Oct 03, 2012
by SIMON Mather CBN Feature Writer
Scenic 1,700-acre high desert jewel Eagle Crest just outside Redmond is among a trio of destination resorts soaring to new heights thanks to a major cash influx and strategic repositioning undertaken by innovative operators who took over the hospitality reigns almost two years ago.
Westport, Connecticut-based Northview Hotel Group purchased Eagle Crest along with fellow full-service resorts, the 1,800-acre Brasada Ranch in Powell Butte and Running Y Ranch which spans 3,600 acres in Klamath Falls, from Jeld-Wen in November 2010 after the window and door giant decided to relinquish the golf-themed Oregon portfolio and focus on its core building products business in the wake of the economic downturn.
Northview made the acquisition move after eyeing value-added opportunities to break into the West Coast market, cutting its teeth earlier on the opposite side of the country with a successful revamp of the upscale Caribbean-like Hawks Cay Resort in the Florida Keys, which boasts a 177-room hotel, marina and 297 privately owned villas on 59 acres.
With substantial experience co-owning and managing large hotels, Northview set out to shift the emphasis of the former Jeld-Wen resorts away from residential real estate sales to more of a hospitality focus, aiming to draw in additional short-term visitors to the resorts’ hotels and vacation rentals through improved amenities and the prospect of an enhanced vacation experience.
And the promise has certainly been fulfilled, with over $10 million plowed into wholesale upgrades - almost equally split between the three landmark properties, and markedly upgrading lodging options.
The transformation of the lodge at Eagle Crest includes a complete redesign and rebuild of its 100 rooms, many with golf course and mountain views, a new lobby with fireplace, sitting area and library, and a new restaurant – the Aerie Café – open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Other improvements have also been undertaken throughout the sprawling resort, which includes three golf courses, day spa, sports centers, indoor and outdoor pools, tennis courts, meeting spaces and many miles of trails, as well as fully furnished chalets and custom homes and condos available for rent.
A similar overhaul was carried out at the Running Y Ranch - overlooking Upper Klamath Lake in the heart of Southern Oregon’s Cascade Range and featuring recreational facilities including a full-service spa, ice arena, sports center and the state’s only Arnold Palmer-designed golf course – incorporating a full renovation of its 82-guestroom lodge.
The upgraded lodges joined with IHG’s (International Hotel Group’s) new marquee Holiday Inn Resort portfolio earlier this year – only two of three in the contiguous western U.S. – as part of a $1 billion retooling of one of the world’s most widely recognized lodging brands, and are now known as The Lodge at Eagle Crest, a Holiday Inn Resort and The Lodge at Running Y Ranch, A Holiday Inn Resort.
“These two resorts are the result of our strategy to grow Holiday Inn Resorts in markets that are convenient for our guests to get to,” commented Gina LaBarre, vice president, brand management, the Americas, IHG.
“By growing our resorts in key leisure destinations across the U.S. we’re giving families the option to take a reasonable drive or a short flight and still have a special vacation.”
Through their addition to the Holiday Inn Resort portfolio as the 16th and 17th such new properties in the Americas, the lodges have also gained an opportunity for increased exposure among leisure travelers, particularly among IHG’s 61 million Priority Club Rewards members worldwide. Additionally, the brand’s marketing muscle, name recognition and dedicated resources are expected to continue to grow awareness for each property.
Meanwhile, investment at Brasada – which boasts the Peter Jacobsen-designed Canyons golf course, world-class equestrian and athletic facilities and vacation cabins in a panoramic Cascade view setting - also includes renovated lodging, in the renowned Ranch House Lodge’s eight suites, a newly enlarged spa, new meeting space and significant restaurant and landscaping upgrades.
Brasada has also struck up a lodging partnership, with the prestigious Preferred Hotel and Resort group as part of its “luxury collection” featuring “exceptional hotels and resorts in the most desirable locations around the world,” and represents one of only three selected for such status in Oregon.
Northview Oregon Resorts VP of Sales and Marketing Brent McLean said of creative repositioning efforts at all three resorts, "Northview has carved something of a niche in taking on deals that are a little more challenging and not in everyone’s wheelhouse.
“These are not roadside 100-room hotels. At all of our properties, there are a lot of moving parts involved in effectively running destination resorts, in everything from equestrian centers to golf courses to owners’ associations.
“But part of the excitement is the challenge involved and the opportunity to apply our operational expertise to enhance assets that had not previously had their potential maximized.
“Accelerating the hospitality element also helps drive real estate activity, and many of our recent sales have actually been to guests who were impacted by their vacation experience. We expect this will only accelerate in the coming years as it does take a little time to re-launch brands and deliver operational excellence.”
Eagle Crest for one had not seen significant improvements since it was built in the late ‘80s and part of bringing out that brand new product is the partnership with Holiday Inn Resorts and IHG, which offers significant international lodging exposure - IHG has a huge umbrella, with over 45,000 hotels and some 660,000 guest rooms in 100 countries.
McLean added, “The newest brand, Holiday Inn Resorts, which just relates to the lodges, is getting a lot of attention in being more upscale and family oriented and we are very proud to be the only Holiday Inn Resorts on the west coast.
“Already, for example, at Eagle Crest, room revenue in 2012 is up 23 percent year-over-year, and these projects have been ours to re-brand, re-launch and renovate, and we are seeing loyalty building and visitors who maybe had disappeared coming back.
“Eagle Crest also has 75 vacation rentals and a large component of available hospitality in Central Oregon is in that category,” McLean said.
“Other renovations have targeted our three golf courses. The focus is certainly to improve the overall playing experience and entice locals to return. Thanks to our new memberships and Punch Passes, we’re very pleased to say local play is up significantly this year and we expect the trend to continue as we add further value to each program in 2013 and continue to consistently improve the player experiences.”
McLean says one of the perhaps previously understated features at the Klamath Falls property is its flagship golf course, which has been re-launched as the Arnold Palmer Signature Course at Running Y Ranch. The course is honored by Golf Digest as one of America’s 100 Greatest Public Golf Courses and it is consistently recognized as one of the best golf courses in Oregon.
“It struck me that during my research on Running Y Ranch, prior to joining Northview,” Arnold Palmer has said that the course is one of the best 16 courses he has ever done,” he said, “and he consistently ranks it as part of his ‘Sweet Sixteen’ list of his top signature designs, yet that was not part of the resort’s story. This is certainly something worth highlighting and we are getting the message out in a bigger way.”
Some 70 percent of Running Y Ranch’s business is from Northern California, with marketing efforts targeting that region as well as southern Oregon, whereas the sister resorts skew all the way up to Seattle.
Other packages have been put together to incentify visitors to Running Y Ranch, including those promoting the surrounding world-class opportunities for fly fishing, hunting and birding which enjoy huge followings.
The area encompasses seven wildlife refuges and the Middle Pacific Flyway, which features the largest winter concentration of bald eagles.
In part due to targeting niche audiences, Running Y Ranch has seen room nights up a whopping 47 percent for 2012 over 2011, and room revenue increase by 52 percent.
Equestrian elements have also been resurrected, with McLean observing, "At Eagle Crest, the stables had all but disappeared along with BLM access, but last year we brought the stables back and renewed a relationship with BLM in terms of obtaining a license to use trails, which we hadn’t had for a decade.
“Now, one of the first things you see is the stables with pasture and horses, and we are excited to be bringing that Central Oregon ranch element back to the resort.
“Also, Brasada has one of the finest equestrian facilities in the country and we have an opportunity going in to 2013 to better capture that target market.
“Lot sales are up substantially at Eagle Crest and Brasada Ranch, and Brasada has seen an almost doubling of year-over-year room revenues. Also, with better resources for hosting events, the corporate and wedding side of the business is up significantly, and are we are staging more local events such as the upcoming ‘Brasadasana’ yoga retreat and ‘Ace in the Hole’ golf and poker tournament.
“At Brasada the group business hardly registered before, but this year accounts for some 35 percent of room nights. We are also proud that we have become something of a conference room satellite for many of Oregon’s great Fortune 500 companies.
“In 2010 we only hosted five weddings at Brasada Ranch, compared to 27 in 2012. We only do one wedding per weekend and sometimes parties will reserve the entire ranch, including the eight ranch house suites and 42 cabins of various sizes for an event, and take the opportunity to enjoy all the amenities at Brasada.
“Out of 400+ lots available at Brasada Ranch, 150 are platted and available, and over the past 12 months 48 lots have sold and average prices are up early 18 percent. Given the tremendous overnight demand, we’re also looking at adding additional accommodations and of course have plenty of space within the resort to do so.”
Newly renovated destination restaurant facilities at Brasada are being headed by Executive Chef Adrian Carpenter - most recently associated with Aspen’s world-famous Little Nell eatery - with an emphasis on the “farm to fork” philosophy, and much sourcing of local and regional ingredients.
A key element to reinvigorating the resorts under Northview’s remit is also an enhanced appeal to families, says McLean, including, for example, major upgrades to children’s facilities within the expansive 17,000 sq ft athletic center at Brasada.
He concluded, "If you are to be successful with families you also have to provide a great young child resort experience that creates lasting memories.
“Our all-round vision is no less than Brasada Ranch being the premier destination resort in the Pacific Northwest.”