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Four-Star Strategies

Wi-Fi to stay in touch, spas to quell the strain, pools for the kids. Keeping a luxury label requires clever innovations and constant upgrades.

Waterslides, cabanas, zero entry, waterfalls and more help attract both business travelers and families enjoying a “staycation” at Alabama’s PCH Resorts.

Waterslides, cabanas, zero entry, waterfalls and more help attract both business travelers and families enjoying a “staycation” at Alabama’s PCH Resorts.

Photos courtesy of PCH Resorts

As travelers continue to become savvier, the luxury hotel industry is continually working to please their discerning tastes. Alabama is home to eight four-diamond hotel properties, and each of them is focused on providing the most cutting-edge, luxurious experience possible for its guests. That requires ongoing maintenance and upgrades, the addition of new amenities and constant attention to service.

“One reason we’re able to maintain four-diamond ratings is because we stay on top of the trends,” says Steve Solberg, CEO of PCH Resorts, which owns and operates the Robert Trent Jones resort hotels, including six of the state’s four-diamond properties. “We have people [on our staff] who travel a lot and they know what’s new and what people are looking for.”

Technology

For resort properties that draw meeting groups as well as leisure guests, technology specifications are extremely important. “From the meeting planner standpoint, up-to-date audiovisual equipment is mandatory,” Solberg says. “And there’s always something new coming out.” PCH Resorts dedicates a significant capital investment every year to new technologies.

At Wind Creek Casino and Hotel in Atmore, another four-diamond property, “technology is huge,” says Roger Kuehn, executive director of hotel operations. “From a comfort or lifestyle perspective, high-end hotels are offering rooms with large HDTVs, personal computers, notebooks or iPads. More and more hotels are offering complimentary Wi-Fi. Hotels are also using social media as a viable option to communicate information and special offers.” 

The Westin Huntsville, Alabama’s other four-diamond hotel, uses technology to provide up-to-the-minute feedback from hotel guests to hotel staff. “It used to take days or weeks to receive feedback from a hotel guest about their stay,” says Sarah Carlberg, public relations and marketing director at the Westin Huntsville. “But now hotels are using online surveys and QR codes so that guests can offer feedback immediately. We send surveys out within 15 minutes of a guest checking out, and we all have access to their survey information on our desktops.” 

Service

That type of technology makes it easier for hotels to provide the attentive customer service their guests expect, Carlberg says.

And for the state’s top hotels, service is a vital component of providing the luxurious experience they are known for. “From the start, our business model has been predicated on treating people well,” says Wind Creek’s Kuehn. “Managers are motivated to create and maintain a good work environment, one in which team members can thrive. All team members are focused on delivering personalized guest service. It’s working, because the amount of positive guest feedback we receive is truly incredible.”

PCH Resorts are known for their award-winning spas, but instead of pushing the latest spa treatments, the spas are focused on personalized service. “We do offer the latest treatments, but in this economy, we noticed that almost all of our guests are under quite a bit of stress,” says Susie Marquez, director of spas at PCH.

“Rather than trying to push new crazy treatments, we’ve decided to go back to basics. People aren’t coming to the spa for pampering anymore. They come to get fixed, because they’re under so much stress. We try to focus on the individual need and meet the needs of each guest.”

Amenities

Even as Alabama’s top hotels focus on the basics of providing a relaxing, luxurious guest experience, they continue to offer new attractions for guests to enjoy. Wind Creek, for instance, is expanding and will add an entertainment wing to the northeast side of the property, Kuehn says. The expansion is expected to be complete by June 2013 and will include a movie theater, bowling alley and retail shops. 

The Westin Huntsville, which anchors Huntsville’s Bridge Street Town Centre, a shopping, dining and entertainment complex, is working to make the most of its location. “One of the newest things we’re starting to see around the country is luxury hotels partnering with upscale shopping centers,” Carlberg says. “It provides business travelers with a one-stop shop for retail, restaurants and movies.”

The Westin recently launched its new Shop and Stay package, which includes two movie tickets, a $100 gift card to Bridge Street and one night’s stay at the hotel. For the past three summers, the hotel has hosted a summer concert series in its courtyard, and this year, plans to host a fall jazz concert series.

Such activities don’t just attract out-of-town guests and business travelers; they also bring in locals and people who live within a 100-mile radius. “They call it a stay-cation, and it’s really interesting how much business we do with families nearby,” PCH’s Solberg says. “In the summer, families from nearby make up probably 75 percent of our business.” One of the amenities that draws families to the PCH Resorts are its feature pools, which include waterslides, cabanas, zero entry, waterfalls and other features, and are located at the Grand Hotel in Point Clear, Ross Bridge Resort in Hoover and the Marriott Shoals in Florence. The company’s newest feature pool is under construction at its Opelika/Auburn property and is scheduled to open Memorial Day weekend. After the pool is complete, construction will begin on a tennis complex at the Opelika/Auburn property.

Nancy Mann Jackson is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Huntsville.

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