Owning and operating independent hotels in remote locations can be challenging, but some hoteliers are finding ways to turn it into an advantage.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Despite challenges associated with transportation and visibility to attract guests, some independent hoteliers with properties in remote locations see advantages to being off the beaten path.
The Adirondack’s historic Hotel Saranac reopened in January following a four-year, $30-million restoration in Saranac Lake, near Lake Placid, New York—a destination that’s remoteness is not a deterrent, said David Roedel, business development officer of Roedel Companies, which owns the hotel.
Roedel said he and his team saw an opportunity to create something unique within an existing market.
“If you’re in Lake Placid, it’s very nice, but it’s also very commercial,” he said. “At Saranac Lake, you’re staying in an historic hotel, and the town is very authentic Adirondack. There’s no chains; it’s all really locally owned and operated.”
Roedel said those qualities lure guests looking for something more authentic and historic. It’s “a little bit out of the noise. … We see that as a real advantage to our customers and future customers,” he said.
The Tikchik Narrows Lodge, on the waters of Bristol Bay in Dillingham, Alaska, also makes the most of its remote location, said owner and operator Bud Hodson.
The only way for guests to reach the hotel is to take a commercial flight to Anchorage, Alaska, and then one of four floatplanes owned by the hotel from Dillingham to Tikchik.
“On our exchange days, we launch two airplanes in the morning from Tikchik to Dillingham with drivers and luggage,” Hodson said. “Those two airplanes offload and return to Tikchik.”
Departing guests are dropped off to catch their commercial flights as new guests arrive, he said.
To sustain this service, Hodson said the Tikchik Narrows Lodge has four drivers and four certified pilots to assist with the exchange in Dillingham and a total hotel staff of 37, including a full-time aircraft mechanic on property during summer.
Roedel said a majority of his guests at Hotel Saranac are those driving from three to four hours away—mostly from Albany, Syracuse and Rochester, New York.
Because the hotel is still fairly new and hasn’t hit its high season yet, Roedel and his team are still looking at challenges that might pop up with transportation—particularly for those flying in—but currently, he said, “most of our guests will be travelling by car or have a car.”
“Of course, we’re in the hotel business; we’re trying to never say, ‘no,’” he said. “We’re trying to figure out a way in which to assist and help.”
Challenges of remote locations
Hodson said his greatest enemy is bad weather.
“We cannot fly if the weather is horrible. Weather delays are not very often, but they can screw up even the best planning,” he said. “Fortunately, our guests understand that this is out of our control and safety has to be our No. 1 priority.”
He said another challenge is the limited number of travel agents in the area. Most of his clients come by word-of-mouth recommendations, are repeat customers or have found the hotel through advertisements. This has highlighted the need for a hotel website which tells a story and features lots of photos of the property.
It isn’t easy operating a hotel, restaurant, small airline and fishing guide service, he said. Adding to the difficulty, all materials must be transported in by the hotel’s floatplanes.
“Before our first guests arrive … we will haul 20,000 gallons of fuel; 25,000 pounds of dry goods and food; 18,000 pounds of beer, liquor and wine; 120 170-pound propane tanks; and, of course, our staff of 37,” he said.
The cost of operating, Hodson said, is offset by the “magnificence of our isolated location.”
Understand who your guest is
Roedel said Hotel Saranac attracts guests who are explorers and lovers of the outdoors.
“We’re prepared to match those guests up with (experiences) … whether it be a hiking trail, a boat to (the lake) or a guide to help guide them to a fishing spot,” he said. “All of those things … we’re working together with local providers to make sure when guests arrive at Hotel Saranac, they really have the entire Adirondack Park available.”
As a part of Hilton’s soft-brand Curio collection, Hotel Saranac had to go through a long and expensive process, to make sure it’s branding, identity and marketing is “truly unique and independent,” Roedel said.
Hodson said Tikchik gets all kinds of guests, including the adventurous type.
“We have a very high rate of repeat guests … Most first-time guests … will be talking to people who love Tikchik, and it makes the new guests very comfortable with the knowledge that everything will be outstanding,” he said.