Managed by InnSeason Resorts, RiverWalk Resort at Loon Mountain is a luxury six-story fractional ownership resort located in Lincoln, New Hampshire in the White Mountains, two hours from Boston. Opened in 2017, RiverWalk features 79 units from studios to 1-3 bedrooms, to large units accommodating 12 guests. The resort has a staff of 45 plus hospitality professionals.
Unlike timeshare resorts featured in past Best Places to Work columns, RiverWalk Resort is a total fractional ownership property. Fractional owners purchase a specific number of weeks for use each year, often purchased in 1/6 shares. If the fractional owner doesn’t use any part of the weeks they are allocated, the resort may rent the unit and share the proceeds with the owner who has literally bought a fractional share of a residence. This model is attractive for avid skiers who want to spend as much time as they can in close proximity to the slopes, which is often cost-prohibitive for total ownership. RiverWalk Resort offers fractional ownership that can be purchased in whole, seasonally, or fractionally, and includes studio condominiums starting at $60,000 and tops out with three-bedroom condos upwards of $200,000. Costs are determined by unit type and length of use.
On-site resort amenities include:
- Seven Birches Winery, Solstice North Day Spa and La Vista Italian Cuisine
- Outdoor year-round heated pools, hot tubs, state-of-the-art fitness room, arcade room
- Shuttle service to local attractions, including popular Ice Castles
- Tesla charging stations
- Adventure concierge service
Who’s Running the Show?
As General Manager, Renee Blood brings over two decades of experience in the travel industry to her role. She began her career as a Catering Sales manager at the Orlando Airport Marriott, moving on to senior positions at several Marriott properties in Orlando, including Revenue Manager and Manager of Group Strategy at the Renaissance Orlando Resort at Seaworld. Renee was also previously the Orlando Market manager for Expedia, Inc. Prior to joining RiverWalk, she was General Manager of Woodwards Resort and Inn, located a few miles north of RiverWalk Resort. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from Plymouth State University in Plymouth, New Hampshire.
Dennis M. Ducharme, RRP, is president of RiverWalk Resort at Loon Mountain. A 35-year veteran of the New England hospitality industry, he is also a development partner with William E. (Billy) Curran of InnSeason Resorts and Pollard Brook Resort, New Hampshire’s largest purpose-built vacation ownership resort, and one of InnSeason Resorts’ signature properties.
Good Community Citizens
RiverWalk prides itself on being “all about family” – owners and employees are considered one big family dedicated to catering to guests – most of whom are families traveling together. Within the Loon Mountain community, RiverWalk participates in many local events and charities, including:
• Annual Skate with the Boston Bruins Alumni, a fundraiser at its ice-skating rink which supports Loon Mountain’s New England Disabled Sports.
• The White Mountains Crush Festival, aka Crush Event, located at Seven Birches Winery at the RiverWalk Resort, which invites grape stompers to their annual event to celebrate the end of the harvest and kick-off the start of winemaking season.
A Great Place to Work
Attracting and retaining an extraordinary staff is both an art and a science. Renee Blood believes resorts are a “high-touch” industry, where service is equally – if not more – important than the amenities and location. “Our guests pay to be treated with respect and care,” she says. “From the chief facilities manager to housekeepers, our employees work diligently and cheerfully to give them the best experience possible. An engaged, happy and motivated workforce is more likely to go the extra mile for guests than one who is treated as an afterthought. To ensure that RiverWalk remains a place where employees love to work, we believe these core concepts are inextricably intertwined: Pay employees well, praise them emphatically and often and promote them personally and professionally.”
“We have learned that the easiest way to ensure superior service is to incorporate the happy-employees-equal-happy-guest principle, which is how Renee operates,” said Amy Forbes, Assistant General Manager. “Her focus on hiring and retaining good employees sets RiverWalk apart from the competition and ensures a constant stream of those all-important five-star reviews.”
It also helps that InnSeason’s overall corporate resort culture revolves around work-life balance. Although many people who work in the vacation business don’t take vacations – like the cobbler’s kids who don’t have shoes – RiverWalk president and InnSeason co-owner Dennis Ducharme, RRP encourages staff to take those vacations.
Added Adam Scalise, Lead Engineer, “I love working at RiverWalk because I’m treated with respect by Renee and the executive management team and have been given opportunities not only to grow and succeed but to spend time with my family. I enjoy contributing to creating the best experience for guests because I feel that my work matters and is recognized.”
Hiring & Retention
During the recruiting and interview process, Renee emphasizes creativity and innovation to attract top talent. Instead of one-on-one interviews using standard questions, she often considers utilizing a panel approach or tries group interviews where candidates are challenged to solve a sample problem collaboratively or competitively. She has found that giving candidates a spontaneous trade-related task during the interview is a good way to discover which candidates have the solid industry knowledge and can think on their feet.
Employee retention is often a challenge in the hospitality field. To overcome this issue, Renee believes in recognizing good work often and rewarding it spontaneously in a million little ways. A testament to her success is the fact that 40% of her employees have been at the resort since its opening.
RiverWalk makes employees feel valued by:
- Personally thanking individuals for going above and beyond with personalized hand-written thank you notes
- Recognizing birthdays and work achievements in creative ways during employee gatherings
- Holding quarterly luncheons, holiday parties and seasonal departmental outings
- Sending holiday cards and offering holiday gifts
- Impromptu paid time off giveaways to reward staff for exemplary service
Paying employees well, praising them often and promoting them personally and professionally is the winning trifecta of staff hiring and retention at RiverWalk. By being her employees’ cheerleaders and always looking out for their best interests, Renee knows that her staff feels appreciated and empowered. This strategy ultimately pays dividends in loyalty, engagement, and guest satisfaction.
A corollary to praise is making sure employees feel heard and valuing their input. As part of their concentrated “listening” there’s a suggestion box that is monitored regularly and the GM’s open-door management policy lets staff know that they have a voice in how things are done (or could be improved) at the resort.
For staff who may not have a company email account – such as housekeeping or parking attendants – the resort utilizes a simple bulletin board in the staff break room. Also, management translates messages from English into languages most commonly spoken by staff which goes a long way towards making them feel valued and respected.
Training & Benefits
The path to promotion at RiverWalk is facilitated by a robust training program, another element of employee engagement. The management team teaches best practices and offers departmental and cross-departmental training to give staff the tools to perform their job well and offer superior guest service, which also motivates them to seek promotion. And when merit increases are tied to performance – a tactic Renee practices – successfully completing training becomes a key motivator. RiverWalk invests in a training consultant program that works with the team on a quarterly basis to ensure all employees are receiving the necessary training and tools to provide extraordinary service one event at a time.
RiverWalk is committed to promotion from within, which demonstrates to employees that they can have a future with the company. This gives them a sense of security and promotes loyalty – among both staff and guests. Renee has found that cultivating longevity fosters a culture of pride among RiverWalk staff and guests who plan return visits in anticipation of seeing familiar friendly faces.
Renee Blood’s succession planning enables employees to move from the lowest levels all the way to upper management, as she totally understands that 41% of employees leave because they were not given challenging work or a career path. In the resort industry, there are countless stories of staffers who started out as hourly dishwashers or front desk clerks and progressed through the ranks to become the head chefs or reservations managers; at RiverWalk this is the rule, not the exception.
Marge Lennon loves to tell other people’s stories. She has had a front-row seat to the growth of the timeshare industry since 1978 and has written about its entrepreneurial developers and their amazing people from the Adirondacks to Australia. Contact her at Marge@LennonCommunications.com.