Industries Hotels/Tourism

New management for urban resort

Lansdowne morphs from a corporate destination during the week to a family getaway on weekends

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Print this page by Elizabeth Cooper

It’s Friday morning, and Lansdowne Resort’s 500 staff members are deftly transforming the Leesburg property from a corporate meeting destination into a relaxed family getaway.

Such rapid makeovers are routine for the 21-year-old resort which caters to corporate travelers during the week and couples and families on weekends. Just 30 miles from Washington, D.C., Lansdowne has carved out a reputation as an urban resort, with most of its guests living within 100 miles. In fact, Michael Snapkoski, the resort’s director of sales and marketing, compares Lansdowne to a chameleon. “Lansdowne is one of the most unique facilities in the country,” he says. “We started out as one of the premier conference centers and added resort amenities.”

Leisure activities, including golf courses, a spa, clubhouse and aquatic complex, were stepped up after LaSalle Hotel Properties, based in Bethesda, Md., became Lansdowne’s third owner in 2004. Lans­downe already had an 18-hole golf course and a pool, but LaSalle added two more golf courses, three pools, a spa and a clubhouse. “They redeveloped the property, and the resort side took off,” Snapkoski says.

Five years later, however, the luster is starting to wear off, says Michael Everett, a senior vice president with Destination Hotels & Resorts. LaSalle tapped the Colorado-based firm earlier this year to oversee operations at Lansdowne. The third-largest hotel management company in the U.S., Destination manages more than 35 independent luxury and upscale hotels, resorts and golf clubs, emphasizing exemplary customer service and attention to detail.

Lansdowne represents the company’s first foray into Virginia. “It’s more around the edges where Lansdowne has lost some of its veneer and maybe fell back a step or two in how customers view the property,” Everett adds.  “We want to bring the pieces of the resort together with a consistent story that guests will understand.”

That story will play out against a backdrop of high-tech renovations. Shortly before Destinations arrived on the scene, Lansdowne’s conference facilities, including its executive board room, underwent a major refurbishment. The top enhancement? The latest digital reader board technology. Among other things, it plays flash videos such as slide shows and photo collages of the previous day’s activities. Plus vendor commercials are now available in all meeting rooms. 

New furniture, carpeting, lighting enhancements and artwork also were added to the resort’s grand ballroom. The upgrades reflect the return of corporate board meetings after a four-year decline because of the bad economy. “Executive meetings are really starting to come back,” Snapkoski says, noting that Lansdowne has hosted up to 700 attendees at meetings in early 2012. “Meetings are up 20 percent over last year, and corporations are refocusing on driving top line revenue as opposed to bottom line profits.”

Lansdowne’s teambuilding recreational activities such as assembling bicycles for charity and competing in corporate Olympic events have proved to be major selling points for corporate meetings. Plus, the 296-room resort is an easy drive from metropolitan Washington. “Our number one advantage is our close proximity to many areas like Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax,” Snapkoski notes. “You can get here within an hour from most high-population areas in the region.”

Whether they are coming for golf, spa treatments, wine tastings or just to get away from the pressures of the city, guests usually book shorter stays at Lansdowne. “Many families go to the beach for a week,” Snapkoski says. “Here more come in on a Thursday or Friday and stay two or three nights.” He adds that leisure demand appears to be solid, with more couples and families also purchasing packages, combining their room rate with various activities geared to their interests. “It’s easier to book everything up front and allows us to better predict the movement of our customers.”

Still, a long list of amenities and proximity to the nation’s capital are not enough to stave off growing competition that’s steadily chipping away at Lansdowne’s position in the region. “Lansdowne 12 to 15 years ago was really the major property in that corridor,” Everett says. “The pie has become sliced among a larger group of properties, and it’s become a much more competitive market over the last five to seven years.”

He points out that the Hyatt Dulles recently added a high-end conference center, while Destinations just completed a $20 million makeover at the Madison Hotel, which it manages for Jamestown Properties in downtown Washington. Everett says any changes at Lansdowne will be a cooperative effort with LaSalle, the owner. “Ultimately it’s their decision. We’re the ones operating it day-to-day, and the ones held responsible for the result and making sure the resort is not only fully relevant but fully profitable.”

That’s where the emphasis turns to the resort’s family side, especially at mealtime. “It’s not the easiest thing to cater to a pharmaceutical group Monday through Thursday and then to a family of five on the weekend,” Everett says, adding that family business focuses more on variety and healthy food options. “There’s a lot more room for error and also for creativity with that segment.”

Lansdowne boasts five restaurants featuring farm-to-fork freshness. “For the last two years, we’ve had a very heavy focus on local produce and meat,” Snapkoski says. Destinations plans to expand upon the local emphasis by revamping menus and making physical improvements to Lansdowne eateries. “We think there’s opportunity to provide guests with something that’s higher end and do it more profitably,” Everett says.

That, according to Snapkoski, is reason to be excited about Destination’s plans for Lansdowne. “Any time you think of resort, what comes to my mind is highly personalized service and great amenities,” he says. “That’s something we’re extremely excited about with Destinations — their resort experience from a customer service standpoint.”

Ultimately, though, when it comes to any transformations, Lansdowne officials will look not just to its management firm, but to guests. “We have a lot of customer loyalty,” Snapkoski says. “We listen to our customers and how they want us to position the resort.”

Mary Pannullo, business director for BCF in Virginia Beach, a company that focuses on marketing travel, hospitality and lifestyle brands, says Lansdowne is ripe for a rebranding.  “Brand is the starting point,” she says. “You really have to know who you are to begin with and have a brand that emotionally engages consumers.” 

Everett believes Lansdowne will be able to meet the challenge. “The leading story,” he says, “is our confidence and ability to return Lansdowne to a much more prominent group facility in the D.C. corridor.”

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