Luxury Hotel Brands Move Into Ski Resorts On Daily Rate Or Timeshare Basis

NEW YORK? Sports and five-star luxury properties are not usually teammates when it comes to top-of-mind pairings. Certainly not with baseball or basketball or football, unless it?s a celebrity ?event? or ?incident.? Change the sport to skiing, however, and the pairing seems a natural fit. It?s a connection several lodging chains have made. Luxury brands including Starwood?s St. Regis, Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons and Pan Pacific are either operating/managing ski resort properties or have them in the pipeline. Some are daily rate, some are timeshare and all are enthusiastic about being in the niche. In Whistler, British Columbia, Pan Pacific Hotels & Resorts has established a presence at the base of Blackcomb and Whistler mountains in the center of one of North America?s most well-known ski areas, Whistler Resort. In operation for slightly over two years, the 121-suite Pan Pacific Lodge features individually owned units which are managed and filled by the hotel chain when not in use by owners. ?The lodge has the highest average rate and RevPAR in the Whistler Resort,? said Denis Forristal, general manager, adding there are distinct challenges to handling a ski resort property. ?We get very good rates in the winter months and occupancy is high, but toward May/June and October/November, to operate can be very challenging, especially without having meeting space. We partner with our sister property in Vancouver to get pre- or post- conference groups or pre/post-cruise tours,? said Forristal. The partnership works well, he noted, due to the reverse high/low seasonality of the two areas. With four championship golf courses and a multitude of ?soft adventure? activities, the area is stretching its seasonality to fill 12 months, offering increased opportunities for hoteliers. ?We target the lifestyle market outside the ski season which includes hikers, bikers, naturalists and golfers,? said Ron Drake, director of sales and marketing. ?Due to the make up of the room unit, i.e., studio, one-bedroom, two-bedroom configuration, families are very much a part of our business mix. Meetings are limited to small groups and generally use the Whistler Conference Center (within walking distance) as our meeting space is limited to one boardroom. ?We are practicing a revenue management function to maximize our revenue during high demand and [are]being extremely realistic and flexible during the shoulder and low seasons,? Drake added. Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts has targeted the base of Blackcomb Mountain to make its entry into the ski resort market with the scheduled opening of a 254-room property in the fourth quarter of 2002. The Four Seasons Resort Whistler is being developed by Intrawest Corp., an operator/developer of destination resorts. With some two million skier days logged for the region last year, ?the opportunity was just right,? said Peter Hodgson, director of planning and development, who noted the luxury chain ?had been planning to add a ski resort to our portfolio for some time.? The property will feature a ski concierge service, full spa with health club and outdoor pool, restaurant/bar and underground parking. Group and meetings business have been factored in for the property, which will offer dedicated facilities. Hodgson also noted a timeshare piece was of interest, noting ?vacation ownership is a very important component for Four Seasons and will form part of most of our [new]projects.? Additional potential sites for Four Seasons? ski resorts include Jackson Hole, WY and Vail, CO., said Hodgson. ?The people in our demographic circle who are going skiing are more affluent. It?s an expensive sport: you have to get there, you have to rent skis, get the ski instructor, the food. It?s a sport that?s targeting an affluent segment of the population; therefore, it?s very logical that luxury brands would be targeting ski resorts as they look to grow their respective businesses,? said analyst Jason Ader, senior managing directo

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