In a new feature to this blog, the InnerView will present regular interviews with key (but sometimes behind the scenes) individuals who bring special insights into Mammoth real estate and the community. This InnerView is with Bill Medove, sales manager at the new Westin Monache.
Bill Medove agreed to meet last week and answer some questions as long as he could get a couple of hours of “job required” skiing in beforehand. How else can somebody sell Mammoth properly? Bill came to Mammoth 31 years ago to be a professional ski bum, aka ski patrolman. After eight years on patrol, he became manager of the Mountain’s Host program, and because of his skills as an effective trainer ended up in Human Resources. He then went from training staff to recruiting staff and selling a working experience to potential employees. Then came the condo hotel boom and he spent seven years at the Eagle Base managing Owner Relations for all the newly built units. But sales are clearly in his blood and he moved to manage Mammoth Mountain’s Domestic Group and Destination Sales Market Segments. Last July opportunity knocked––the Sales Manager’s job at the new Westin Monache was offered.
What is the most important thing an existing owner or potential owner in the Westin Monache should know?
There is real power in the Starwood brand. (In this case, Bill is referring to the Starwood Hotel/Westin brand, no to be confused with Starwood Capital, the owner of the Ski Area.) There is real accountability and high standards throughout the whole organization. The Starwood Global Sales Organization has a great network and they share those connections and leads with all of the Starwood properties. The Starwood Preferred Guest program has an intense and loyal following. The database is enormous. The professional meeting planners hold the Starwood brand in high esteem and refer Group’s to the properties because of the consistent and high standards. I have the most professional branded marketing and sales materials you could work with.
You’ve gone from owner relations to group sales––essentially moving from day-to-day owner issues to working with outside groups and travel coordinators; how has that transition been? Do you miss anything from owner relations?
Managing owner relations is like being the “owners little helper”, and their “punching bag” all at the same time. Much of the time I was selling the rental program to new (via resale) owners and current owners who were considering changing rental programs. I met a lot of great people and made many friends––people I hope to know for a long time. The seven years I did it were important years to be grounded here in Mammoth with my wife and son. But the natural progression was back to sales. Marketing and Selling the Westin experience excites the senses and we’re catering to a whole bunch of different people. The large group we hosted in October, the Audi group, resulted from a Starwood lead, from a sales manager like myself.
And selling this facility: in less than a year we’ve risen to the top of the guest satisfaction rankings in the Westin system. It’s across the board improvement month-after-month. We’re fulfilling the desires of the discriminating destination traveler. It’s all very exciting. We are involved in the community––our summer pool events were a great success, the charitable donation of our facilities for local events, financial contributions, etc. The Westin really wanted to reach out to the community and welcome them into our Resort property. The nightly Westin ritual of the “refresh” happy hour was an example of this offering.
The Westin is one of the leaders in bringing the lodging community together here in Mammoth with the sharing of ideas and bringing in some new events. There is no security in snow country during these challenging economic times, you have to change and adapt to succeed. The new blood in the community and the Resort has helped. We’ve thrown stones in the river, we are laying the foundation to build the bridge to becoming a true destination.
You’ve gone from representing the unbranded Village condo hotel units to the branded Westin, and now with air service starting, Mammoth is a “finalist” as you call it in the group buyer’s eyes; how important is that?
It is everything. Prior to being at the Westin, there were few leads, no opportunities to even respond to the group buyer’s Request for Proposals. Part of that had to do with the lack of air service. Now I can sell the area, the accessibility, the uniqueness, and I have the Westin brand. Statistics show Mammoth is the third most visited ski area in North America. With group buyers, our competition is usually a Caribbean island resort, a cruise, or other, mountain resorts. Professional meeting planners like Starwood properties. And again, we get Starwood leads. One problem for many potential visitors is that a flight to Mammoth adds an extra day. We need to become part of the “dual destination” tourist business. The average International ski vacation for most is 10 to 14 days. We need to pursue that. The State of California is in a six-year program to heavily promote tourism and California Winter sports. We need to be involved. Internationally, California is not known as a ski destination. My goal is to guide the clientele into better properties. This is the beginning of the push to attract quality mid-week business–––visitors with discretionary income. We’ve turned the corner. But the economic news of the last month has slowed the momentum. The snow and chairlifts early opening helps. Corporate business seems to be staying closer to home.
You have been on the leading edge of the post-construction condo hotel era here in Mammoth; what have you learned to make condo hotel more successful in the future here?
The developers will always cut corners if you allow them. There is always a tug-of-war between the sales team members, common area fees and issues, the cost of building here. The Homeowners Association, the Board in particular, has got to be organized, strong and persistent in holding the developer accountable. Hopefully, the builders and developers are going to hold themselves accountable in the future. What we have going forward is a unique opportunity.
The fees Westin and other condo hotel management entities take (percentage) for their rental service is often criticized for being excessive. Even though that’s not your department now, do you have a problem justifying it?
Not one bit. Service levels and standards have a cost. At “XYZ Rental Company” I’ve seen a vacation spoiled because of the lack of maid service, 24-hour on-call personnel, amenities and services. It’s all about the service level, and it has a cost. Potential owners need to indoctrinate themselves with the properties and understand them. My personal cause is bringing mid-week visitations into the owner’s units. I’m doing on-site Familiarity Tours with key decision makers in the travel industry to influence their decisions. We’re working with the International wholesale tour operators to attract long staying visitors too. We need a mix of the visitor market segments. I’m committed to selling the experience of the destination first and the specific property second.
How is it working with (Westin General Manager) James McGillivray?
James is a classic, a seasoned, educated hospitality professional. He understands the balancing act between servicing the guest, keeping the employees happy, and satisfying shareholder needs and the needs of the individual property owners. He is very homeowner centric. It is all about accountability. He is a genuine and caring Hospitality professional. He sets the tone for the entire property.
What still turns you on about Mammoth?
The people, the small community, the environment…it’s still an exciting place, the passion for the eastern Sierra. It is a unique destination.
If you were conducting this interview, what would you ask yourself?
What do we do next? How do we keep Horizon Air after the subsidy is over? The Destination needs to establish the line and make good business sense for the Airline. How do we encourage Horizon Air to provide summer air service? In summer, how do we create a better connection with Yosemite? How do we improve summer and fall business? We need to build positive working relationships between all of the main players here in Town, stop competing against each other. How do we solve the missing vibrant Village? I’m concerned about the guest’s perception of all the vacant commercial space in the Village and in Town. The guest that comes this year is our spokesperson for years to come. Word of mouth is significant for this area.
The Westin has been a surprising difference from everything in the past. The employee-to-guest ratio is much higher at the Westin. I hope the Westin will pull everything else in the community up. We recognize that these properties are major assets and investments for their owners. We take the ownership very serious.
Thank you Bill!