Sunday, April 22, 2007

Checking out the competition

About 15 years ago, a group of innkeepers from all parts of Ontario gathered for a meeting at Langdon Hall near Cambridge. We had been summoned there by the Ministry of Tourism who thought that we should put our collective heads together to let the world know about our unique inns. After a few starts and stops, we agreed to form an association, we agreed on the definition of a country inn, and we launched our first co-operative brochure. This took two years of sometimes heated and emotionally charged debate. These inns were like our children, and our competitors were initially perceived as a threat to our independence and to our livelihood. Over time, our group has grown in strength and numbers, and many of us have become good friends. We have also made some great strides in terms of marketing initiatives, all of which have ultimately benefited our customers. I think our greatest achievement has been the implementation of an independent quality assurance program. Each member is subjected to a rigorous surprise inspection every 18 months. Achieving less than 80 % on the inspection can mean removal from the group. Our group is known as Ontario's Finest Inns & Spas, and I encourage you to send away for one of our guidebooks. There are some incredible properties in Ontario - you owe it to yourself to check them out. One of the more onerous tasks that befalls an innkeeper however, is competitive analysis. Every once in a while, whether we like it or not, we have to get in our cars and check out the competition. I am writing this entry from Alton, Ontario, home of The Millcroft Inn & Spa with the full knowledge that my good friend, innkeeper Wolfgang Stichnothe will read what I have to say about my experience at his property. As always, the food experience and the service at the Millcroft was spectacular. On our first night we had a "Scotch pairing". Interesting, but I'm not a big scotch fan, so, I enjoyed wine with my dinner. Most of the men went outside after dinner to enjoy a cigar and some more whisky - again - not my thing, but still enjoyed by some. Even with the little bit of scotch and wine, I still had a headache in the morning - I guess I'm just getting to that age. This is the first time I have been to the Millcroft since the opening of the new spa expansion. And I must say - I was quite impressed. The exterior of the new building is architecturally pleasing, and it fits into the existing collection of buildings quite nicely. Inside, the facilities are very well thought out and efficient. I booked myself in for a Swedish massage and a gentleman's facial. The staff were all very accommodating and professional. All in all, I would encourage spa hoppers to check out the Millcroft Spa, if you haven't already. For me, and I believe for many spa goers, part of the addiction is to check out new places and compare them to your old standby. As long as you come back to Ste. Anne's in the end, I guess I'm OK with you keeping us on our toes by checking out the new guys ;). See you on the spa circuit!

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