Friday, October 7, 2011

Jupiter Hotel GM Al Munguia puts PDX hospitality on the map

By Ryan J. Prado via

It’s hard to imagine Portland’s hospitality industry without the Jupiter Hotel. For more than six years the former motor inn has attracted exceedingly diverse clientele to Southeast, trading in the baiting of corporate executives, so synonymous with big box hotel chains, to instead welcome—sometimes with a Bear hug—an inclusive guest list.

It’s likewise difficult to think that any of it might have happened without Jupiter general manager Al Munguia.

Munguia, 49, relocated to the Rose City following a distinguished run working for corporate hotels along the West Coast. Originally a student of political science and international relations, Munguia had global ambitions—namely to work for the United Nations. But during college, he accepted a position as a telephone operator at a hotel—a decision that would change the trajectory of his career.

“It was a way of paying the rent, and it just sort of got in my blood,” Munguia explains.

After climbing the corporate ladder at hotel chains like Marriott, Holiday Inn and Starwood, Munguia sought to further his resume—and creativity, and diversify the hotel experience for guests. For the former high school disco dancing champion—yes, really—the general manager position at the Jupiter couldn’t have come at a better time.

“Most of my experience has been nothing like this,” Munguia says of his time with the Jupiter. “That’s one of the reasons why I enjoy this so much. With traditional corporate properties, it’s all recipes that you follow with very little regard to thinking outside the box. Jupiter was just opening up, and speaking to the owners I realized that there was this mass flexibility that was going to allow me to really challenge myself from a creative standpoint.”

For Munguia, the variety has been there since the beginning. Just a few days after accepting the job, Munguia got a taste of this freedom with his first booking: Darklady’s annual Masturbate-a-Thon charity event.
“That moment to me was really [one of], ‘I entered a whole new dimension,’” Munguia says. “We would never touch this—excuse the pun—at Marriott.”

As a gay man, Munguia set to ensuring that the Jupiter’s marketing efforts would welcome the LGBTQ traveler. One of the first phases of that approach was to connect with Community Marketing, Inc. to begin the company’s Travel Alternatives Group (TAG) training. For a hotel to become TAG certified, staff and management undergo diversity training, specifically as it applies to the LGBTQ community. The Jupiter Hotel became Portland’s first TAG-approved property, and is also a member of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA).

“It really is about awareness,” Munguia says. “It’s about those micro-aggressions that we use on a daily basis that we may not really be conscious of in our speech, or in our body language as we interact with people.”

Upon TAG certification, staff and management take an exam designed to assure they can deal effectively and positively with issues sensitive to the LGBTQ community—and, most importantly, says Munguia, have been trained not to make assumptions.

“We all grow up with prejudices, and pre-formulated ideas as to how people want to be treated,” he says. “The certification just lets the LGBTQ traveler know that this property is aware of who they are.”

Linking the entire community to the experience of the Jupiter was a cornerstone strategy for Munguia, and has established the property as a makeshift headquarters for many regional organizations and annual fundraising events. The Oregon Bears’ BearTown has turned to the Jupiter as host hotel and event epicenter.

Similarly, Portland Latino Gay Pride—co-founded by Munguia’s late partner José Ornelas—is a perennial partner, and an organization that until this year held its primary base of operations at the Jupiter. The hotel has also served as host site for the Rose City Softball Association’s Cascade Cup and Pride Northwest functions.

“We have a saying: ‘As in God’s house, all are welcome at the Jupiter,’” Munguia says. “We just don’t care whether you’re gay or straight, black or white, hipster or business suit-by-day. We want people to be able to come and feel accepted and free to be whoever it is that they may be and however it is they define themselves.”

This June Munguia’s efforts were recognized on a grander scale, when Governor John Kitzhaber appointed him to the Oregon Tourism Board. As a member of this administrative body, it’s Munguia’s duty to review spending strategies and allocate funds for grants to increase the state’s viability as a tourist destination. The board’s suggestions and decisions are then implemented by Travel Oregon.

Since Munguia’s appointment came after the 2011-12 strategies were established, his input is likely to be felt more in the coming years of his four-year term.

“As a Latino, I bring that perspective of, ‘What do we need to do from the Oregon perspective to really make Oregon attractive to this segment of the population?”

Munguia explains. “And then as a gay man, I bring that perspective of, ‘What are we as a state doing to promote LGBT tourism to the state?’ Those are going to be my big focuses.”

Under Munguia’s wing, Oregon’s widely touted hospitality isn’t just hype. It’s fact.

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