After taking the recession’s roughest ride the resort segment is showing signs of bouncing back, led by new properties that combine impressive facilities with innovative and distinctive offers.
By their nature and training, resort managers are always upbeat, no matter what might get thrown at them. But last year at this time, even the sunniest of the breed found it difficult, when asked how things were going, to provide more than a not-too-convincing response that everything was OK.
A year ago, the resort world was not only seeing a sharp drop in business, it had also had been singled out as a symbol of the corporate excess that had helped to send the economy into freefall. Even President Obama piled on, saying he didn’t think it looked good for anyone to be going to meetings in Vegas in the midst of the financial crisis.
All of this contributed to a grim scene that also saw storied properties like The Greenbrier, which once stood as an awe-inspiring symbol of all that a resort could be, fall to the brink of bankruptcy and, even worse, prompt discussions that the only way to save the property would be to convert part of it into a casino.
Getting the Feeling Back
Less than a year later, things are still quite a ways from being all back rubs and hot towels again for the resort segment. Properties are still licking their wounds as they start the slow recovery from what ended up as not only a bad year for meeting and group business, but for individual “leisure” visits as well.
Already, though, more resort managers are now able to say things are OK with a lot more conviction and believability—especially those at properties that have responded to the recession’s wakeup call by reassessing and revamping their offers to provide a better fit with what today’s corporate and individual resort customers are looking for.
That means less reliance on big, opulent meetings, more catering to smaller groups with customized packages, and providing event customers of all sizes with a more diverse selection of activities and services.
It also means doing more to balance the mix between group and leisure customers, by stepping up efforts to attract families and individual guests—not only those from afar who would make a resort a destination for an extended vacation, but also locals who can be lured to use the restaurants, spa and other attractions of the property on a regular basis.
And for all customer segments, resorts are placing a renewed emphasis on the special access and insights that their staff can provide to the history, culture, and natural and commercial attractions in a property’s surrounding area.
While these efforts are helping existing resorts to bounce back, promising new projects are also coming on stream, backed by progressive new owners who swallowed hard and pushed them through to completion even during the depths of the downturn, when it looked like anyone would be crazy to ever sink another dollar into the segment. These new properties are also demonstrating that they, too, have put a lot of thought into how they can distinguish themselves through new approaches to resort management success.
At the new Primland Resort in Meadows of Dan, Va., for example, a scenic Donald Steel-designed golf course has been combined with a unique observatory (C&RB, November 2009) and a wide range of other amenities, to have the property well-positioned to attract groups and individuals around the 75th anniversary of the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway that will be observed in 2010.
|Vice President Steve Helms (third from right) and General Manager Brooks Bradbury (third from left) lead a staff that is ready to offer a creative mix of activities and services to guests at Virginia’s new Primland Resort.|
Then there’s the new Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain, in Marana, Ariz., just outside of Tucson. The property’s 250-room hotel opened in mid-December of 2009, to complete a project that began with last January’s opening of the Dove Mountain Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, which features 27 holes of Jack Nicklaus Signature-designed courses, divided into three distinctive 9-hole tracks, and is now the new site of the
Accenture Match Play Championships.
Dove Mountain is the largest Ritz-Carlton development in the continental U. S., occupying 850 acres, and its first in Arizona. But earlier this year, when a travel writer for The New York Times interviewed Stephen Deucker, Director of Sales and Marketing, about the project, her first question didn’t ask about any of those distinctions. She just wanted to know why anyone would open a new property at this time and how it could possibly succeed, especially in an area of the country that is already replete with well-established resorts.
Deucker’s answer is that even a proven brand like Ritz-Carlton can find new ways to approach the business and craft a compelling offer. And make no mistake, he adds, Dove Mountain is not your father’s, or grandfather’s, Ritz-Carlton—and not only because the chef in its featured restaurant has a Mohawk haircut and wears chef’s whites with his special skull logo.
|To compete for business that has traditionally gravitated to golf- and tennis-focused locations, properties such as Tucson’s recently renovated Westward Look Resort seek to gain distinction through unique approaches to spa services, food-and-beverage offers and other amenities.|
“We don’t have much in common with the Ritz-Carlton in Naples, where guests still wear tuxedos to dinner and are served by staff wearing white gloves,” Deucker notes. “There’s nothing wrong with that approach; it fits what’s right for that market. But here, things will be more relaxed, to adapt to the lifestyle of this region. And the emphasis will be on giving guests every opportunity to have a full Southwestern experience.
“The owners did a great job of designing the building to ‘bring the outside in,’ with views of the surrounding scenery everywhere you turn,” he adds. “And our staff will be focused on engaging guests to invite them to see and learn all about what makes this setting unique.
“When someone comes to the fitness room early in the morning, for example, our instructors will be prepared to ask them if they’d like to consider, as an alternative to their usual workout, a 30-minute guided hike in the mountains, during which they’ll get stretched out just as well and burn the same number of calories—but do so while watching the sun come up over rocks with petroglyphs that were carved into them thousands of years ago by the Hohokam Indians.
“You can ride an exercise bike anywhere, and if that’s still what you want to do here, that’s fine,” Deucker says. “But we’re going to do all we can to try to make every part of your ‘typical’ resort experience anything but that, as something you’ll not only always remember but will want to go back and tell everyone about how different it was.“
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