On the surface, the Swiss Chalet Motel does not seem like the type of place that would attract rave reviews. It’s located on a busy street, next to a gas station and across from the railway tracks.
Yet on the website Trip Advisor, it’s ranked the fifth best hotel in Revelstoke with an 86 per cent rating, only behind the Sutton Place Hotel, the Best Western Plus, the Coast Hillcrest and the Regent Hotel – all seemingly fancier options.
At the Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Awards it received the award for Accommodation Excellence. At the banquet, it was cited for both its excellent renovations and excellent marketing.
“I think the Swiss Chalet is an excellent example of someone who’s been a long-term owner that puts a lot of effort into the physical and marketing aspects of the business,” said Thom Tischik, the executive director of the Revelstoke Accommodation Association. “He’s always doing extremely good renovations to bring the property to a higher level.”
For Eric Scarcella, owner of the Swiss Chalet, running his business is about paying attention to what customers say and keeping up with trends. He spends time on the road taking his son to minor hockey games, so when he stays at a chain hotel, he looks at what they’re doing. He recently completed a 15-room renovation to put new counter tops, cabinets and other upgrades in the motel.
“A lot of it is keeping up with the times and the trends,” he said. “Guests want more and they don’t want to pay more.”
The online reviews for the Swiss Chalet almost universally note the clean rooms, friendly staff and good breakfast. Scarcella said the first two are especially important to generating good reviews and keep guests coming back.
“Guests, they come in and they want to see a friendly person behind the front desk thats knowledgeable of the area,” he said. “They get in to the room and it’s clean and presentable – good beds. Those are the key things.”
For new hotel owners, paying attention to user reviews is key to see what changes need to be made.
Revelstoke has seen some changes in its accommodation sector this winter. There’s new owners at the Glacier House Resort and the Monashee Lodge, and The Cube, a new boutique hostel opening with a unique design inspired by the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian, is opening downtown.
In the case of the first two, they face the challenge of putting a new face on older properties.
Daniel Kellie is the new owner of Glacier House. He first came here on a summer vacation, came back during the winter to ski, bought a condo, and in June, he bought the hotel. Prior to moving here he owned a pub in Sydney, Australia, for 20 years.
“The town, it’s such a pretty town. The potential of the town … there’s so much going on here in the summer and the winter,” he said. “There’s more to do here in the summer than the winter – it’s amazing.”
He bought a hotel with generally positive reviews but with a mixed reputation amongst its primarily winter clientele – the snowmobile community.
Since taking over, Kellie has been working to get the word out about the change. He re-branded the hotel and built a new website. He’s made some renovations and changed the menu at the restaurant. He’s also sought to change the staff culture and has been involved in community events like the Revy Riders festival and Spirit Fest.
“We’re always working on trying to attract people to Revelstoke because there’s so much to offer,” he said. “It’s trying to communicate what there is to offer so they know there’s more here than just a stop through.”
Jeffrey Arnold, the new owner of the Monashee Lodge is a true personality.
Where to start?
He’s worked in film, radio and newspapers as a writer, and you can purchase a copy of his novel Nobody’s Laughing at the front desk of the Lower Town motel. The fictional work follows protagonist Richard Bonhom as he picks up from a failed marriage, financial scandal and family tragedy and continues his metaphysical journey for salvation.
Arnold’s path to Revelstoke is equally action-packed. He’s worked in finance, internationally, including postings in Vancouver, the Caribbean and Middle East. Recently, he tells me, he got soaked on a real estate project that got dragged down with the financial downturn.
Jeffrey and partner Grace were searching for a new line of business and opted for Revelstoke for two reasons. The first was the lifestyle that many move here for, but more importantly, they felt there are good prospects in the accommodations business. Arnold had been through the numbers and feels there’s a bright future for any motel that’s interested in investing in improvements.
The lobby of the Monashee Lodge has undergone extensive renovations, including a new hot tub and sauna area. Outside, there’s new paint, and the rooms are undergoing renovations.
Revelstoke has a large variety of hotels, motels, inns, hostels and bed & breakfasts that range from the upscale Sutton Place Hotel to lower-end offerings like the Frontier Motel.
Tischik said: “I think we’re offering a good range already in Revelstoke so I don’t think that’s an issue, but I think people’s expectations over the years are rising, especially with things like Trip Advisor and agencies like that.”
Online rating sites like Trip Advisor and Yelp present both challenges and opportunities. Tourists looking for a place to stay can easily get online and conduct research before choosing a place to stay. The reviews can have impacts going both ways, said Tischik.
“It can certainly be a benefit if your ratings are strong and consistent, and also if the properties respond when necessary to those reviews,” he said. “It can be a tough one as well, especially if one person gives a bad review if something didn’t go quite their way. We have to appreciate human nature is not always sympathetic.”
At Glacier House, Kellie wants to make sure people are aware of the new ownership. “The challenge is to market you’re under new management,” he said. “You have to hope all the new Trip Advisors put in good reviews. We push people to put good reviews on the site and hope they have a good time.”
Online reviews are equally important to Eric Scarcella at the Swiss Chalet. He said travelers are more likely to believe guest reviews than marketing material.
“It’s a way to see if there’s any trends that I need to change. If there’s consistent comments, whether it be good or bad, whether you’re doing things right and don’t need to change, or things need improving, it’s an opportunity to make those changes if you can.”
With files from Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Times Review