|By Andrew Kirk, Park Record, Park City,
Utah McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
November 28, 2009 --Stein Eriksen Lodge CEO Russ Olsen said he isn't the least intimidated by St. Regis and The Montage joining his neighborhood.
After all, Stein's is the reigning king in the world of hotels.
This month AAA announced it was awarding the lodge its top honor: Five Diamonds. Earlier this year the Forbes Travel Guide, formerly the Mobil Travel Guide, gave it Five Stars. That makes it the only hotel in Utah with both distinctions. It also happened to be the first to receive each (the Five Diamond in 2003 and the Five Stars in 2007 -- it has also earned those ranks each year since).
The fact is, St. Regis and The Montage will need to prove themselves to reach the same level. But those two hotels have something it doesn't: an international reputation. That's why Olsen said he's taking a "rising tides float all boats" attitude.
"We have been the lone wolf, if you will," he said. "These additional brands will give Park City more exposure to the high-end market."
As people become aware of one hotel, they'll likely also become aware of the other two, he explained. There is also a type of traveler that will only stay at luxury facilities. If Stein Eriksen Lodge gets booked up, they won't come to Park City. Soon, all three will be able to refer each other when one is full. No longer will affluent travelers need to ski in Colorado to enjoy world-class accommodations, he added.
"People will convert from Vail and Aspen because now other places will have luxury hotels," Olsen said.
"The convenience of getting here is something we can market the heck out of to get people to experience us."
Olsen said he expects this year and next to remain soft, but the market to improve in 2012. Once the Montage comes online, he's predicting five percent growth annually from then out.
It's expensive to operate a five-star, five-diamond hotel. It requires an extra 30 to 50 percent investment in service and amenities, he explained. A three-star hotel might have one employee for every one and a half guests. A high-end lodge needs one and a half employees for every guest. But the five-star, five-diamond distinction allows the hotel to charge higher room mates, making it a long-term investment. The status also allows a hotel to be more reliant on the kind of affluent travelers who are less impacted by slow economic times, Olsen said.
Just as it's portrayed in the movies, Olsen said a hotel has no idea who the Mobil and AAA judges are. Both organizations send someone incognito to stay at the hotel for a few nights and critique it.
"This is their checklist," Olsen said, reaching behind his desk for a three-ringed binder holding a two-inch stack of paper.
After their stay they tally the hotel's score and it either earns the award or it doesn't, he said.
It's about more than having a nice facility and enjoyable amenities.
"Anybody can build a nice place," he said. "But it's about the service you provide when they walk in the front door."
Stein Eriksen Lodge prides itself on providing personalized service, he said. For example, when a guest walks into the restaurant for breakfast, they're greeted by name.
Being a five-star, five-diamond hotel was a goal set over a decade ago, he said. The two rankings are the measuring sticks used by the industry to define quality. When the executive committee was defining its goals and objectives, it seemed natural to strive for the best.
Because so many points are based on service, achieving such a lofty aim requires training employees to provide five-star, five-diamond service.
Even though the lodge is the first in Utah to win both awards and the only one to hold both at the same time, Olsen said being in Utah significantly facilitated the effort.
"These are personable people," he said. "In Utah people are naturally friendly, outgoing and want to be accommodating."
Bill Malone, president and CEO of the Park City Chamber/Bureau, says the rarity of hotels with both distinctions ads to its importance.
"This affords the community some instant credibility based upon the fact that properties of the caliber of the Stein Eriksen Lodge are most likely found in places held in high regard by the discerning visitor," he said via email.
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