Saturday, January 28, 2017

I want to start a resort, how should I get started?

Why would anyone want to come there?

I'm not being a smart a*s: with a resort, that is the first question you have to ask, and its going to come up again and again. (Fortunately, you seem to already have some idea.)

With any hotel project, you locate your hotel near as many demand generators (office parks, interstate highway offramps, theme parks and other tourist attractions, a big regional mall, an airport if you can swing it, etc.), so you still ask that question first.

With a resort, it's all the more important. You're relying upon your location and property itself to be the demand generator (with many resorts, the only demand generator you'll have). Much of the reason people check into your facility is for the unique experience of staying at your facility, itself. So you have to ask that question first, and you have to keep asking it over and again as you're putting it together.


  • You'll be building a hotel - a building with a lobby and some guestrooms, and support facilities for those - but a large part of your development budget is going to be creature features. That's going to be your biggest focus. A lot of your guests will come there to vacation, relax and chill out, but they'll still need things to do, or they'll be bored silly and will not come more than once; and what you'll have won't be a resort, it'll just be an overbuilt hotel with some nice views in an awkward, remote location. (Even a jail has to have things for the inmates to do, or the inmates will think of things themselves that would occasionally catch even the most cynical and jaded by surprise, and the jail becomes unmanageable.) Think of what you'd want or need either on site or within walking distance if you were to spend a week in such a spot and, ideally, not want to leave or go out for anything during that week; except maybe once or twice if there's a popular eating place close by. You'd want anyone - especially someone who flew in and didn't rent a car - to be able to content themselves and even enjoy such a situation.
  • I'd consider some meeting space, with rooms and assembly areas of various sizes. Your resort would be more marketable if the attendees could relax and have some fun while they're there, but even in the middle of a desert or godforsaken wilderness, some meeting space would make the place more marketable as a destination for business, religious or educational retreats. The isolation alone can be made worth something. It doesn't all have to be fancy. In a scenic setting, if the climate is good, some gazebos, picnic shelters, and a brush arbor - in addition, of course, to more conventional indoor facilities - will do.
  • Speaking of meeting and event space, don't forget an outdoor wedding venue, especially one overlooking the water. More than one under-20-room bed and breakfast runs on weddings, and wedding guests booking every room at the inn, as their main business source.
  • You'll have to provide for recreational amenities. If you want to market it to divers, you'll need docks, maybe one or two boats (and some knowledgeable guys to pilot them, since I wouldn't trust anyone to operate a powerboat unless I was okay with their level of experience in the handling and care of the boat, as well as their navigational skills) and something to refill scuba tanks. But you'll also need more: what if the guy's wife comes along, and she's not into diving? Maybe a spa. Maybe a tennis court. Maybe something for the kids. You'll still need a pool: the larger and nicer, the better. The acreage - and every foot of shoreline that's included - will come in handy.
  • When planning your creature features, think back to my odd analogy of the jail. (Strange analogy for a resort? :-) But it works: a captive audience for whatever amenities, facilities and services that the local authorities have to offer, to guests on an extended stay, who we don't want wandering off to run errands for themselves . . .). Particularly, the TV set in the dayroom or pod, or mounted on the wall across from a row of cells. That's the 'babysitter'. It's important. It only costs a couple hundred bucks, doesn't require a lot of staff attention or upkeep, doesn't involve any ongoing expense other than the cable bill, and keeps the inmates happily occupied and out of trouble. You'll want to plan similar 'babysitters' for your resort: the kind of amenities that your guests will enjoy, that will give them something to do that will get and hold their attention and keep them happy and occupied for several hours, but that has a low initial investment, low expense and upkeep, and little to no attention by your staff. (Some of the available 'babysitter' options here might surprise you. For example, the TV set in the room. One desk clerk I worked with, an immigrant from Indonesia, told me of some of the luxury high-rise oceanfront resorts there: people would come from all over Asia and Australia, check in for several days, and never leave the room. "Why do they come here?", she'd wonder. "Stay home and pay the rent." But you don't want to rely upon just TV: someone could go to jail and be provided that much. You can't go wrong with a slab of concrete in some out of the way spot with a basketball goal set up on one side: kids of all ages will shoot a few hoops . . .

  • . . . or one of these

  • Perhaps a hedge-enclosed zen garden with a labyrinth, if your resort will have any health or wellness orientation [aromatherapy, diet, etc.] at all. They don't take up much space, no upkeep at all other than yard work you'd need someone to do anyway, and some people can spend hours sitting in one, all alone, in their thoughts . . . Coming up with stuff like this for a resort project is going to challenge you to use some imagination.)

  • Remember our friend Dr. Frederick Herzberg and his dual-factor theory (Two-factor theory ): what he had to share with us applies a hundred times over to resorts. The major attractions of your resort - the location, the docks, the dive shop, related creature features, will involve major investment and attention, but that's necessary to draw people to your resort. These are motivating factors. They're the answer to my "why would anyone want to come there?" question. But overbuild these, and the demand for quite that much will never materialize, and you'll go broke and never recover (never mind justify) your investment. 'Babysitter' creature features; the low-investment, low-maintenance, minimal-staff-attention stuff that keeps people happily busy; won't by themselves draw people, but they're necessary to fill in the dead time and keep people busy and content when the major ones aren't being used. These are, accordingly, maintenance/hygeine factors. the answer to the question, "why would anyone want to stay there once they've showed up, or come back again next year?" Keep this in mind when planning your facilities, so you'll have appropriate balance. (And open space and natural scenery is a good thing, too - you don't necessarily want your resort to be an amusement park. Think back to summer camp when you were a kid: you don't want any more density than that if you can avoid it. Use buffers when you can't.)
  • You're going to have food and beverage, something I like to avoid to the extent possible in more conventional locations. There will be a bar (many, some would say sadly, consider that something to do; but you do need to balance your guests' needs for privacy with their needs for social interaction as appropriate), a small restaurant (if it's an isolated location - and one like you describe that isn't isolated is worth a fortune - you're going to have to have at least some food, two or three meals a day), I'd consider a small retail operation off the desk, like the convenience pantry at a Candlewood Suites. You're trying to attract people who won't want to leave for several days. Anytime they feel the need to, or that they have errands to run, it's working against you. (Room service might actually help the TV work as one of your babysitters: it seems to have helped in those Indonesian resorts.)
  • You're going to be looking at something high-end (conceivably a couple hundred dollars or more per night or more). You've got to have enough creature features to make a rate like that worth doing in order to get and keep any customers. Good creature features and the resort location will draw more customers, and fetch you a better rate, than you'd have without them, but some of those creature features (and the extra staff to care for them), you'll need the added revenue to support. They won't contribute much of a revenue stream, if they even pay for themselves. Any creature features that will generate revenue, you might want to make available to the locals for a price. Your room revenue will be only a part of your total revenue, maybe not even the biggest part.
  • While it's going to be a high-end hotel, you don't want to make it too plush. If it's an oceanfront location, 'plush' will actually work against you. Trust me on this one, I grew up in a coastal resort area. Seawater is the most corrosive, destructive substance in the world that occurs naturally and in large quantities. Any metal that it comes in contact with will rust or tarnish - quickly, if not overnight. Any fabric that it comes in contact with will noticeably begin to deteriorate within a few months. Any wood other than pressure-treated that it comes in contact with will rot much faster. The paint on any surface that it comes in contact with will weather, discolor and deteriorate two to three times as fast. Any wicker furniture you have will outlive the upholstered cushions on it, instead of the other way around as is usually the case with wicker furniture in more inshore locations. (With furnishings, you'll want to go with either 'indestructible' or 'not cheap-cheap, but easy and economical to replace as appropriate'. And don't take 'indestructible' for granted.) Salt water even weakens cement (once the rebar inside starts rusting away . . .). The fact that the affected object isn't in the water doesn't help: ever feel that misty sea breeze that smells a little salty and fishy, and leaves your body feeling a little sticky as you head back from a long walk on the beach, and - as it starts to dry - that maybe it's time for a shower? It gets everywhere within a mile or so from the shore. The only reason anyone ever bothered inventing hydrochloric acid is that it works more efficiently and predictably, isn't as sticky and nasty, and doesn't leave as much of a film, as salt water. So, your maintenance expenses are going to be higher, your maintenance staff is going to be larger (at least one or two of them will make a full-time job out of landscaping and yard work through the spring, summer and fall), and even though you're probably in a seasonal location, they're going to have a year-round job.
  • Speaking again from my observation and experience growing up around Morehead City, N. C. (Morehead City NC - Google Maps , Morehead City, North Carolina ): you tell me you have all your approvals and paperwork in order? Go back over it again and make sure. Tree-huggers (and even the more sensible environmental activists) are particularly sensitive to waterfront development, and even the United States Army listens to them. You'll notice just how so when it's time to get the permits for your docks, or any beach improvements like a walkway over the dunes: it is the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers that issues them. North Carolina has a truly burdensome Coastal Area Management Act that makes it difficult to impossible to disturb wetlands - any piece of ground with the presence of certain species of plants that only grow near water - and North Carolina is, by reputation, anyway, supposed to be one of the more development-friendly states . . .
  • When designing your rooms, think 'indoor-outdoor'. Each room or suite should have an individual balcony or patio with some level of privacy.

  • (You want it to look better than this - Google Image Search has its limits in terms of finding the just the right sort of picture for illustration purposes - but these illustrate that it doesn't have to be fancy . . .)

  • (I stole the idea of pitching a tent from an episode of Hotel Impossible - that's exactly what Anthony Melchiorri had them do with this field for the climactic grand finale... Episode Recap: Vermont Inn )
  • You're never going to finish this and get it right, and if you're getting it right, it's not finished. This is very important with a hotel, but all the more so with a resort: every time a repeat customer checks in, he or she should see something new, something good that wasn't there the last time around.
All that said, don't forget to cover the basics. Michael Forrest Jones' answer to What does it take to start a hotel? They still apply.

For a resort, I'd approach a little more carefully the idea of getting a chain involved. (I'm not too hopeful that you'll get any financing out of them, or get them signed on as a partner or investor in the venture: one thing they all have in common is people tripping all over each other to affiliate with them and pay franchise fees and royalties without having to invest a cent of their own money.) Eventually, you'll probably want to think about possible brand affiliation, and early on at that, but they wouldn't be the first people I'd call. Marriott has a brand that specializes in vacation resorts, but they'll probably refer you to a nearby Marriott developer, and you'll give a lot of control of your property.

One thing about resorts is, if you don't build something really unique, it won't work as well with or without a chain; and if you do build something really unique, the chain affiliation might not make that much of a difference - perhaps not even enough to be worth the 8.5%-plus of your revenue that you'll be paying them. It won't be as critical as it would be for a more conventional hotel. But it is possible that a chain affiliation can help, and might bring some experience in things that it would take you a long time to pick up on your own.

Have fun with it: that's what resorts are all about. I plan to. I'll be coming back to this question. I didn't score the Quora credits on the A2A because it took an extra day just to come up with this much (it's OK, they keep piling up anyway through my normal everyday Quora activity, wish I had the same kind of luck with money . . .), but some minimal info was required for a decent answer, and it's still bare bones...

Originally appeared on Quora

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