Raj Bhatt, CEO, Hozpitality Group recently interviewed General Manager, Cranberry Golf Resort & Living Water Resort, Collingwood, Ontario, Donald Buckle, who spoke to us about his property and career in hospitality, the challenges he has faced, and his aspirations for the future.
Donald has been in the hospitality industry for over 30 years starting in a smaller hotel in London, Ontario. Don rose his ranks where he was able to progress in the hotel working as a waiter in the café, waiter in the French cuisine restaurant than transferred to the front desk and night audit. After a while he was promoted to assistant F&B manager and night manager. After a few years he relocated to Toronto working for the Bristol Place Hotel at the Toronto Airport for over 9 years. He was fortunate to also work for the first Doubletree Hotel in Canada which offered 433 guestrooms and 60,000 square feet of convention space. During his 9 year tenure he assisted with over $20 million in renovations and the transition from an independent hotel to a chain hotel.
In 2007 Don started at the Holiday Inn Barrie as General Manager. He was there for 6 months when the company transferred him to Oshawa than Mississauga and transferred back to Barrie on 2009 to oversee the re launch of the Holiday Inn and complete the companies renovation plan.
The opportunity came in March 2014 to join the Cranberry Golf Resort and Living Water Resort.
Hozpitality:- Tell us more about your property.
Don:– We have 2 properties; Cranberry Golf Resort and Living Water Resort & Residences. The Cranberry Golf Resort originally opened as a Holiday Inn. Mr. Law, owner purchased the property in 1993 and built the Cranberry Club addition. Phase 1 of the Living Water Resort & Residences first opened 6 years ago. The second phase officially launched in January. We are now starting the 3rd phase. The two resorts offer an 18 hole golf course which we are currently building a 19th hole, recreation centre with tennis courts, soccer, basketball, hiking trails and outdoor pool. We also have 4 restaurants; Station on the Green located at the golf course, Memories finer dining, Bistro and Agua Tapas Bar & lounge as well as a lounge with live entertainment on Fridays and Saturdays. We have a spa on site as well as a marina where you can rent ski jets and paddle boats. There is something for the entire family all year round. At Living Water we have one of the best views in Collingwood. Being the only waterfront property our roof top has a patio where you can watch the sunrise over the water or the sunset behind Blue Mountain. We also have the only waterfront banquet facility which can host 220 people. It’s a great venue for meetings and weddings with a waterfront area for the ceremony.
Phase 3 which is currently being built will host a 160 seat waterfront restaurant with a Chef’s table and an upper scale spa.
Hozpitality:- How are you different from others?
Don:- We are more than a hotel, being a resort we have so much more to offer our guests creating experiences and memories that matter.
Hozpitality:- Where do you see your property in the coming 3 years’ time?
Don:- Our property is currently expanding and will continue to expand as demand required.
Hozpitality:- Tell us about your contribution to your property
Don:- Being that I just started in March my first goal was to learn the business. A resort is unique from a hotel. In other properties everything we did was about the bottom line. A resort is different as we are trying to create experiences and memories where guests will continue to come back every year. It has been about rebuilding the management team and focusing on short term and long term goals. Implementing procedures to make us a stronger team.
Hozpitality:- According to you what are the main things that attract a guest to a property and what is it that you are doing to retain guest’s interest.
Don:- A hotel is a hotel, we all have beds, some have restaurants and lounges, pool and fitness room. What’s unique about a property are the people and the additional facilities that are offered. At Cranberry we promote a fun & caring environment for our staff and customers. We are a caring environment. We offer many unique items as mentioned earlier as well as Zumba classes, Yoga, Agua dance, Yuk Yuk’s dinner theatre etc. We are a one stop shop for fun.
Hozpitality:-What steps do you take to make the best of any opportunities that come your way?
Don:- If an opportunity arises I like to ensure that it is a win/win situation. It is about partnerships and ensuring that both parties are successful.
Hozpitality:- How do you take care of your team?
Don:- The one thing that attracted me to this property was the owner, Larry Law. When you work for one owner directly it is important to ensure that you both have the same goals and the same style. My interviews with Larry were intriguing. When Larry first started his business development in Collingwood it was about business. Developing more. Along his journey Larry found God and has a new approach, how to give back at the same time. Larry’s religious morals are brought into the company with the goal of creating a fun and caring environment. It was the first time in 30 years I was told to lead with my heart. This is not an easy task after so many years of top line and bottom line thinking forgetting the meat of the sandwich, the people. We hold team lunches, we ran an “amazing race” day, employee of the month programs, thanksgiving team dinner, BBQ’s, the employees are able to enjoy the facilities with free golf, use of the recreation centre and pools. We have also implemented a caring fund. If an employee finds themselves going through hard times, we have a fund that can assist them. We hold seminars with outside guests discussing wealth management, health and other topics. We have 2 local pastors that come in once a week where the staff can go visit for spiritual guidance. The company is also dedicated to the local community. We donate too many local organizations, habitat for humanity, hospital, cancer society, ALS, Georgian College etc. We also host an annual Christmas Dinner for those less fortunate.
Rapid Fire questions:-
Hozpitality:- If you could be successful in another profession, which would you choose?
Don:- A trade
Hozpitality:- Your wife cooked something for you on a special occasion but you do not like the dish at all, what would you do?
Don:- I better like it
Hozpitality:- How long can you (comfortably) go without checking your emails or texts? How do you feel about that?
Don:- While I am sleeping. Technology is over taking our lives. We are being trained to respond 24 hours per day.
Hozpitality:- Where & when do you get your BEST IDEAS?
Don:- Brainstorming with the team. While I am driving.
Hozpitality:-Have you ever dreamed about starting a new business?
Don:- Yes, home inspection