Friday, March 19, 2010

Western Star - Resort can still lead the economic charge


The Western Star

Resort can still lead the economic charge: professor

A business professor at Memorial University says the original allure which made Humber Valley Resort attractive is still intact and the development can continue to be a hallmark component of the regional economy.

The troubled resort has emerged from bankruptcy under the ownership of a consortium led by local residents Katie and Graham Watton and Gary Oke.

Tom Cooper, assistant professor of strategy at Memorial’s School of Business, was in the Corner Brook area when the new ownership was announced last week and said the news was obviously the talk of the town.

More importantly, Cooper said the announcement can mark the beginning of a brighter chapter for the property since the risks of operating a resort are different than those of breaking ground and developing it.

The new proprietors need to concentrate on positive cash flow and effective marketing, according to Cooper.

“I think Humber Valley still has a good reputation in the province,” he said. “It’s now a matter of taking more of a longer-term view and making sure they run it like a business, rather than how quickly can we get these chalets up and get money back to our investors.”

It is common for resort developments to change ownership hands before they get off the ground, agreed Cooper, but they don’t usually spiral into bankruptcy like Humber Valley Resort did.

“For the new owners, though, this was an opportunity because they were probably able to get it at a reduced cost than if they had bought it from the original developers,” said Cooper.

The Western Star has not been able to confirm how much the resort’s assets were sold for, though it is believed to have been less than what was required to reimburse the millions of dollars owed to all of the project’s creditors.

“The interesting thing is, whenever I speak to other developers, they always point to Humber Valley as a success,” said Cooper. 

“It as the first big resort of its kind to be done, it was marketed to Europeans and it was done in a professional way. Just the fact it was done was a success. The question now is can the new owners make it a success as a day-to-day operational resort?”
Having local ownership is a crucially positive component of the new approach, said Cooper. So is having someone, like Oke, who has a solid understanding of the golf industry.

“Whenever you’re managing something like this, it’s mostly about how you generate cash flow to keep things maintained and up to standard,” commented Cooper. “Humber Valley should always be a high quality experience, given its location and the amenities invested in it. But you still have to make sure the maintenance is there and it is well staffed and has good management.”

Prior to bankruptcy, major hotel franchise Marriott confirmed it was interested in the Humber Valley area. 

The new owners have indicated they will be looking into the possibility of establishing a hotel at the resort, which some have said would be an integral piece if the resort is to fulfill the vision of being a major international vacation destination.

Landing a high-profile brand such as Marriott would be a positive move, said Cooper, in that it would lure travellers to the region and would create economic spin-offs.

One thing Cooper does not want to see is a plethora of resort-style developments inundating the area.

“I think creditors —  banks and investors — may be a bit cautious, given what’s happened in the past, but I think entrepreneurs can still see some real benefits that will accrue,” said Cooper. 
“The question is how much development can the west coast of Newfoundland sustain in terms of the number of resorts?  ... That competitive advantage could be lost if there is resort after resort after resort.”

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Press release from the Humber Valley Resort consortium

(Presented by Katie Watton at the HVR Club House on 12th March 2010)
Noton Enterprises Limited, a numbered company, 61839 Newfoundland and Labrador Limited, and Oke Consultants Limited, all locally owned companies, have formed a joint venture partnership and have purchased the assets of Humber Valley Resort.  The new owners intend to operate and manage the Resort under a new corporate entity:  Humber Valley Resort Corporation (2010).  I, Katie Watton, will be the Public Relations Director, Gary Oke the Managing Director of Operations and Graham Watton, Q.C., General Counsel looking after all corporate and legal matters. 

We will be focusing on making that which is already on site work properly so that the Resort can become the success it already has the potential to be.  First let me state that Humber Valley Resort is one of the best things that has happened to the West Coast of this beautiful Province.  The vision was and still is spectacular, unfortunately the execution was less so, but that is the past.  We have to put the past behind us and move forward.  All that the Humber Valley and the West Coast has to offer is still here and that hasn’t changed - the scenic beauty and renowned hospitality which attracted people to come here in the first place remains.  We intend to promote and develop Humber Valley Resort as a 4 season Resort Destination. 

We do not intend to move away from the Resort concept.  However, we are confident that by combining permanent residents and seasonal and holiday residents we will attain the best of both worlds and a perfect balance.
A major concern for many of the successful resorts in Western Canada - Fernie, Panorama, Golden, Radium Hot Springs, Kimberly and the like is that chalets are sold exclusively as second or vacation homes and the resorts become desolate ghost towns in the off season. 

These resorts are now moving to a mixed residency, both permanent and seasonal residents, and we are convinced that by using this approach we will avoid these “down periods” and maintain the Resort’s vibrancy. 

Some of the Humber Valley Resort’s permanent residents are former vacationers who fell in love with our community, the people, the scenery, our warmth, culture and our way of life. 

People from all over the world call Humber Valley Resort their home.  For some, it is a vacation retreat, and for others it is a permanent residence.  As a resident of Humber Valley Resort your neighbours are from all over the world - England, Ireland, Switzerland, Germany, various other places throughout Europe, various parts of Canada and Newfoundland.  An exciting and stimulating mix of ideas and cultures. 

We will shortly be meeting with the chalet homeowners association to work out and arrange a smooth transition and takeover of the operation, management and provision of all of the essential services to the Resort.  A lot of work has to be performed to improve and upgrade the existing services, the roads, the communications, etc.  We will start immediately.
With our very capable team which we will shortly be putting into place and under the supervision of our capable Managing Director, Gary Oke, we will get the Resort’s Golf Course in shape as one of the best golf courses in Canada.  The Resort and the golf course, which is an 18 hole, Par 72 championship golf course, has won some excellent awards in the past - Humber Valley River Golf Course voted “Canada’s Best New Course 2007" - voted Worldwide Resort of the Year 2006 and 2007 - Best New Canadian Course, 3rd place - Best New International Course.  Under the capable management of Gary Oke we intend to win further awards for the Humber River Golf Course and the Humber Valley Resort. 

The cost of the green fees will be reasonable - we intend to attract more members, visitors, golfers and tourists, who hopefully will come for several days - possibly weeks - and stay at the chalets at the Resort and vacation throughout Western Newfoundland and the Northern Peninsula, bringing economic benefit throughout the region. 

Maintenance and rental of some of the chalets are presently being serviced and rented by a number of rental and management companies, including some owners themselves.  We will shortly meet with these firms and individuals and the chalet homeowners association.  We will consult with the chalet homeowners association and will have discussions with all of the interested parties with respect to the various property maintenance and rental management scenarios which are available and what would be in the best interests of the chalet owners, Humber Valley Resort and the people visiting and staying at the beautiful chalets in Humber Valley Resort.
We will also shortly be working towards getting the Eagles Perch Club House building up and running and available for special events, meetings, conventions, weddings, and the opening of the Dining room, the bar, and the golf shop.  We have plans to provide themed events at the Eagles Perch at various times of the year and to providing seminars and weekends to include culinary instruction, wellness and personal development, and golfing seminars, etc.  Within a short period of time we will be creating between 30-40 new jobs. 

With the purchase of the Resort assets, the new owners have also purchased all of the intellectual property, copyright, trademarks of Humber Valley Resort.  Humber Valley Resort has also in the past  been honoured with 3 substantial website awards.   The Resort also took top honours at the Silver Spider Web Awards.  Humber Valley Resort walked away with awards for both site promotion and best overall site.  We will be updating the website of Humber Valley Resort. 

We will be giving serious consideration to a 4 star hotel in the Resort’s future plans, and incorporating and taking advantage of the Provincial Government’s Incentive Tax Credit Program.  We are well aware of the recent announcement and the various comments concerning the proposed Resort developments in the Steady Brook area and we wish the developers every success. 

However, we strongly believe there is room in the Humber Valley Resort for a 4 star hotel-condominium complex.  We have the location, the infrastructure, the international world class golf course and the spectacular  
Eagles Perch Club House, its Dining and conference facilities, meeting and banquet rooms and available lands adjacent to Eagles Perch which can accommodate the construction of a 4 star hotel-condominium complex. 

We are not making any big promises, however, we do realize that to take advantage of the Provincial Government Incentive Tax Credit Program, we will have to make a decision on the 4 star hotel-condominium complex within the next 12-18 months. 

We will consult with all stakeholders and keep them informed - the chalet homeowners association - the chalet owners - the Provincial Government - the Department of Tourism - Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador - the various municipal councils throughout the Humber Valley region, Western Newfoundland and Northern Peninsula. 

We intend to provide the chalet owners association, the chalet owners, all of the stakeholders, and the public with thorough and honest communication in all aspects of the Resort’s operation to instill confidence and trust in the Resort and its new owners. 

Our goal is to get the Resort and golf course back into operation and further develop and promote the Resort as a four season Destination and an upscale residential community. 

We have had an opportunity to recently review the Provincial Government’s long-term vision and plan which was released last February, titled Uncommon Potential - A Vision for Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism”, which provides a framework to guide both the Provincial Government and their industry partners as we all work together to advance tourism in Newfoundland and Labrador through to 2020.
As the Premier said in his message and opening remarks in the Plan: 
    “As residents, we know our province is a special place, unlike any other.  Similarly, we recognize that the opportunities and challenges we face are unique to Newfoundland and Labrador.  This plan is designed to address the challenges and make the most of  our competitive advantage in the global tourism marketplace - the fact that we offer unique travel experiences to visitors interested in taking an exciting adventure off the beaten track. 
    In Newfoundland and Labrador, surprises wait around every corner and the possibilities are endless - hiking the stunning coastlines, attending festivals celebrating everything from blueberries to squid, experiencing our rich and vibrant culture and heritage, witnessing natural wonders such as whales and icebergs, and meeting strangers who quickly become friends.  Living here, it is sometimes easy to lose sight of the fact that these are, indeed, “uncommon” experiences.” 
I would also like to refer to another couple of paragraphs noted in the Plan under the heading of Transportation Strategy to Grow Our Industry
    “For Newfoundland and Labrador, there’s no such thing as an accidental tourist.  It takes deliberate planning and determined effort to visit here.  
    The transportation issues facing tourism in Newfoundland and Labrador are well understood and frequently articulated among industry stakeholders.  In short, travel to, from, and around the province, whether by sea, air, or road is constrained by issues of affordability, capacity, infrastructure, and quality. 
    To compete effectively in an increasingly aggressive global market, we need the ability to bring travellers to the province in an easy, cost-effective, and pleasurable manner - by sea, by air, and by land.  There is an immediate requirement for improved, affordable, and efficient access to and within the province.  It’s the most critical element to stimulate inbound tourism.  And it will have considerable influence on our industry over the next decade. 
    Access by Air.  Air passenger travel accounts for approximately two-thirds of non-resident visits each year.  Our response to strategic transport challenges identified in the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador’s ‘Air Access Strategy’ and through other forums is vital to the future success of our industry.” 
We will work with the Provincial Government, Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador, and all of the stakeholders in promoting Humber Valley Resort and our beautiful province of Newfoundland and Labrador. 

The total annual budget being spend by the Provincial Government for tourism marketing is now 13 Million (from 6 Million in 2003).  The tourism industry contributed almost 850 Million to the provincial economy in 2008, up from 790 million in 2007.
The Provincial Government is very committed and is doing an excellent job in marketing Newfoundland and Labrador nationally and internationally.  The Provincial Government’s campaign continues to fulfill their main objective - promoting Newfoundland and Labrador as a Destination of Choice.  As recently as February 1 of this year in New York City, Newfoundland and Labrador’s “Find Yourself Home” television campaign which was developed in collaboration with Target Marketing and Communications Inc., was awarded platinum honours at the Adrean Awards Gala.  (I would further note that only 20 platinum winners were named from more than 1,100 entrants during the award ceremony. 

Humber Valley Resort, the chalet owners, Humber Valley and Western Newfoundland will all benefit as a result of the tourism marketing on the part of the Provincial Government.  We all have to play our role.  We are all ambassadors on behalf of the Province.  We want all of the public to know, people throughout Humber Valley, the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, throughout Canada, the United States, Europe, nationally and internationally, that we are open for business - the security gate is not a barrier - the staff are there to welcome you - come visit us - play on our international golf course - fish in our world class salmon river, the Humber River - enjoy our cuisine, interact with the local residents - stay in the beautiful chalets on the Resort - take in the spectacular views of the Valley - experience our culture, our ideas, our way of life - do what I did.  I came here 35 years ago from London, England, for the experience, for a 3 month period, and here I am 35 years later.  I stayed for the lifestyle. 

And that is our vision - “Come For The Experience, Stay For The Lifestyle”. 
Thank you.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Humber Valley resort is sold!

We're told that the what's left of Humber Valley Resort was finally sold 10am 11th March 2010.

A public meeting on the 12th will tell everyone more ...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Free Canadian Avalanche Foundation Slide Show and Fundraiser

Free Canadian Avalanche Foundation Slide Show and Fundraiser

Last year we had a very successful silent auction and avalanche film fest. Over 35 people attended and hopefully this year will be even bigger. This is what is planned:

A slide show of the snowmobiling in the Lewis Hills by local photographer Scott Grant who has some excellent images of this backcountry area.

Then the launch of a new web page highlighting the areas of avalanche hazard in the Lewis Hills to the  North Arm Mountains. This should help people plan routes for the Lewis Hills, Blow me down Mtns and North Arm Mtns and want to avoid the main avalanche areas.

This will be followed by a silent auction of avalanche gear and other outdoor clothing plus a night at Marblewood Village and a 2011 Snowmobile Trail pass.

This free event will be held in Room 315 at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College on Tuesday, March 16, 2010 from 7:30 - 9:00 pm. For more information contact Keith Nicol at