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November 2008

Best of the Best Practices

What are top resorts doing to set the standard for business practices in wintersports? First in a series.

Written by Nicole Voth, Mountain Performance Consulting | 0 comment

Welcome to the first of what we expect will snowball into a regular series that will profile industry trend setters and innovators. We routinely learn from one another via networking, resort tours, conference panel presentations, and, of course, “secret shopping.” When we one-up each other we all benefit from better products, services and a revitalized marketplace. So we will highlight those who are setting the standard and reveal what makes them, and their resorts, so special.

To help us root out the best practices in the industry, we sent a survey last April to industry leaders, asking which resorts and managers stand out in four key areas of leadership: organizational planning, customer service culture, community involvement, and employee environment. We received only a handful of responses (come on, let us know who you’d like us to interview—we’ll find out what makes them so great), but they included some excellent leads.

This month, in this first edition of the “best of the best,” we’re highlighting one of the responses regarding customer service culture.

SAM asked: Which resorts are setting the standard in creating a culture of service with practices such as customer feedback systems, loyalty programs, employee empowerment, service/help desks, and issue resolution?

You said: The Mount Washington Hotel—Bretton Woods (Chris Ellms) impresses me!

Of course, we had to know more. Digging around, we learned that the 2007 Ski Magazine Reader’s Poll called Bretton Woods and the Mount Washington Resort “the Deer Valley of the east,” and the resort consistently lands in the East’s overall top ten. So, what’s going on up there in New Hampshire?

Leadership by Example
Alexa Bernotavicz, assistant director of ski area operations, believes it starts at the top, with ski area director Chris Ellms. “Chris instills a sense of pride in his staff by leading through example,” she says. “For instance, every morning he hops into a groomer to provide the finishing touches for our guests. He notices the small details and makes sure they get addressed and creates a team atmosphere through his charisma and communication. The culture of service that has been created at Bretton Woods is due largely to his leadership.”

Mountain Hosts
Bretton Woods also boasts an enthusiastic and vibrant Mountain Host program. Mountain Host coordinator Bill Keller manages the volunteer staff of 54. Among the expected activities of a Mountain Host (meet ’n’ greet, parking lots and on-hill traffic control), this group prides itself on doing the unexpected, such as operating an on-hill guest services desk—a warming hut complete with hot cocoa and a concierge. You’ll likely find a Sherpa-type Mountain Host helping to schlep rentals out to the slopes or parking lot, taking guest surveys in the lodge, or cheerfully loading marshmallows on sticks at the fire pit.

Gold Standard Basics
There’s even more to love at Bretton Woods with the revitalization of Mount Washington Resort’s management group. President and CEO Pat Corso joined the team in 2006 to polish the gem of a hotel at the foot of the Presidentials. Early on the list of to-dos was ramping up the guests’ adventure and recreation experiences.

“The service environment at Mount Washington Resort stems from our Gold Standard Basics, or, ‘the basics’ as we call them,” says resort activities director Sean Doll . “They’re derived from our core values: Family, Service, Stewardship, Teamwork, Adventure and Balance. All of the employees of Mount Washington Resort easily identify with the basics, because they were established for the staff, by the staff.”

The CAR Program
A recent, sweeping innovation is the Central Amenities Reservation (CAR) program. When guests make a reservation, their confirmation letters prompt them to begin thinking about what activities they’d like to experience during their visit. A friendly and knowledgeable Adventure Desk representative contacts guests to help make arrangements.

Doll explains, “CAR is all about getting the guest to the front of the line. Once they’re here, everything is ready for them and they can hit the ground running.” It’s an advanced timed itinerary planner that can book everything from rentals, ice climbing, and dinner to dog sledding, children’s programming and services at the new spa. The program has been in place since January 2008.

“A fringe benefit of the program is how happy our vendors and department heads are with it,” Doll says. “They’re better able to forecast their business levels and schedule staff.” Happy employees, happy vendors, happy guests, and always remarkable weather combine to make the Mount Washington Resort and Bretton Woods a blissful place to visit.

Bests of the Future
Now it’s your turn. Which resorts or industry leaders impress you? Write us a note, give us a call; report on your own best of the best practices. Don’t be shy about nominating yourself or others you admire, respect, or envy. Consider these categories:

Best of Employee Environment: Which resorts have raised the bar in employee centered programming, such as recruiting, training, retention, benefits and employee satisfaction?

Best of Organizational Planning: Which resorts are on the money with practices such as planning for the future, managing growth, using yield management, forecasting, and pain-free budget processes?

Best of Community Involvement: Which resorts have their heart, soul and hands immersed in their local communities, through practices such as volunteerism/participation, donations, charitable giving and communication?

Anything and anyone is fair game. Is your own resort blowing the competition out of the water? Go ahead and let us know. We’re pretty darn good as an industry, but there’s always room for a new idea or two. Let’s continue to notice and celebrate each other. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.