EAGLE COUNTY — Keeping up may be one of the biggest challenges in the lodging business. Two of the Vail Valley’s bigger hotels are working this spring to get ahead.
The Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch closed to guests April 1 and will reopen June 5. When the first guests arrive, they’ll see about $15 million worth of re-done hotel rooms and public areas, including the hotel lobby and “great room.” In Vail, the Cascade hotel is still open, but in the midst of the third phase of a three-phase project that will also re-do the guest rooms.
The Cascade took on an ambitious improvement program between 2007 and 2009, but much of that was dedicated to conference spaces, restaurants, landscaping and similar work. Rob Henderson, the regional sales and marketing director for Destination Resorts, which operates the hotel, said this work will cover just about the rest of the hotel.
The idea behind both projects is to keep the hotels as up-to-date as possible, while still appealing to loyal guests.
Steven Holt, the regional marketing director for Ritz-Carlton, said the Bachelor Gulch hotel is about a decade old now, and it was time to “refresh” the property to keep it up to the standards expected by both old and new guests.
Holt said the improvements will include the technology people expect, while the design will fit with the hotel’s theme.
“It’s what guests are looking for — an authentic Colorado experience,” Holt said. That means big timbers, bellmen who wear cowboy hats and other Western touches.
The trick for a company like Ritz-Carlton is ensuring that upgrades in decor are appropriate to a hotel’s location, Holt said. What works in Colorado won’t work in Manhattan or San Francisco.
But there are still some things guests everywhere expect when staying at a resort hotel. These days, one of the main expectations is wireless Internet access. Holt said the Bachelor Gulch hotel offers people plenty of opportunities to unplug. But those who want to stay connected have to have seamless signals just about anywhere they are on the property, from the elevators to the exercise bikes.
“Having access to bandwidth is very important,” Henderson said. “It’s really a travel norm.”
But Internet service is something that tends to happen out of the public eye, part of what Henderson called a somewhat constant cycle of improvements hotels go through all the time.
But people notice new drapes, artwork or bathroom vanities. That’s why most resort hotels will take on fairly comprehensive updates every few years.
Holt said there’s no real timeline at Ritz-Carlton. Work is planned and carried out as needed, dictated in large part by guest demand.
The Cascade doesn’t have a strict improvement timeline, either. Instead, Henderson said, improvements often depend on a combination of shifting trends, guest demand and an ownership group’s willingness to invest. The Cascade’s ownership group has been in place for about 20 years, Henderson said, and has been willing and able to make sure the hotel keeps up with the times.
There’s also the matter of simple wear and tear. Henderson said between travelers, conferences and people simply coming to dinner, about 100,000 people a year come to one part of the hotel or another.
Some of the drive to improve also comes from competition, particularly in Vail, where new hotels have come on the market in the past few years.
“There’s certainly a little bit of pressure (from new hotels),” Henderson said. “But mostly it’s a matter of keeping pace for your loyal customers — you don’t want to disappoint them.”
Updates and improvements can also be a way to keep good people on staff, Henderson said.
“We try to be a preferred employer,” he said. “People want to work at the best places.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2939 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.