Hotel Occupancy Exceeding Expectations

October 2011, CUJ

MISSION – The new Wildhorse Hotel Tower, together with the existing courtyard rooms, enjoyed 84 percent occupancy in September, according to interim hotel manager Cal Tyer.

“The comments have been 99 percent positive and 99 percent of the hotel visitors made their way to the casino and presumably gambled, which is the intent of the hotel,” said Tyer.

Complaints were few and relatively minor, from a lack of bath towel racks to locked thermostats, “the same kinds of things you see at any construction project.”

Although feasibility studies repeatedly anticipated a higher number of room rentals in a new hotel, there still was some anxiety about occupancy when seven of the 10 floors in the Tower opened Sept. 6. “We were running about 90 percent in the courtyard but because there were only 100 rooms we never really knew what the ceiling was,” said Roy Jones, Director of Lodging.

Now, it seems, the sky’s the limit.

Perhaps literally. The 10-story hotel shoots up into the sky and can be seen for miles in either direction along Interstate 84. From a sixth floor window, visitors can see the weather ball at the Pendleton Airport and the water tower at Olney Cemetery. Looking east from the 10th floor, visitors can see practically every hole at Wildhorse Golf Course and, of course, the foothills of the Blue Mountains.

Jones said customers who come to the Wildhorse Tower will more than likely come back.

“Every detail of this hotel was carefully selected and designed with our guests in mind,” he said.

The design of everything in the hotel, from the rooms to the lobby, play off the culture of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Many of the ideas were garnered while the architects and designers visited Tamástslikt Cultural Institute. The headboards in the rooms and the lighting in the lobby were made to resemble a patchwork leather robe, lighting the lobby was made to resemble native drums, tiles and textiles used throughout represent natural materials used by the Tribes.

“The small details are what make this property so stunning,” Jones said.

Tyer said the increased number of room rentals has translated into more business than just slot machines.

“Ironically,” he said, “as soon as the hotel opened our food and beverage dramatically increased business.”

Tyer broke it down, looking at restaurant head counts this year compared to last year.

On a Monday, for example, the average head count was 157. With the addition of the Tower that number climbed to 192.

On a Wednesday, the number jumped from 165 to 250.

And on a Saturday, the head count increased from 183 to 297.

“That’s more than 100 more people going to food and beverage. Does that require another employee to provide service? Yes it does,” Tyer said.

Tyer said the Tower numbers for September actually were lower than expected at 69 percent.

“We had budgeted for 86 percent, which means the first four or five days that we weren’t open hurt us, but that’s still an outstanding occupancy rate for hotels,” he said.

Wildhorse Hotel can expect to follow industry trends, at least for a while.

“We’ll set an occupancy projection and expect to see a 3-5 percent increase each year until we don’t have rooms enough for everybody,” Tyer said. “We’re adding about 156 rooms a day. Imagine what the casino has missed out on when there were only 96 rooms. Before the Tower opened we were turning people away on weekends.”

Jones said Wildhorse can now market the resort more aggressively. At times, when coupons for discounted rooms were sent out to thousands of the casino’s best customers, there were problems when rooms in the Courtyard were filled.

“Every day we set a new record,” Jones said.

Jones said the hotel staff has gone above and beyond their routine duties to make the first month of business a successful one.

“We’re raising the bar for staff,” Jones said. “We want employees on the front line to be our ambassadors. We expect them to sell the customers on the hotel.”

In the first few days, when it looked as if rooms on all 10 floors would be ready by Sept. 2, housekeepers and utility crews gave up days off to help. The first day was mandatory and the rest were voluntary.

“That last 52 days were absolutely crazy,” Tyer said. “We spent 13, 14 hours a day making sure the floors were ready for Sept. 2, expecting 200 guests a night. When it became clear that the rooms wouldn’t be ready until Sept. 6 we could let some employees go home. They were doing their regular job busting their backs and then go to the top floors to deep clean construction rooms.”

Jones said Wildhorse is incorporating a “positive reinforcement” program for top workers, but he’s not going to single anyone out for now.

“The entire team sacrificed to make the Tower a success. We’re not going to recognize one or two, but the entire team. We want to recognize exemplary work and promote staff with the right attitude and the spark that draws in customers.”

This story and photos originally appeared in the CUJ. The Confederated Umatilla Journal is the monthly newspaper of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Pendleton, Oregon.