WHAT IS THE DEFINITION OF A RESORT? DEFINING A RESORT'S MARKET PRECEDES THE DEFINITION OF THE PRODUCT OR DOES IT? BOTH OF THEM ARE LIKE ROCKET SCIENCE.
If you ask that customer what he is looking for, he will give you a description of an old, obsolete model. Take my advice! Do not listen to the customer. The customer is always wrong!
Now, the real work starts!!
Does a rocket scientist ask the space passenger how the space ship should be built?
Imagining a product that will appeal to tomorrow's resort customer is what Steve Jobs, Kemmons Wilson, Conrad Hilton & Steve Wynn did for their products. Building your product based on the last model is moving backwards. Asking the Commodore 64 customer what he wants in his computer does not lead you to today's Mac or PC.
And where do the old resorts go? What happens to the really good ones? Do the classics from the 50s and 60s survive or do they become old folks' homes or hospitals? What made the really really great ones great? Do you remember Frenchman's Cove in Port Antonio Jamaica? How about Jumby Bay in Antigua? Both were 'culinarily superb' all-inclusive before 'all inclusive' was a dirty word. No telephones, no TV, croquet and bicycles instead of golf carts, beachfront help yourself Champagne and Princess Di's ex-chef. Then there was the Kahala Hilton in Hawaii, do you know why they were so special? They called it JIT. They specifically hired inexperienced employees with great attitude. How about Gstaad in Switzerland? There they had the Palace, and several more. In Villars sur Ollon (see below), there was architectural stature, grace and arrogance. They have since ditched the last two!!
How about some from my own background. Well, here are some examples from my career, in order of appearance.
- Grand Hotel Eastbourne. Staid, elegant.....Lionel Jeffries and his Palm Court Orchestra for tea in the afternoons. Butlers, starched serviettes and a grand-piano shaped pool. Still going! http://www.grandeastbourne.com/. Staid is not good. Elegant is still good, but does it work in resorts?
- Villars Palace, Switzerland, Elegant, formal but ski-to, with horse back riding, tennis and scintillating views. White tablecloth dining and a waiter count of 37 full-time professionals, 36 from Italy and me. Now an 'all-inclusive Club Med http://www.clubmed.ca/cm/resort-villars-sur-ollon-switzerland_p-61-l-US-v-VSOC-ac-vh.html. Elegant is 'passee' in the mountains but still good at the beach..........in the evenings.
- Woolacombe Bay Hotel, Devon, England. Ballroom with sprung floors. Dining room with two sittings. Horseback riding on a spectacular rolling hills and unspoiled beachfront property. Peter Sellers choice for a brief holiday with his Mum......and her chauffeur. Still chugging along but upgraded....with a sprung ballroom floor!! http://www.woolacombe-bay-hotel.co.uk/. Unspoiled beachfront with rolling hills is still good. Sprung floors is overkill! Horseback riding is good. Memo to self. Make sure stables are downwind.
- Jamaica Hilton, Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Modified American Plan...... a full social program from dawn to sunset, European department heads and bulging at the seams. Harry Belafonte and Martin Luther King. Coral reefs & crystal clear Caribbean waters good, European department heads inappropriate. Now the Jewel Dunns River Beach Resort and Spa , all inclusive. http://www.jeweldunnsriverresort.com/. Crystal clear waters still good. European department heads good........in Europe!
- Curacao Hilton. Willemstad. A classic 23 acre Hilton resort with a creative beach, successful casino and junkets with a huge entertainment budget and a great Indonesian rijstaffel buffet. Casino run by Bud Sweet and John Scarne (and me). Still operating successfully.
- http://www1.hilton.com/en_US/hi/hotel/CURHIHH-Hilton-Curacao/index.do Huge entertainment budget works and an authentic rijstaffel is always good. Creative beach is good...........natural beach is better. Local food specialities are really hot.
- Mont Gabriel Lodge. Forty five minutes north of Montreal, this ski and golf log cabin resort with blazing fireplaces and hearty fare was the epitome of a Quebec hostelry for families, lovers and business groups. A world class centre for acrobatic skiing now anchors this resort as an ideal second home for the energetic set http://www.montgabriel.com/. World class is always good and chalet living in a ski resort within commuting distance to Montreal is a winner.
- Algonquin Hotel, St Andrews, New Brunswick. Iconic railway hotel with 18 hole golf course with a greenskeeper from St Andrews, Scotland...... priceless. Fresh all you can eat lobster.........MMMM! Tea and crumpets for the older crowd. Passamaquoddy Bay views spectacular. Owned at the time by Lady Beaverbrook and Murray Vaughan. Mmmmm, those were the days.The village of St Andrews...very special http://www.fairmont.com/algonquin. It's worked for over 100 years, why stop now! Iconic works.
- Hotel Santo Domingo. Urban, elegant Oscar de la Renta designed hotel, HQ of the Miss Universe Pageant, exquisite Alcazar restaurant, home to Gulf & Western's senior executives, now a shoddy shadow of its former self. http://www.hotelsantodomingo.com.do/. No USPs left.....not good.
- Hyatt Presidente San Salvador. Built in 6 months on the instructions of the President to host a Pan American conference........that went elsewhere. Great neighbourhood of San Benito, now operated as a Sheraton after a brief stint as a Marriott. A rocky start due to the civil unrest. What a fabulous countryside!! What fabulous people. http://www.starwoodhotels.com/sheraton/property/overview/index.html?propertyID=1597. Fabulous employees works. Spectacular topography works.
- Hyatt Tesoro Beach, El Salvador. Opened in the midst of their most serious civil unrest, it did not stand a hope in hell of financial success, in spite of a great location, a golf course and a wonderful deserted beach. It did have panache, like the owner. It did have serenity. It was an oasis, a relaxing 'old world' resort with no surprises. http://www.tesorobeachhotel.com/ Not much to be learned from this one. Panache works!
- Hyatt Regency Acapulco. The Centre of Things was an understatement. The most successful Incentive Destination in the World had a sizzling reputation for everything, food, service, entertainment, special events and much more. Pete diTullio, the illustrious President of Hyatt was the driving energy behind this great property and several great present day VPs made their marks here. http://www.grandhotelacapulco.com/english/mapa_grandhotelacapulco.html. Creative event planning was the great takeaway from this property. Imaginative Mexicans and frenetic, creative energy makes a perfect combination for a successful resort.
- Hyatt Continental Acapulco. Formerly the Continental Hilton, it fell into some disrepair under the ownership of Miguel Aleman himself who personally invited me to join the property as his GM when I was in Salvador. We later took it over as a Hyatt and the famous architect John Portman worked with us on the new designs. http://www.hotelesemporio.com/acapulco. The takeway on this one was that ancient resorts always have great landscaping but what a shame that the town of Acapulco collapsed around it!
In retrospect, all this was pretty boring stuff by today's standards. What we have as takeaways are elegant evenings, downwind stables, a natural beach, apres work skiing, fabulous people, great landscaping, management panache, inexperienced employees with great attitude and iconic architecture. Then there is culinary excellence, free bicycles, no telephones or TV
What we look for in a resort is basically the same as then. Although the delivarables are changing, we still need to be surprised, even shocked, amused and entertained. We need beauty in food, amusement in the art, engagement in the language and a total lack of 'boring'. Employees need to be seen to be having fun, enjoying life and your presence.
Men and women have different needs whether they are adults or children and most seem to tend to fluctuate between the two (or four) while at a resort.........or dare I say in a community, or even at home.
What is the definition of a resort?
The answer perhaps is that it is an evolving experience for all ages, all genders and all nationalities. It is an unscripted play, a rejuvenation of spirit that exceeds everyone's expectations in gentle but changing ways.
Once it is defined, it starts a process of obsolecence. It challenges the senses in amusing ways without provoking necessarily laughter. We learn attractive skills, new areas of interest and open our eyes to new challenges while minimising past disappointments. It is not absent of stress but is opposite of stresses that existed at home or work.
It is perhaps less 'packaged hotel services' and more a 'community experience', linked in an unimprovised fashion.
Yes.......I think it is just that. An experience that includes getting there, being in an exciting, different environment with people who are approachable, welcoming but different. The facilities and services at the resort is but a portion of the overall experience of the community, its' landscape, its smells, the sounds and the lifestyle.
I say, bring on the next generation of special resorts. Maybe like the ones that we were conceptualising at Cirque du Soleil. But whatever you do, don't ask your customers, they will always be wrong!!