Late last year, Winnipeg’s Lakeview Management Inc. announced that they had acquired the Hecla Resort and golf course, of which they took possession on Dec. 14. Work is now being completed towards a May 3 official opening.
The Spectator met with Lakeview Management president Keith Levit and two of his two top managers (Operations Manager Chris Miler and the general manager of the new Hecla property, Jeff Demarcke) at their corporate headquarters in downtown Winnipeg on Jan.30 to discuss their plans for the spectacular Interlake hotel which has stood vacant for the last three years.
“Paletta (the former owner) had created a great resort destination,” said Levit,” But he had a business plan that was challenging and the rates that he was charging were too high to attract Manitobans in search of a vacation in that area,” he added.
Aside from charging high rates (starting at $150 or so) to service the debt and pay for the Radisson franchise fees, the former owner perhaps courted the wrong market, that is to say an executive high end business and corporate clientele for conferences and other business functions.
“Our brands include the Lakeview Inns & Suites as well as the Lakeview Resorts, and the resort ones - Gimli, Summerside in P.E.I. and soon the Hecla location - have a concept that is more geared to a lakeside or ocean side feel,” Levit continued.
The strategy with the Lakeview Hecla Resort, as it will be called, is to attract a more mainstream market than in the past:
“We are structuring our operations in a way that will allow us to charge reasonable room rates,” said operations manager Chris Miller.
For example, Standard Double Queen rooms will start at rates as low as $99 weekdays during the value season from early Sept. to Oct., and be only slightly higher during the summer season from the end of June to Sept. 1. (Right now, the hotel is slated to remain open from May to the end of Dec., and be closed from Jan. to mid-April).
Among the factors that will make this pricing policy feasible is that Lakeview will benefit from Paletta’s investment (the existing infrastructure - for example, the guest rooms are still in excellent condition), the company has its own brand and will thus have no 3rd party franchise fees and it also operates its own central reservations system right out of its Winnipeg headquarters.
“The former upstairs fine dining area is being remodeled to function as a special events (Mother’s Day brunch, wine tastings, etc.) venue only, while the former restaurant area downstairs will be a Seagull’s restaurant, exactly like the one the people know and enjoy in Gimli,” Miller said.
Again, the foregoing falls right in with the strategy of making the destination affordable and family-friendly, as does having a certain number of “pet-friendly” rooms set aside in the hotel.
The spa and existing water park are also great assets in attracting families, and even Levit himself said “My own kids are very excited about going to Hecla once it opens.”
The golf course is another great asset to the resort as it is one of the more scenic ones in the entire province. For the next four years, it will continue to be operated by the province, and eventually management would like to see the pro shop moved right into the hotel premises.
Lakeview hotels and resorts already enjoy an enviable reputation in the hospitality business, according to the comments which regularly appear on Trip Advisor, for example. This is the direct result of Lakeview’s corporate philosophy when it comes to its employees:
“Take care of your staff, and they will take care of your guests,” Miller says. “We seldom get negative comments from guests who have stayed with us in the past, and they often rave about the level of customer service that we offer in our hotels.”
Several people in Riverton and Arborg found themselves out of a job when the hotel was shuttered three years ago, and Lakeview is adamant about hiring many of those individuals back. The hotel will operate a complement of about 60 full-time staff members during the high season.
“We are committed to hiring as many of those people as we can,” Miller said. “Many have already called us to express their interest, and they will get their chance when we announce the job postings in March. We are looking forward to getting them back to Hecla.”
The choice of Lakeview Management Inc. was a logical one as concerns new ownership of the Hecla property, according to Levit.
“We know the Interlake, and we already have a another hotel not too far from there in Gimli, as everyone knows. The opportunities to capitalize on some synergies between the two places are very promising,” Levit added.
And Lakeview managers do indeed know the Interlake: Levit, who is also a talented photographer (his work can be seen in the hotels), spent his childhood at a cottage in Winnipeg Beach, the Millers have been cottage owners at Gimli’s Loni Beach for the past 40 years, while Demarcke relocated to Gimli when he came on board at the Lakeview resort there.
Final words came from Lakeview Hecla Resort GM Demarcke when he said, “We’re going to wow them with the facility, we’re going to wow them with value and we’re going to wow them with great service!”
To book a room online, please visit www.lakeviewhotels.com or call central reservations at 1-877-355-3500.