Article by Julia M. Johnson
It’s a true sign of devotion to guest expectations when a major hospitality property expends millions of dollars to update itself. That certainly was the idea behind the Lodge of Four Seasons’ latest renovation project, which has extended from its very entryway to the farthest corners of the well-known resort. With an eye toward guest enjoyment and group appeal, the facility has spent $15 million to rebeautify and modernize every space and amenity it offers.
With that said, the Lodge’s recent reimagining really is not about dollar figures – it’s about partnering with event clients and guests for mutual business success, and doing so in an atmosphere of modern comfort and style.
Into the future
General manager Larry McAfee says the renovation project is expected to help the Lodge maintain a place of prominence among Lake of the Ozarks resorts. “The facility is in its 51st year,” he says. “The visionary Harold Koplar built it as one of the first here at the lake, and it was at the top of the ladder.” The Lodge saw a number of heyday years, but competing resorts and an aging property sparked the need for a new aesthetic lease on life. The 2015 renovation project launched in March, and by the fall, finishing touches already were being put in place. “An extensive renovation like this usually takes a year and a half, but we’ve done it in about eight months,” McAfee says. Access Hotels and Resorts, which took over management of the property in late 2014, has overseen the renovation as it has progressed.
An effort was made to use area companies and service providers throughout the project. All public areas were renovated, including the entryway and lobby; meeting rooms; dining facilities including HK’s Restaurant; and the hallways and atrium.The main swimming pool, roads and sidewalks also received upgrades, and heating and cooling systems were replaced to improve guest comfort. “Even our golf courses received extensive work,” McAfee says. “We did $250,000 in repairs and maintenance to the cart paths alone.”
All guest rooms were remodeled, and 55” televisions were added along with new draperies, carpet, beds, bed linens, bath furnishings, lighting, chairs and desks. All exterior sliding doors were replaced, and the facility’s 50’ atrium waterfall was updated as well. “Some resorts and hotels do ‘soft’ renovation projects, with new furniture and drapes,” McAfee says. “Ours has been total.”
The Lodge encompasses 358 guest rooms; 65,000 total square feet of meeting space; a total of 54 holes of local golf; a full-service marina; five restaurants; and the elegant Spa Shiki. Event space includes 21 meeting rooms; 20,000 square feet of exhibit space; classroom space for 800; theater-style capacity for up to 1,600; and banquet capacity for 1,200.
Looking at who’s booking
In October this year, the Lodge played host to the Missouri Division of Tourism’s 47th annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism. In fact, the renovation project was timed to accommodate that significant event, which welcomed about 225 participants to the resort over three days.
“All the conference guests stayed at the Lodge,” McAfee says. “They started out golfing, and many checked out our Spa Shiki and the Fire and Ice Bar. There were plenty of receptions, and speakers and seminars related to tourism marketing and trends. The division also rolled out a 2016 marketing campaign. It all went very well.”
Frederik Houben, director of sales and marketing, says other recent groups to choose the Lodge for events include the Missouri Rural Water Association and the MACVB (Missouri Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus).
“We also recently hosted the HK’s Hospital Benefit Golf Tournament for Lake Regional Health System, an event that has raised millions,” he says. “And we are in final discussions to become the headquarters hotel for the Lake Race motorboat competition in June 2016. It draws 35,000 to 40,000 people to the area.”
It’s a real testament to a venue’s longevity and service philosophy when important groups return there for major events year after year. Sharon Jones, deputy director of the Jefferson Citybased Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, says her group has been holding its annual convention at the Lodge for about 30 years. “We are really excited about all the updates,” she says. “Our conference is the last week in June, and when we were there this year, we were glad to see that upgrades to things like the HVAC system were very noticeable.”
Jones’ event brings about 400 attorneys and 200 family members to the resort, so the group’s social and entertainment needs vary widely – but the Lodge is well equipped to handle them. “Our event is Wednesday to Sunday, and it includes everything from a formal banquet to a carnival with bounce houses for the kids,” she says. Jones also is happy her group decided not to drive off-site for a large attendee dinner, as it has in the past.
“We stayed on the property, and everyone loved it,” she says. “The food quality was absolutely fabulous.”
Phil Lewis, executive director of the Missouri Association of Secondary School Principals in Columbia, says his office has held its spring conference at the Lodge for many years as well. The organization uses ballroom space for general sessions and lunch, and breakout rooms for up to eight presentations. While at the resort, attendees enjoy golf, fishing, lakeside strolls, and social gatherings around the fire pit in the main lobby.
“As a not-for-profit organization, we must be good stewards of our money, and the Lodge provides menu options that are reasonable and served with a nice presence,” Lewis says. His event includes two major attendee meals, a steak dinner and a lunch award program. “When the weather cooperates, the dinner is served outside overlooking the lake, and the luncheon is served in a semi-formal manner. The luncheon is unhurried, but efficiently served, to allow us the time needed to complete the program without delays.
“Whether we have a lunch for 300, or a more private dining experience at HK’s, the food has always been well prepared and served in a prompt and timely manner,” Lewis says. “And the Lodge staff has always been a pleasure to work with.”
The total package
Roger Kurtz, executive director of the Jefferson City-based Missouri Association of School Administrators, planned the organization’s 2015 spring conference at the resort. “It’s an annual joint educational conference we do with the Missouri School Public Relations Association,” Kurtz says. “Usually we have about 400 attendees, but this year we were up to 475, and we sold out our trade show at 105 booths. We survey our members each year, and holding the conference at the Lodge of Four Seasons is always their number one choice.”
The conference includes educational sessions, workshops, award programs, and social activities. “And we always run the gamut when it comes to food breaks,” Kurtz says. “For our group, the Lodge and its staff put on continental and buffet breakfasts, sit-down lunches and dinners, receptions with heavy hors d’oeuvres… they do it all.”
At this year’s conference, attendees also gathered to watch NCAA basketball on a large-screen TV, play card games, and enjoy pizza and karaoke. “The Lodge is just right for our size conference,” Kurtz adds. “The meeting room sizes accommodate us perfectly, and the food is always very good. The Lodge always takes care of our needs. We’ve already scheduled our next conference there for 2016.”
“We have a lot of planners who use the Lodge very often,” Houben says of the iconic resort and its bright future as a destination. “They are truly excited to see it now. For them, when it comes to bringing business here, seeing really is believing.”
Lodge of Four Seasons
Larry McAfee, general manager
Frederik Houben, director of sales and marketing
315 Four Seasons Drive
Lake Ozark MO 65049