Hotels across the US create winter wonderlands for guests during the holiday season
‘Tis the season – and that means high guest occupancy rates for many family-friendly vacation spots this time of year.
To stay competitive and attract holiday-time guests, much time, money and effort is spent behind the scenes of top hotel properties on creating magical, wonder-filled events and activities.
At Hotel Hershey and Hershey Lodge, in Hershey, Pennsylvania, the high-season planning process begins after Labor Day.
“Once Hersheypark In The Dark (our family-friendly Halloween experience) closes at the end of October, the Park is transformed over the following two weeks, for an early-mid November opening of Hersheypark Christmas Candylane,” says Reilly Elizabeth Fies, communications manager for Hershey Entertainment & Resorts.
Brainstorming sessions are held with team members from operations, communications, marketing and more to discuss research on what’s trending, what’s new and what the competition is doing, she says.
Offerings this year include more than 40 rides and attractions (5 roller coasters), more than 4 million lights, Santa plus his nine, live reindeer, and a live singing and dancing show inside the Music Box Theatre.
In addition, there’s Hershey Sweet Lights, a drive-through lighted display, adults can receive winter/peppermint treatments at The Spa at The Hotel Hershey, and a new indoor pool complex opened this year, too.
Though many vacationers consider Hershey for a summer-stay, “The Sweetest Place on Earth is a town built on chocolate. We’re a year-round destination with something for everyone,” says Fies.
Social media marketing plays a vital role year-round, but, “Because the holidays are such a visual experience, sharing photos and videos on our channels are ways to connect with our fans and followers. We also regularly feature Christmas content on our Story Hub, as a way to produce and share original content,” says Fies.
Christmas through New Year’s is one of the busiest times for Suncadia Resort in Cle Elum, Washington, too, says concierge, Steve Talerico. Preparations for Winterfest, (November-January) commences the summer prior, he says. “Because the theme takes over the entire resort, team members from every department are involved, including the spa director, the chef and food & beverage team, our management, and our concierge team.”
With miles of hiking and biking trails and 6,400 acres to work with, the popular Pacific Northwestern holiday hot-spot offers, “A variety of family-friendly, festive activities and special events,” says Talerico. “Guests looking for adventures in the picturesque mountains can enjoy ice skating, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, or winter fly-fishing, while those looking for a relaxing getaway can enjoy luscious ‘spa-liday’ packages at Glade Spring Spa, cozy up at The Lodge with a Hot Toddy, or warm up by the fire with s’mores every night. The resort also offers events for the whole family, like special dinners for the holidays, glow-in-the-dark ice skating, Santa workshops, and a Light Bright New Year’s Eve celebration.”
Traditions are important here too, says Talerico. “Some of Suncadia’s notable ones include the Running of the Elk 5k, Tree Lighting celebration, Campcadia, Elf Tuck-ins, ice-skating, snow tubing, Jack Frost story-time, and breakfast with Santa,” he says.
A variety of marketing tactics are used to attract past guests and new audiences this time of year, says Talerico. They include sending out emails highlighting special events to guests who have stayed with us in the past, as well as including all events and activities on the hotel’s social accounts.
Although it’s only been open a year and a half, the Christmas holiday season at Camelback Resort, in Tannersville, Pennsylvania is an incredibly popular time for those seeking a winter getaway. Besides skiing, the property operates the largest snowtubing park in the U.S., says Kelly Joffe, its marketing manager, complete with a nighttime laser show experience for guests. Aquatopia, the indoor water park is open year-round, too.
An event manager, who’s part of the marketing team heads up all planning for holiday programming, says Joffe, and meetings with the operations team are conducted to discuss the execution of activities.
Among the lodging’s key offerings, a parade for Santa’s Grand Arrival and story time with Mrs. Claus are planned, as well as holiday-themed crafting sessions. While some offerings are included with guest stays, others cost extra, such as photos with Santa, and a New Year’s Eve dining experience.
Between 450-600 guests overnight guests are welcomed daily this time of year at the family-owned and operated, Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, New York, says Alex Sherwood, director of hotel operations.
Bookings rise this time of year for facility staples like the outdoor skating pavilion, snowshoeing through its 85 miles of trails, arts and crafts classes to decorate gingerbread houses, Victorian Carolers at Afternoon tea, Family Yule Log scavenger hunt, and annual balloon drop to usher in the New Year, says Sherwood.
Typically, “Our recreation and entertainment departments prepare for the holidays 1-2 months out,” says Sherwood.
“Every winter, Mohonk gets decked out in our holiday finest, with our breathtaking Christmas trees, including a 60-foot Austrian pine, covered in 1,500 sparkling LED lights,” he says.
A first this year, Mohonk hosted the region’s inaugural, Hudson Valley Gingerbread Competition, says Sherwood.
While the resort’s budget doesn’t rise this time of year, “We simply change our messaging,” says Sherwood. “We continue to rely heavily on social media channels to showcase the beauty and magic on our mountain top during this festive time of year.”