When the management team at Eastern Slope Inn in North Conway, New Hampshire, was ordered to close on April 6 due to COVID-19, their first thought was, “How can we help?” The governor’s order meant that lodging properties are only available for essential workers, victims of domestic abuse, and people who need to quarantine away from their families.
The historic 1926 Inn was bought and restored in 1980 by Joe Berry of River Run Company, who is assisted by Project Manager Alec Tarberry, Esq.
“The governor announced that lodging properties must suspend accommodations for nonessential purposes,” said Tarberry. “We have not taken any guests since closing about a week ago,” we were told in early April. “But we’re considering the possibility of housing healthcare workers if needed to support our local hospital.”
Once the word came, the team reached out directly to incoming owners and guests via phone calls and emails. Another early call was to work with lenders to increase their access to credit.
One of the toughest results of the pandemic was its effect on the resort’s staffing. Prior to the closing of the property, the resort had never done a lay off in the 40 years since Joe Berry purchased and renovated the property. Employees were offered the option of being furloughed if they did not feel comfortable leaving their homes. But once they shut the doors, there was simply no need for many team members who were also temporarily laid off. “We continue to pay the health insurance premium on behalf of all of our staff, including those who have been furloughed,” Tarberry said in mid-April.
We spoke to Alec in late June to learn what steps management took when it came time to reopen Eastern Slope Inn.
TRADES: First of all, Alec, did you manage to house first responders?
TARBERRY: Fortunately our area did not have many COVID-19 cases so there was no need to bring in more first responders to the area.
TRADES: Can you describe Eastern Slope Inn a bit for me in terms of size, number and types of units, number and type of staff, and number of owners/members?
TARBERRY: The Eastern Slope Inn Resort consists of 230 vacation ownership (timeshare) units, all located in historical North Conway Village in the White Mountains of NH. Although we are located in a famous ski town, our summer and fall foliage seasons are even busier than winter!
Our units range from hotel rooms and studios to large 3 bedroom suites, as well as cottages. We are vertically integrated so we have almost 40 staff who keep the resort running smoothly.
TRADES: Describe your owner base. Where do they hail from? What do they own and when did they typically purchase? What would you say is the personality of the typical owner?
TARBERRY: We have about 7000 owners, mostly from New England, but we have many owners from Canada as well. We have many owners who originally purchased in the 80’s or 90’s, but we are still in active sales so we have many new owners every year.
Our owners love the outdoors and appreciate the opportunity to be surrounded by mountains, crystal clear rivers, and great attractions and restaurants. Most of our owners are families who also enjoy visiting Storyland, Santa’s Village, our ski areas and waterfalls.
TRADES: What are a few of the highlights of your location? Why do owners purchase?
TARBERRY: Our resort is the only resort located in historic North Conway Village, with locals shops and great restaurants. We’re also situation adjacent to the Saco River, which has water clear enough to compete with any tropical resort.
From our resort, our owners are less than a 25 minute drive to every activity imaginable – the only exception is the ocean!
TRADES: How did you, personally, come onboard at the inn?
TARBERRY: I was quite literally born into the business, as my father (Joe Berry) is in his 40th year as the developer of the resort. I started working in the maintenance department when I was 12! I went away for college and grad school (JD/MBA), then worked for some commercial real estate companies in Boston. I returned to work in the business in 2018 at the age of 33.
TRADES: We understand you recently had your first weekend of reopening after the governor of New Hampshire’s mandatory shut-down lifted. How did that go?
TARBERRY: Our reopening weekend went very well operationally, as we had a few months of being closed to get prepared! We also used the time we were closed to complete renovation projects, and with no guests on-site we found some efficiencies.
TRADES: What advice would you give resort operators who are trying to reopen or who have recently reopened their projects? What lessons have you learned so far?
TARBERRY: Our management team was able to put themselves in the shoes of the guest and think through every step of the new guest experience. Through that process we tried to think of every hiccup that a guest could experience and were prepared with solutions.
TRADES: How does the future look for Eastern Slope Inn would you say? Were you able to put your staff back in place? Do you have or do you anticipate any drop-off in annual maintenance fees or mortgage payments?
TARBERRY: The future is looking bright here at The Eastern Slope Inn. We are a “drive to” destination and there is a lot of pent up demand to vacation. We have been able to bring back all of our staff and are looking forward to a busy summer!
We have only seen a slight dip in annual fees and finance payments, but we are being as flexible as possible and working with our owners on an individual basis
TRADES: Are there any life lessons you feel you and/or your staff has learned through this period?
This period has reinforced how important it is to have a great team that is dedicated and can rise to the occasion. In hospitality, the guest is the top priority, but I believe the guest can only have the best possible experience when the business puts their employees’ needs first. Our team is the best asset we have and when they are happy, the guest is happy.
Sharon Scott Wilson is Publisher of Resort Trades and Golf Course Trades magazines. Join us as we begin a series of webinars called, “The Resort Trades Lunch Bunch.” Our first Lunch Bunch (or Brunch if you’re on the West Coast) begins at 1:00 p.m. Friday, September 11, 2020. Register online at ResortTrades.com/LearningCenter.