Business of the Year,” making it the first hotel to receive the award.

The resort is being recognized not only for its excellence in lodging, but also for its leadership and community service in the Valley.

“It’s awesome,” said resort spokeswoman Michelle Heston on receiving the award. “We are honored and we are proud and excited, and very humbled.”

The resort’s rich history can be traced back to the Native Americans who used the same sacred mineral waters found in the 40,000-square-foot European spa today.

The hotel struggled through the Depression but regained prosperity after a Grass Valley hotelier bought it in 1933.

The hotel fell under control of the Navy in World War II as a place for soldiers’ relaxation, and The Big 3 restaurant bolstered itself as a hangout for tourists and locals alike. It wasn’t until a massive 1980 renovation that Sonoma Mission Inn

was restored to its 1920s splendor.

But for Heston, who has worked at the hotel for 10 years, what makes the hotel unique is its authentic commitment to Valley colleagues, guests and the community. This genuine desire to not only run a great business, but to help the local community is engrained in the Fairmont culture, she said, adding it can be seen in all aspects of the corporation, from the president in the Canadian headquarters to the Sonoma location’s department heads.

“Your commitment to community is tremendous,” the chamber’s Executive Director Jennifer Yankovich wrote in a letter to Heston and General Manager Rick Corcoran. Yankovich went on to touch on the resort’s distinctions, which are plenty and prestigious, ranging from AAA Four Diamond Hotel designation to Forbes Travel Guide’s “Top 5 Coolest Hotel Hot Pools,” to NorthBay Business Journal’s “Best Places to Work” list and inclusion of the hotel’s Michelin star-rated Sante restaurant in the Elite Traveler’s “Top 100 Restaurants in the World.”

The Sonoma Mission Inn is deemed Business of the Year, Yankovich said, “for the unparalleled contributions to our local economy, community organizations, schools and public services that serve to promote Sonoma Valley as a world class visitor destination and enhance the quality of life for residents.”

“We are touching all areas of what matters in the community, from education to sustainability, because we truly believe in engaging and taking care of it,” added Heston.

While noting there are many other businesses doing great things in the Valley, Heston said she feels blessed to work for a business that is taking community involvement seriously. “We are always looking to find a way to help and to give back,” she said, adding the business is open to partnering with organizations in need.

Sonoma Mission Inn’s philanthropic spirit presents itself in the hotel’s various volunteer activities.

The company’s employees serve on many community organization boards, volunteer time in neighborhood organizations and projects, donate money and seek funding for area schools and youth programs.

One of the biggest areas of focus, according to Heston, is fostering a strong public education system in a time of limited funding, which the hotel does through partnerships like that with El Verano School. It also has a partnership with the Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance, with which a number of hotel employees serve as volunteers and mentors.

The hotel has also made a commitment to sustainability, giving $10,000 to Sonoma Valley High School’s agricultural garden and partnering with Sonoma Ecology Center on numerous projects.

Heston says the hotel will still strive to do more and better the community. “Now that we have this award, we will continue to plan on doing what we are doing and find additional opportunities where we can lend a hand.”