Recipe for Resort Community Success: How Park City Manages to Rank With the Best
By Jane Gendron
To understand what blend of ingredients goes into this recipe for success, we turned to a sampling of the highest achievers: Deer Valley Resort, ranked No. 1 by readers of SKI magazine a record five years in a row; Stein Eriksen Lodge, the only Forbes Five-Star and one of two AAA Five Diamond hotels in Utah; Mountain Trails Foundation, recently named the first and only Gold-level Ride Center by IMBA (International Mountain Bicycling Association); and the city itself, which released the results of 2011’s “The National Citizen Survey,” showing that, locally, a whopping 97% of residents surveyed ranked quality of life as good or excellent in Park City.
Known for “The Deer Valley Difference,” this resort has mastered its own brand of crowd-pleasing customer service. So, is there a secret to this operation? “There is no silver bullet,” explains president and general manager Bob Wheaton. “The results are from paying attention every single day and keeping the mantra foremost in our mind that we need to treat everyone on staff [all 2,700 in-season employees] as our best guest and then expect the staff to do the very same with the guests that come here.” This happy staff means happy guests philosophy continually pays off with top rankings and an impressive retention of employees. In the case of SKI magazine’s accolades, Wheaton explains that the reader survey results indicate that every employee contributes to the success; whether those employees actually “touch” the guests or they are behind the scenes, such as dishwashers or snow groomers.
“Long story short, it comes down to a team effort,” he says.Factors outside of the resort’s control also come into play. Although Mother Nature can be helped along with sizeable investment in state-of-the-art snow cats and snowmaking machines—not to mention a remarkable staff of operators—no business is an island. In fact, Deer Valley’s ability to be a skiers- only resort is a result of visitors’ opportunity to choose from three resorts; and Wheaton tips his cap to PCMR and Canyons for doing “a great job.” He is also quick to tout Park City as “a magical place.” The town’s friendly atmosphere, transportation system and proximity to the airport are just part of the package, he says.
STEIN ERIKSEN LODGE
Located on the slopes of Deer Valley, the granddaddy of local hotel grandeur hasn’t simply stumbled into its stars and diamonds. It takes ambition and it takes hard work. “It’s an organizational commitment to throw your hat in the ring,” says Sarah Myers, marketing and PR manager of Stein Eriksen Lodge. Going after five stars or five diamonds in the hospitality industry can be a full-time job. First, there’s a nuts and bolts side to meeting the requirements: a substantial, but attainable, checklist of facilities and services. But it is the emotional piece of the puzzle that gets a hotel from the four stars (or diamonds) to the top notch five—and that’s when an inspector’s subjective whims come into the picture, she says.
Myers illustrates the process and inspector expectations with one example: room service. When a hotel employee fields a room service call, he must: pick up the phone within three rings; use the guest’s surname; have extensive knowledge of the menu and be able to offer suggestions, when asked; never put the guest on hold for more than 30 seconds; review the order; project the sentiment that the staff member is genuinely interested in the guest having an excellent experience…and on and on until all 43 different categories are met. The tricky part is that inspector visits are not known; it could be any guest, which means that every member of the staff needs to be up to snuff on customer service standards.
Like Deer Valley Resort, Stein’s has a sizable tenured staff, which means that many of these criteria are “second nature” to the seasoned frontline employees. Since AAA and Forbes have slightly different grading systems, the 30 year-old lodge has covered its bases by crafting a “Stein’s Way.” These in-house standards apply to everyone, which is why it’s not uncommon to see the CEO delivering plates to restaurant diners or a bellman greeting guests with eye contact within 10 feet. The accolades the Lodge and its Spa (one of 30 Forbes Five-Star spas in the world) have received are a direct result of “service and the people behind it,” Myers says. The Stein’s Way means not just paying close attention to guests’ needs, but also anticipating them.
MOUNTAIN TRAILS FOUNDATION
If you build it, will they come? Only if you plan it well, according to Mountain Trails Foundation’s executive director Charlie Sturgis. Then, you might just strike gold with an international mountain bike organization.
“A number of years ago, we [several individuals as well as public and private entities] decided that if this whole trails thing was going to succeed, it had to be well- balanced. It had to have beginner terrain. It had to have intermediate terrain. It couldn’t just have hardcore terrain,” he says. So, the trail builders integrated IMBA standards into the system, creating appropriately graded trails that were both sustainable and ride-able.
The award, Sturgis says, is really a reflection of a collective effort of many players, particularly Snyderville Basin Special Recreation District, the county and the city. Though the non-profit he represents received the designation, he stresses that the trails system success has been driven by a number of different partnerships, both private (such as The Colony development) and public.
It has taken decades of mapping, building, grading, rerouting and remapping to create the ever-evolving, award-winning, 400-mile trail system. But all the planning in the world wouldn’t be worth a rusty old bicycle spoke without buy-in from the community.
As Sturgis says, preservation of open space and private landowners opening up their properties to trails “is huge.” That’s how a trail system becomes interconnected and accessible, making it worthy of IMBA prestige and, well, incredibly fun, too.
It takes a village.
And this particular village succeeds because of its socio-economic diversity, says Mayor Dana Williams. “We all get to live the dream and sometimes it’s not really contingent on how much money you have,” he says. According to The National Citizen Survey (an independent poll conducted by a Boulder, Colorado-based firm), the majority of residents surveyed rank Park City living
as good or excellent. The things Parkites “hold dear” are: the environment we live in, the outdoor opportunities, the sense of place, the feeling that it’s an “amazing” place to raise children, safety, Old Town and open space, says Williams. He adds that the international flavor (though recently dampened by the scarcity of work visas),
the vast array of community outreach programs (from domestic violence help to healthcare) and the high level of community involvement in non-profits make for an engaged and interesting population.
Given the outdoor enthusiast nature to the city, it’s perhaps unsurprising that environmental stewardship ranks at the top of community concerns, according to Williams and the National Citizenship Survey results. While the city has received praise from the EPA as a “Green Power Community of the Year” for eco-initiatives and a No. 1 North American ranking in terms of parklands per capita from the International City/County Management Association, citizens want to “go bigger” on the green front,” says Williams who spoke at the first global congress on preservation of biodiversity this spring.
Of course, one of the ultimate stamps of approval came from the International Olympic Committee when it granted Park City host status for the 2002 Games. Despite the excitement and cachet of playing in such an incredible arena, however, Williams stresses that the spotlight doesn’t necessarily change the town’s small, funky character. And he notes that Park City, like any town, has its own share of issues; but it also has a population that tends to rise to the occasion.
“We have, in my opinion, the best, friendliest workforce of any resort I’ve seen in my 10 years of being in office. People understand their jobs here,” says Williams. “And they understand that it takes all of us to actually make it work.”
Deer Valley, Stein’s, Mountain Trails and the city are a mere sampling—and a highly subjective one at that—of the Type A folks that inhabit these hills. Pushing the town to the top, are a vast collection of entities, including an array of arts, cultural and elite athletic organizations and number of restaurants and hotels that plaster their tastefully decorated walls with plaques from Zagat, Wine Spectator, Mobile, Michelin and Fodor’s.
With that disclaimer, when we look at the successes of four organizations and how they achieve them, it is evident that they share several key ingredients. No, there is no secret dash of this or hint of that in this recipe. Rather, it is a mixture of solid philosophies, elbow grease, forethought and buy-in at an organizational and community-wide level.
To be No. 1, no one stands alone.