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Owned by Lowe Hospitality Group, The Sunriver Resort in Central Oregon
 Has Been a Market Leader in Oregon for the Past 40 years
By Jeff McDonald, The Bulletin, Bend, Ore.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Apr. 29, 2008 - SUNRIVER -- Roughly 40 years since it opened in southern Deschutes County, Sunriver Resort is diversified and well-positioned to handle an economic downturn, its top official said.

But increased competition from Bend and new Central Oregon resorts, and increasing challenges with the national economy mean that future growth will require continued reinvention, said Thomas P. Luersen, regional managing director for Lowe Hospitality Group, parent company of Destination Hotels & Resorts, the firm that manages Sunriver.

Luersen, 45, oversees three resorts -- Sunriver, Suncadia Resort in Roslyn, Wash., and Skamania Lodge in Stevenson, Wash. -- with a total of about 1,900 employees, and leads development projects throughout the Pacific Northwest, he said.

"The goal at Sunriver is to leverage off traditions from the past 40 years, create exceptional experience for our customers and target both leisure travelers and group meeting business," Luersen said. "We will continue to invest to improve upon the guests' experience."

All 240 of the lodge rooms managed by Sunriver Resort were recently upgraded to include new flat-screen televisions and new decor, Luersen said.

The resort is redeveloping the Sunriver Stables and Sunriver Marina, a $1.3 million project that will better serve customers and provide a new boarding facility for horses, he said.

Other projects, including a $2 million runway expansion at Sunriver Airport in 2009, are needed to compete in an increasingly competitive Central Oregon resort climate, which has fueled the region's estimated $542.5 million tourism economy, according to Luersen.

The resort's golf is its main attraction, but the resort also is seizing upon its natural setting and emerging travel trends to promote experiential travel, Luersen said.

Visitors, for example, can enjoy culinary, music and wellness seminars such as learning how to cook French cuisine, play the guitar and maintain health, he said.

"It's a perfect location for today's traveler, who is interested in learning while leisuring," Luersen said.

Luersen backs the proposed $200 million redevelopment of the Sunriver Village Mall, which would include a mix of commercial and residential uses.

"We support the mixed-use development because it would energize the Village [mall]," Luersen said. "The residential component is critical for the development to be successful. Residential sales are going to fuel redevelopment of the retail end."

The resort's golf facilities were in the national spotlight last August when the Jeld-Wen Tradition, a PGA event that is part of the Champions Tour, was televised nationally from Crosswater Golf Club at Sunriver.

The event raised the national brand image of Sunriver Resort and Central Oregon as a golf destination, Luersen said.

"It was huge," he said. "It was the first time ever that a Central Oregon sporting event had been on national television."

More than 2 million viewers watched the four-day event, which Sunriver will host in August through 2010.

"It hits the sweet spot to attract both interested buyers and visitors to the resort," Luersen said.

Group business is the strongest heading into summer that it's been in five years, Luersen said. Leisure business, however, is down 5 percent going into summer.

"When corporate America feels pressure, that affects the leisure and meeting business," Luersen said. "We try to find new areas of business that are doing well in a down market."

Industries that have not been hurt by the current downturn include oil and gas, and medical equipment companies, and legal and professional services, Luersen said. Sunriver will target those industries for group and conference business, he said.

The resort will return to Eastern Europe this summer to recruit about 90 housekeeping, food service, banquet and golf employees needed to sustain summer operations, Luersen said, referring to the expected shortfall in seasonal help.

"There's been so much growth in hospitality that we're having to find talent to fill these positions," Luersen said.

QUESTION: What is your role at Lowe Hospitality Group?

ANSWER: Lowe Hospitality Company, a subsidiary of Lowe Enterprises out of Los Angeles, is a privately held company that develops and operates resorts and hotels and resort/club communities. On behalf of Lowe Hospitality Group, I am responsible for all Northwest developments and hotels/resorts, as well as sourcing the right business opportunities for future growth of our presence in the Northwest. The growth is targeted at acquisitions, management contracts for hotels/resorts and developments, and new development opportunities.

Q: How do your different tourism-related properties adjust to a national economic slowdown?

A: Our goal is attract the best talent in the marketplace and allow them the flexibility and independency to lead and manage their responsibilities. The goal to our success has been hiring the right people and entrusting their leadership skills. In tough economic times, our leaders need to be adaptable, agile and intuitive. We strive to give our customers the best experience we can so they will continue to support our businesses in the years to come; hospitality management and developing communities is all about creating lasting experiences and memories -- if we do that, our success will come. We are continuing to invest in our businesses to constantly strive to improve the experience as well as investing in our developing and training of our talented team members.

Q: In Central Oregon, how do you position Sunriver Resort as a top resort in an increasingly competitive marketplace?

A: Sunriver Resort has been a market leader in Oregon for the past 40 years. The resort has such a wide variety of amenities and special qualities, the experience is timeless. Our ownership has a long-term vision and consequently, has been committed to investing in the business illustrated in things like building the Sage Springs Spa and Club, Caldera Springs and constantly working on ways to improve our business and experience for the guest. We are the only four-diamond resort in the Oregon. Sunriver is not just a resort, it is special place where families reunite and enjoy unbelievable beauty and world-class recreation, whether golf, spa, biking, horseback riding, canoe float, hiking or just great fun in the whole community.

Jeff McDonald can be reached at 383-0323 or at jmcdonald@bendbulletin.com.

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To see more of The Bulletin, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.bendbulletin.com

Copyright (c) 2008, The Bulletin, Bend, Ore.

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