Twenty-five isn’t that old – Sonnenalp Hotel celebrates
VAIL – December marked the 25th anniversary of the Sonnenalp Resort in Vail, but that’s not such a big deal to owner and manager Johannes P. Faessler. “Sonnenalp in Germany is over 100 years old, so 25 years here is not all that long,” he says. Started in Germany by his great grandparents, Sonnenalp Resorts is a family-run business with resorts in Bavaria and Vail. Although Faessler may seem casual about the longevity of his hotel, he says he also sees the 25th anniversary of his resort as a time for reflection. “It’s extraordinary,” he says. He’s spent his entire professional life with the hotel and he says this milestone is a time for him and his staff to look back at where they started and how far they have come. Missing bathroom doorFaessler’s story and the story of Sonnenalp of Vail is a story of family, vision, loyalty and a little luck, he says. Picture yourself having been put in charge of a resort in a town thousands of miles from home, in a different country where you are not familiar with the culture – all at age 18.
That’s how Faessler started out in Vail. His father purchased what would become the Austria Haus, right next to the covered bridge in 1979. The family had been searching for a second location and when Faessler’s father stumbled upon Vail he knew the town was the perfect fit for his hotel, Faessler says. The family purchased the hotel at the close of ski season and had committed to renovating and re-opening by Christmas of the same year. Faessler was summoned to Vail to help with the renovations. This hotel was to be his hotel and the one in Bavaria would be passed on to his brother.So, Faessler worked hard over the summer to help renovate and ready the hotel for the upcoming Christmas, he says. The hotel opened just before Christmas with 38 guest rooms and a small restaurant. Although there were a few glitches, like a missing bathroom door in one of the rooms, the hotel was open for business and Faessler’s career had started. Lots of regularsThe early years of the hotel went well and it grew steadily, he says. They remained at their original location until 1986 when they bought and remodeled two hotels next door to each other (where the current resort now stands) south of the roundabout on Vail Road. In 1992 and 1993 they leveled the two hotels next to each other and completely rebuilt the property as one hotel with 90 guest suites. Faessler says he plans further renovations next year when they will add more hotel rooms, put all the parking underground and create an outdoor courtyard to replace the parking lot.
Once the work is complete, he will have brought to fruition the vision that he and his family started with 25 years ago, Faessler says.Even more significant to Faessler than the brick-and-mortar that make up the resort is the loyalty and family atmosphere that have created at the hotel, he says. He guesses that 60 percent to 70 percent of the hotel guests have been coming to the hotel regularly for at least 10 to 15 years. He and his staff have been able to create such loyalty by remaining small and maintaining one-on-one relationships with his guests, he says. “You have to connect with your customers and understand them and give them what they are looking for,” Faessler says. No mortgage!According to one of the hotel’s frequently returning guests, Harvey Simpson of Old Westbury, N.Y., Faessler’s formula has worked. Simpson and his family have been regular guests of the hotel for over 15 years. Although he stayed at other hotels before settling on the Sonnenalp, once at the Sonnenalp he did not go elsewhere, Simpson says. “Their service is great, the people are great, breakfast is great, entertainment is great. We’ve enjoyed so many memorable moments at this hotel,” Simpson says. He says he also likes that he can get the same suite every time he comes to town and it feels like home. “It’s almost like owning your own condo in Vail, without the mortgage payments,” he says.
Faessler says that he feels fortunate that the hotel has been as successful as it has. “We got very lucky; we came to Vail at the right time in its development.” But being in Vail has not been without its challenges. Although Faessler says he has a clear vision of what he wants his hotel to be, he says the town of Vail struggles with its vision of what it wants to be. Faessler says this lack of vision has created difficulties for him over the years, especially during the development of the current hotel site. There have even been times that Faessler has considered moving the resort out of Vail.”But we continue to stick it out here,” says Faessler. Year-round paycheckHaving grown up professionally along with his hotel, Faessler says he has learned much over the years about creating a successful business. Having grown up around resorts, he brought with him to Vail the ideals and business philosophies of the three generations before him, he says. His family is committed to high quality and for Faessler that means not only the best service, but also great amenities such as heated marble floors, fireplaces and flat-screen televisions in every room and unique floor plans for each room, he says. Faessler also says that attracting great employees has been one of his most important goals. When he arrived, he was surprised that Vail was primarily a winter resort and he knew being open seasonally would not allow him to create a consistent staff, he says.
He made the commitment to year-round business early on and being open year-round enabled him to attract employees that were settled and raising their families here, he says. In turn he was able to provide job stability and even housing to those that needed it. He made his staff part of his family, he says. “If you can take care of basic needs and provide a paycheck year round, you can build a consistent, reliable staff. That’s the biggest key,” Faessler saysHe has several people on his staff that have been with him for 20 years and even one person that opened the hotel with him 25 years ago. Now, at age 44, Faessler and his wife, Rosana, have two children – a 17-year-old son and an 8-year-old daughter. Faessler’s son is interested in working in the hotel after he finishes college. Faessler says he better understands the excitement that his parents felt about building a successful business and passing it down to the next generation. “This is my parents’ vision that we have carried forward, and we are excited to be able to watch it flourish and grow,” Faessler says.Vail, Colorado