The Nottawasaga Resort
If you have been lucky enough to experience the Nottawasaga Valley, you know that the area is one of the most beautiful in Central Ontario.
For those who have had the opportunity, the Nottawasaga Resort has provided a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of the rapidly growing GTA. Just 45 minutes north of Toronto, visitors to the valley can escape to the family retreat that is the Nottawasaga Resort—and CBJ had the opportunity to explore the resort first-hand, with the help of Conference Director, Sylvia Biffis.
The Nottawasaga Resort, a Reader’s Choice Gold Award winner for Favourite Ontario Resort, is an exceptional way to spend a weekend, week, or just a day with family and friends. The impressive list of amenities complements an ideal country setting that makes for a great getaway.
Biffis, part of the Biffis family who created the Nottawasaga Resort 42 years ago, takes pride in the property—a facility that has always expanded and improved to meet the needs of its patrons.
Today, the resort offers conference services including a trade centre, 36 meeting rooms, 269 guestrooms including deluxe suites, 45 holes of golf, an impressive 70,000 square foot sports complex, three restaurants, and most notably, is the only resort in North America with two NHL-sized ice surfaces.
The conference centre is able to accommodate groups from 10 to 1,000. The Nottawasaga provides opportunities to host all-inclusive golf tournaments, and offers sports and wellness facilities to guests. The Sports & LeisureDome features a 25-metre pool, 100-foot water slide, spa services, and a health and fitness centre featuring racquet sport. The NHL rinks and the onsite international and regulation sized natural grass soccer pitches open up an entirely new facet of sports to the resort.
It’s a people business
The Nottawasaga has a history rooted in community. It started as a 40-room motel and over the past 42 years has grown into a multi-service resort offering a range of facilities and amenities. Today the resort remains fully owned and operated by the Biffis family. There are approximately 300 full-time employees at the resort, and seasonally 350 to 400 people are employed at the resort.
For the last 15 years, Sylvia Biffis has directed convention sales, and with the experience of growing up in the business, has a great appreciation of the challenges faced by each department. “It has always been good to understand this industry as a whole,” she says.
When it comes to working in hospitality, the key to creating a positive resort environment is passion for the business. “In hospitality, you’re dealing with people and a mixed bag of customers every day—nothing is ever the same,” Biffis explains. “That’s the excitement of it—you just have to love being in this type of business, dealing with people, in a 24/7 environment. In 24 hours, anything can happen—it’s challenging, but rewarding. You have to be extremely passionate and diplomatic.”
Nottawasaga takes customer satisfaction very seriously. When making improvements and expansions to the resort, customer feedback is always taken into consideration. And those changes can range from the small scale (changing a menu item) to the large scale—like adding holes to the resort’s golf course. “When we started the golf course, it was originally 18 holes and grew to 45 holes based on service and customer requests and needs,” Biffis says. “We wanted to generate the type of business that could accommodate the local community but also attract city visitors, and then build accordingly. We are one of the few resorts that have a 45-hole regulation course, and in order to expand the course, we had to increase capacity,” she reasons.
There are many events and circumstances that can affect business in the hospitality industry. And Biffis says that the resort has to constantly consider those events and issues, and tackle them head on. “Aside from a recession, there are many things that can affect the hospitality industry, including global concerns like SARS. When things like this happen, travel gets cut,” Biffis says. These events also include natural disasters, including the recent tsunami in Japan. “We understand that our business can be affected by the Japan tsunami. With the Honda plant so close and production affected with local and international suppliers, we know there may be some after-effects.”
Once renovations are completed, Nottawasaga strives to keep pricing consistent to minimize the impact on its clientele. “Sometimes we don’t increase base prices for three to five years, and every five to seven years we look at a whole change upgrading our facilities—that is the ideal timeline,” Biffis says.
After every visit the resort puts out a survey to gather feedback and ensure customer satisfaction. Each department deals with the necessary steps to resolve a concern, and managers meet daily to address concerns. “We take a personal touch with an unsatisfied customer, and address each concern individually—we’re very quick to react,” Biffis says.
No wonder the same clientele has been coming to the Nottawasaga for 10, 15, sometimes 20 years.
A unique destination
Nottawasaga is definitely one of the most unique resort destination you will find in Canada.
While building the arena was a challenge for the resort, it was a unique opportunity to drive another type of business. “It created a whole different type of customer that we could attract,” says Biffis. “From a business standpoint, we had great timing because we had our ice surfaces in place before the recession. And even when a recession hits, hockey rules. Most of that occupancy tends to be in the winter and so it fills the rooms on the weekends,” she adds.
“What’s really unique about the arena itself is that the design is carried through from the hotel to our rinks earning it a Reader’s Choice Gold Award winner for Favourite Hockey Arena in Ontario.”
Not your typical municipal arena, great attention to detail has gone into the design including heated floors in all the change rooms as well as granite accents in the bathrooms and showers.
Nottawasaga provides a service that is sometimes difficult to find in Ontario: ice time. “It’s difficult to get ice time in Ontario. And we have provided families with a great tournament scenario. Families don’t have to get into their cars and drive all over for games, then back to hotels, and so on. Instead, they book rooms here, eat here, and simply walk a few short steps to access the rinks. With a huge variety of resort amenities available on site, it would be my choice as a parent,” Biffis comments.
A family legacy
Nottawasaga has enjoyed 42 years of returning clientele, a result of positive word-of-mouth reputation building. “Whether it’s for a Sunday brunch or a golfer heading out to the course, a lot of our business is repeat business. From the moment they walk through the door we provide an exceptional level of service. This is why they keep coming back,” Biffis comments. “Because we’re hand-on, we can make decisions right away and provide a faster solution.”
She credits the long list of returning customers to the caring staff employed Nottawasaga, which always strives to do its best to attend to customer needs. That means that even those not on the front lines are keeping up the reputation of the resort—from maintenance staff to cooks to housekeepers. “When you walk through the door, it’s all about the feeling you receive from our staff and the overall experience of our facilities. The type of service we try to provide generally turns into repeat clientele. We know what repeat visitors want, and can anticipate their needs.”
Biffis says that when it comes to keeping the family legacy of exceptional customer service alive, all hands are on deck at Nottawasaga. From the time the resort’s guests arrive, to the time they leave, the image presented from the staff is the same. “It’s our personal, friendly service that is the core of our business,” Biffis says, and from the contented looks on patrons’ faces, we are confident that the motto is absolutely true.