Resorts, lodges diversify, ‘go with the flow’ to capture more of tourism sector

(originally published in the November-December 2006 issue of Western Hotelier magazine)

By John Geary

Just as individuals turn to yoga to increase their flexibility, many resorts and lodges are looking to develop increasingly flexible strategies to survive and thrive in the increasingly competitive tourism jungle.

Will that be smoking or non?

Response to the issue of smoking-versus-non smoking rooms does depend on how a resort brands itself, what niche it occupies, but by and large, does not seem to be a great concern.

Dale Wallis, general manager of Manitoba’s Elkhorn Resort, Spa and Conference Centre, says the smoking issue was virtually a non-issue for their operations.

“We made a decision to have all our rooms non-smoking and piggybacked it onto our restaurant-lounge well before we had to,” he says.

They also applied that ban to their timeshare properties, which did create a bit of a stir, at least more so than the non-smoking policy in their other facilities.

“We don’t get a lot of complaints about our resort rooms, but with the timeshares, because people behave as if they own the facility, they’re a little bit more vocal, there.”

Oak Bay Marine Group operates seven resorts in B.C., and Jill Smillie, marketing director, says smoking is not an issue for them.

“Not at all. We have a pub and restaurants with large patios and balconies, and if people want to smoke, guests can smoke outside,” she says.

“Smoking really has not had an impact in the resort sector that it has in the urban markets,” says Jeff Stipec, the executive vice president and COO of Intrawest Corporation, a company that owns a group of destination resorts around the world. “People go up to the mountains for fresh air and activities, so we attract a different group.”

To pamper or not to pamper...that is the (spa) question

The spa side of the business represents a growing market, as increasing numbers of people want pampering.

“In opening a spa, there are different levels an operator can choose to go into, ranging from a couple of massage rooms in the hotel to a full-blown spa facility with all kinds of amenities,” says Wallis.

Regardless of the level or types of spa service offered, staffing seems to be one of the biggest challenges.

“Right across the country, it’s difficult to find enough qualified people to provide the level of service you want,” says Wallis. “Of course, that’s true not just for spa aspects, but for the industry in general.”

Smillie echoes that.

“Because of our location – we’re not in big urban centres – and because we’re seasonal, getting and keeping qualified staff is always an issue for us,” she says.

Timeshare approaches changing

Interval International manages a vacation exchange network includes more than 2,000 resorts and more than 1.8 million member families worldwide. The company provides it members - vacation owners from around the world - with comprehensive timeshare exchange services at Interval-affiliated resorts. Interval does not own or manage the properties.

David Gilbert, executive vice president of resort sales and marketing for Interval says timeshare programs are much more flexible than they used to be.

“The developer, say, in Fairmont, B.C., builds a resort and sells the opportunity to ‘own’ a week, and has the ability to take that week and exchange it in any one of over 2,000 resorts around the world,” he says. “So when you buy a timeshare at Fairmont, you can take it there, or relinquish it to Interval and then pick a week out of the system to go to the Caribbean or Hawaii or another destination around the world.”

Gilbert says one of the biggest challenges in timeshares is the competition for real estate in vacation destination market. Developers need to cultivate unique strategies to meet these challenges.

“Developers are looking at markets that are more seasonal,” he says. “They’re also enhancing the indoor amenity components. For example, an affiliate in Virginia just built a $33 Million indoor water park. By having it indoors, they’ve softened that seasonality factor.”

Package flexibility a key

Because a big part of Oak Bay’s appeal is its fishing charter packages, fishing regulations exert a considerable influence on their success.

“If the regulations are favourable, we do well,” says Susan Goult, director of sales.

With so many factors out of their control, management has to be very flexible and ready to respond quickly to changes.

“We always have a ‘Plan B’,” says Goult. “We have to always think outside the box to attract our share of the market.”

Resorts more flexible

Like Oak Bay, increasing numbers of resorts are incorporating sports and ecotourism activities along with spa packages in their offerings. Not only do operators have to be more flexible in what they offer, it is becoming more important about how they offer their packages.

“People aren’t booking in the same patterns they used to,” says Stipec. “The windows are a lot tighter now, which makes it a little tougher. You have to create that flexibility in how we operate.

“People don’t typically buy the packaged products that were prevalent four or five years ago. They want to pick and choose, have more control over what they do, and when they do it.”