Inaugural Resort Management Conference
|ST. LOUIS, May 1, 2001 – Earlier this month,
more than 150 resort professionals from around the world attended the inaugural
Resort Management Conference in Vail, Colo. The International Resort
Managers Association (IRMA), the University of Denver, and Resort Management
magazine developed the conference, which addressed the unique issues facing
resort management professionals.
“The conference was a huge success,” said Anita L. Bauer, executive vice president of IRMA. “We had attendees from resorts with 12 rooms and from such world-renowned destinations as Singapore.”
Just before the opening session of the Conference in Vail a manager of a smaller resort approached the organizers in the coffee break area. He said that he first became interested in the conferences because of the quality he had seen in Resort Management & Operations magazine. But the actual decision to attend the conference was a “leap of faith,” he said.
Similar leaps of faith, generous donations of time and knowledge, and an overall spirit of collegiality resulted in a conference that promises to serve as a jumping-off place for conferences to come. Kirby Payne, incoming chairman of the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) noted, “It occurred to me that if you hadn’t told people it was the first IRMA conference they wouldnever have known. It was very well planned and smoothly executed.”
Based on the evaluations and informal comments, which the conference’s organizers ---- The University of Denver, the International Resort Managers Association, and Resort Management magazine ---- received from attendees, on a scale of one to 10, the conference scored an 11.
Those in attendance came from resort with only 12 keys, as well as from world-renowned destination resorts. They came from Utah, New York, California, and Colorado ---- and from Canada, Spain, England, and Singapore. Evaluations of both the sessions and the entire conference showed that the attendees were impressed with the quality of the education and the overall presentation.
Most of the credit for the programming goes to Peter Rainsford, director of the school of Hotel, Restaurant, and Tourism Management at the Daniels College of Business, University of Denver. He was assisted by seven remarkable students from the Hotel School ---- Heather Barrineau, Carla Gilbert, Kimberly Giblin, Jeff Gillis, Darryl Law, Nichole Salankey, and Anderson Spensley ---- who flawlessly organized and ran the “back of the house” details of the conference as a practicum project. Rainsford assembled an amazing array of speakers and panelists.
At the opening session, for example, Michelle Russo, senior analyst for Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown, presented her firm’s analysis of the resort market for the coming year. The panel fielding questions from the audience included AHLA’s Payne, Steven Bartolin, president and CEO of the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, CO; and Michael Hardisty, managing director of the Hotel de Coronado in Coronado, CA.
In the second general Session, attendees had an opportunity to weigh in on operational issues affecting their facilities. Wireless interactive voting devices recorded their input and then immediately graphed the results on a projection computer screen. Bartolin, Hardisty, and Payne commented on the audience’s response and answered questions from the audience.
Bartolin, for example, expects that group bookings will attempt to pull out because of the economic downturn, and that they would need to be replaced with an increased amount of transient bookings. He noted, however, that very strong contracts have prevented his facility from losing much business as a result of the economy. Hardisty said that even with economic penalties The Del has seen some cancellations, simply because corporations don’t wish to send a negative message by holding a meeting in an elaborate resort while they are laying off employees.
Breakout sessions proved popular almost without exception. One of the favorite speakers was Stowe Shoemaker, and associate professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. Shoemaker presented two sessions, one on customer loyalty and the other on pricing decision-making.
A point that was made again and again during the conference is that building repeat business ---- getting guests to come back to “their resort” ---- is a significant trait that differentiates resorts from other overnight hospitality venues. Using that premise as a launching point, Shoemaker introduced a grid demonstrating the long-term value in dollars and cents of maintaining customer loyalty.
A guest who says that he or she is “satisfied,” Shoemaker said, is not the same as one who will repurchase. It is how a resort handles the inevitable failures of service that will in the long run determine its success in retaining repeat business.
“The complaint is a gift,” Shoemaker said, “because it defines what it is our customer wants.” It is not enough to address the problem without attempting to remedy the underlying cause. Shoemaker noted that the last thing a guest wants to hear from resort staff when a problem occurs is, “That happens all of the time.” In order to genuinely improve, he said, management must encourage input from staff about failures of service.
Other particularly popular sessions included panel presentations on human resource issues led by Cindy Clark, director of human resources for the Broadmoor, and two sessions on trends in hospitality design led by Thomas Ricca, president of Thomas Ricca & Associates. Also well-attended were case studies, such as one on the dramatic makeover of Sunriver Resort in Sunriver, OR that was given by Thomas Luersen, managing director.
At the completion of the lecture and panel sessions, a number of attendess elected to participate in “back of the house” tours of the Lodge at Vail, the Vail Cascade Hotel, and the Sonnenalp Resort and Spa at Vail.
There were many other informal opportunities to learn and network. Both vendors and attendees spoke favorable of the small tabletop display in the break area, which allowed attendees to meet vendors in a low-pressure, convivial setting over the two days of the conference.
The Vail Cascade, host hotel for the conference, pulled out all the stops for the attendees. The hotel hosted a lavish, cocktail-buffet, opening reception that afforded IRMA members plenty of networking opportunities. By the beginning of the first full day of the conference the beginnings of many long-term alliances among managers and owners of similar properties could be noted.
The Cascade’s effort to make it a great conference for everyone involved went all the way to the top of the hotel’s parent organization, Destination Hotels and Resorts. Though Charles Peck, Destination’s chairman and an IRMA director, was unable to attend the conference because he had accepted an opportunity to climb Mount Everest, his support for the event was clear.
On the morning of the opening session, Peck phoned Rainsford at 5:30 a.m. to wish the conference organizers and attendees good luck. “That’s the first time I’ve ever had the chairman of the hotel at which I was staying call from base camp on Mount Everest with a wakeup call. That’s quite an amenity,” Rainsford quipped.
Maybe a little bit extraordinary... but then, it was quite an extraordinary conference.
Formed in the fall of 2000, IRMA provides networking and educational resources; certification, testing and distance learning; job placement services; and other tools that are needed by resort managers worldwide.
Anita L. Bauer
Executive Vice President
International Resort Managers Association
|Also See||The International Resort Managers Association Adds Three New Board of Directors / March 2001|