Longtime GM Donnie Lee of The Gant resort in Aspen, Colorado, describes the challenges and benefits of running a condominium resort in one of America’s most-visited ski destinations.
Donnie Lee, the GM at the property who left in the 1980s, returned in 1997 as assistant GM and took over as GM in 2006, describes The Gant as a condominium hotel. When asked if the property functions the same way as a traditional hotel, he said, “yes and no.”
“It’s a condominium complex,” he said. “So we answer to a board of directors and the owners. We run the association or manage the association on behalf of (a condominium association), and then we also run the rental program on behalf of the owners.”
While the 143-room property has multiple owners, it looks, feels and operates like a hotel, Lee said, with all the things expected from a hotel: front-desk associates; a bellman; transportation; housekeeping; a conference center; and food and beverage.
“The difference is every room is owned. Every unit is individually decorated,” he said. “We have requirements as to what are the level of decoration and what has to be included in those remodels in order to obtain certain classifications. That’s all sanctioned by the board, and the ownership all buys into that. There’s been a lot of symmetry involved in the development of that and it’s worked well for this property.”
The way rooms are rented are also very similar to a hotel, he said. It’s not like the “VRBO vacation rental situation” where a person goes online, looks at pictures of rooms and decides to rent that specific unit.
“We don’t do that. We work just like a hotel,” Lee said. “So you’re buying a unit type. So you’re buying a two-bedroom deluxe or two-bedroom premiere, and they’re so consistent in quality that we can move people around and maximize occupancy and do all of the things that a more traditional hotel would do. So we really are blending both of those worlds together.”
When it comes to working with the owners involved, he said those types of conversations also work in the same way as a hotel would with its ownership arm.
“…When it’s time to invest in FF&E (furniture, fixtures and other equipment) or capital reserve to update the hotel, we have the exact same conversation,” he said. “It’s just we have to do it 140 times because there’s different owners so you’re always in a conversation about what may be wearing out or what needs to be updated or what the long-range plan might be. And same thing: We still have to execute, we have to provide a return to the owner for that investment, and the better we can do that the better the whole program works.”
Lee said the room availability at his property is interesting because it changes all the time, unlike a hotel.
“So in a hotel, (if) you’ve got 100 rooms, you’ve got 100 rooms, but here we have 100 rooms except for those that the owners are in, so then your (availability) goes down because those units aren’t available. So we have this moving target of availability,” he said. “In other words, our (revenue per available room) can be influenced by the number of owners we have, unlike a hotel where that availability becomes a pretty static number. Here it’s not as static.”
Lee doesn’t see this as a challenge; “it’s just another dynamic that you have to deal with,” he said.
“Again, it’s a partnership. One of our cornerstones is providing value for owners,” he said. “We live with them, we have to execute from an operations standpoint; we want to drive revenue, control costs, the same as any other hotel, and (provide) return and a great experience so the owners come out, they enjoy their vacations. They have a passionate investment here; this is their vacation home in Aspen. So they have an emotional investment as well as a financial investment. They are committed to Aspen, they are committed to The Gant, so it runs deep.”
The Gant is primarily a leisure destination that draws a lot of international business, which means longer guest stays, Lee said. While it’s mostly leisure guests who stay at the hotel, he said 20% to 25% of the business is group.
Since Aspen is a ski destination, winter is the high season for the property, but summer business has grown a lot over the years.
“It’s a pretty substantial summer period,” Lee said. “Twenty to 30 years ago, it was a very short window of eight or nine weeks.”
The resort now sees summer guests from the middle of May to the end of October, he said.
The hotel industry is moving toward providing unique experiences to guests, which Lee said The Gant leverages through its transportation services.
“…We’re touching and interfacing with the customer all the time that they’re here through our transportation services,” he said, adding that this really gives the hotel an opportunity to get to know the guests.