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The Homestead: creating and marketing a destination resort.


Creating and Marketing a Destination Resort

Tucked within the pastoral reaches of Heber Valley, 55 miles southeast of Salt Lake City, lies what was once Utah's best-kept vacation secret. The Homestead resort and its soothing mineral pools have provided a summer escape for world-weary locals over the past 105 years.

But as the resort eyes its second century in operation, the word is out--the Homestead has created a singular atmosphere of quality lodging and year-round activities that has earned it national laurels as a premiere vacation destination.

Great Inns of the Rockies, the holding company which owns the Homestead and the Homestead Golf Club, has been responsible for the transition, forging the resort into a profitable business enterprise while retaining its picture-perfect country atmosphere. In the process, the company has become the single-largest private employer in Heber Valley with a work force of 192, giving a valuable boost to the local economy.

According to Britt Mathwich, president of Great Inns of the Rockies, the key to the Homestead's burgeoning appeal lies in its broad range of offerings throughout the seasons. "We market ourselves as the only year-round, full-service resort and convention center in Utah with all amenities on site," he said. In addition to the geothermal hot springs that were the base of the Homestead's original popularity, summer visitors enjoy horseback riding, a new 18-hole championship golf course, swimming, tennis, fine dining in two restaurants, a private club, and 99 guest rooms situated in 14 separate cottages. Winter activities include a new cross-country ski touring center, snowmobiling, sleigh riding, and ski packages at eight nearby resorts.

Such an array would have been unimaginable to Simon Schneitter, the Swiss immigrant who created what is now the Homestead in 1886. Faced with mineral deposits that ran sheet-like under his Heber Valley land, making farming next to impossible, Schneitter decided to capitalize on hot springs located on his property.

Schneitter's mineral pool and "hot pots," along with his wife's Sunday chicken dinners, soon drew miners from Park City and other city dwellers to the fledgling spa and restaurant. Initially, overnight visitors camped on the grounds in tents; on-site lodging was eventually constructed and expanded on by a succession of owners over the years.

In 1986, when Great Inns of the Rockies purchased the resort, 80 percent of its revenue came from visitors during the summer months, Mathwich said. "We launched an extensive remodeling project that first summer, adding amenities, adding rooms, and upgrading existing facilities. We really started making inroads as a year-round resort in the winter of 1987, when we launched the |You Won't Believe This!' ski package," he explained.

The trademarked package includes lodging, meals, rental car, snowmobiling, and skilift tickets at local resorts. Marketing of the program in national publications has had a substantial pay-off in new destination visitors, which among other factors has helped increase occupancy from 40 percent for 43 rooms in 1986 to 52 percent in 99 rooms last year. Average room rates have in turn increased from $40 to $80 per night.

The Homestead also dedicates a large portion of its public-relations budget to a "travel-writer program" through which reporters from a variety of publications are invited to sample the resort's pleasures in hopes of generating positive publicity. "We don't tell them what to say or proof their copy, but we find that once we get them here, the resort sells itself," Mathwich said.

Indeed, the Midway resort has been featured in such diverse publications as Bon Appetit, National Geographic Traveler, Cross-Country Skier, California, Country, Glamour, Country Inns, Veranda, Best Family Inns, Shape, America West, and others.

Mathwich indicated the Homestead has also experienced success over the last two years with an aggressive campaign to market the resort as a small meeting and convention center. Attention is solicited from national publications that specialize in such venues; however, the resort concentrates its marketing efforts on the top 400 local companies in Utah.

Some 90 percent of its convention business is either from Utah or locally based, he said, and the vast majority is from repeat visitors and referrals. Recent events have been held by Nature's Sunshine, Novell, IBM, Geneva Steel, Martin Marietta, FHP, and a host of others, including many Utah state government groups.

Convention business is expected to make up approximately 30 percent of total revenue in 1991-92, and it's likely to remain at that level, Mathwich said. "We're concentrating now on improving the total number of room nights and increasing the length of each stay," he noted.

Future expansion plans, which Mathwich says are now in "preliminary stages," call for construction of a 5,000- to 6,000-square-foot convention center, and the company is also looking at developing either additional rooms or condominiums adjacent to the golf course.

The new golf course, now in its second season, will be the site of several important tournaments this year, including the PGA/Utah Section Championship, September 3-5. Complete tournament planning services are available for company meetings, golf outings, executive retreats, and holiday parties. The course is quickly earning a reputation as one of the area's most scenic.

According to consolidated budget figures for Great Inns of the Rockies in fiscal 1991-92, total revenue is expected to come in at just under $5 million. Annual payroll for the same period will be an estimated $1.569 million.

Hiring and keeping quality employees who subscribe to the Homestead philosophy on personalized service has been a problem in the past, but Mathwich indicated he's seen a change for the better over the last year. "At one time, we had a dramatic problem with personnel and historically had eight to 10 full-time positions open and unfilled year-round. Perhaps it's a change in the public's perception of the Homestead or the additional budget we've committed to our human-resource department, but we now have a number of qualified applicants and seem to have no trouble filling jobs," he observed.

The emphasis on personal attention and service is the cornerstone of the Homestead's agenda and a major source of repeat business for the resort. Mathwich and his managers greet and mingle with guests throughout the facilities and know many frequent visitors on a first-name basis.

"Although we have the amenities associated with large hotels, we make a real effort to offer friendly country atmosphere and service. That applies in particular to our dining facilities, even though they have grown in size. Eighty percent of the people who stay here, eat here. They get top quality meals without the feeling of a large downtown hotel," Mathwich said.

By making the most of its natural amenities and by retaining an engaging country spirit in the wake of extensive growth, the Homestead has made its mark in the highly competitive world of resort marketing. Simon Schneitter's hot pots have cooked up one of the West's most unique vacation destinations.

PHOTO : The historic Schneitter Family Hotel--now called the Virginia House--has eight Victorian-style guest rooms, an adjacent solarium, and a hot tub.

PHOTO : The 99 guest rooms, suites, and condominiums at the Homestead are individually appointed and perfect for active families, busy executives, or romantic honeymooners.

Teresa Browning-Hess is co-publisher of Business Source and specializes in writing about business topics.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Olympus Publishing Co.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:an analysis of the management of the Virginia House, a Utah resort hotel and historic site
Author:Browning-Hess, Teresa
Publication:Utah Business
Date:Jul 1, 1991
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