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One IT System to Do it All

Blue Mountain is an all-seasons resort in Collingwood, Ont., that draws 1.5 million visitors annually. It boasts 60 shops and restaurants, 140 acres of lodging, and extensive conference facilities. It’s a far cry from the three-trail ski club first founded in the small community in 1941. When Intrawest ULC bought a 50% stake, a robust expansion plan was deployed transforming Blue Mountain into what it is today: a true destination resort. Suddenly, management was faced with the challenge of how to efficiently manage the boom. Blue Mountain became the first North American resort to deploy Cenium, an end-to-end hospitality solution for Customer Relationship Management (CRM). Blue Mountain now boasts strong customer service, streamlined efficiency, cost-savings and more potential for future growth.
One key consideration for Blue Mountain was the resort’s IT needs. “We had a long-established resort, but at the same time we were in a heavy-growth environment,” says John Gowers, Blue Mountain’s Director of IT, who came on board soon after the Intrawest acquisition. “One of the things we could never really do was create that unified guest experience. There were all these disjointed transactions.”
For example, Gowers explains, if one guest came and wanted to do 20 different things – like book a room, buy lift tickets, sign up for ski school, reserve childcare, and go for a spa treatment, followed by dinner – they may have had to go through 20 different departments. “Basically, we really didn’t have an understanding of our guests’ needs and we had a hard time delivering our services under that environment,” Gowers states.
When Gowers first took over Blue Mountain’s IT department, the resort was using a “best-of-breed” model, a siloed but standard approach for the hospitality industry that relies on different, non-integrated systems for finance, online booking, payroll, food services, property management, and so on. Blue Mountain had a total of 26 systems mainly operating independently of each other, so Gowers set out to find a better way. “I really started with the intent of finding an all-in-one, encompassing solution – and I didn’t,” says Gowers. “There was simply nothing out there. After some time, I gave up looking.”
When Cenium approached him offering a one-view hotel property management solution, Gowers was skeptical. “We had 30 vendors come to us over the years that said they had an all-encompassing solution and the reality was that every time we starting drilling into it, it was feature-poor or missed pieces or was only integrated; not really a platform environment,” Gowers recalls.
Eventually Gowers was convinced that Cenium’s product had “potential,” and Blue Mountain undertook a year-long research effort into the product.  Since partnering with Cenium, Blue Mountain has enjoyed increased efficiency and optimization across its entire business. Not only can Blue Mountain offer guests a more unified, streamlined experience than ever before, but they have also eliminated redundancies and are more adaptive to any customer-focused changes, culminating in the biggest benefit of all: The ability to take on new, exciting projects which will expand profit margins.
Comprehensive guest view as best business practice
Blue Mountain’s switch to Cenium’s integrated solution is now apparent from the moment a guest first contacts the all-season resort. “A few years ago, if you called in and wanted a room, a ski lesson and maybe childcare, we likely keyed you into three different systems, asking for the same information three different times,” says Gowers. “We’d have you on the phone a long time while we’re booking your reservation; there’s not a lot of efficiency there.”
Also, Blue Mountain couldn’t track some key metrics: The resort caters to a variety of people – including day guests, overnight renters and condo owners – and trying to figure which groups were using which services was near-impossible.  
The benefits of the new system are then two-fold: Guests get an amped up experience and Blue Mountain knows who to target. For example, if a group of executives were at the resort for a conference, many might be good targets for the sale of new condos and season’s ski passes. Now the sales team will be alerted about their visit and is able to cross-sell or up-sell to realize additional revenue opportunities, whereas before they would have been completely in the dark.
Streamlined efficiency and cost-savings for a complex business
The resort has also experienced internal improvements in such areas as staffing, IT updates and daily operating activities. Since Cenium runs on a Microsoft platform, most employees benefit from a familiar user interface, because the resort already uses Microsoft Office and SharePoint. That’s a huge bonus for an organization that employs 2,300 full-time, part-time and seasonal staff. Better yet, instead of training a new employee on as many as 10 systems over a two-week period, Gowers said a new hire can be productive in their new position in only a couple of days.
The time to book a reservation has been cut in half, and the night-auditing process, which used to take three to four hours each evening, is now down to a mere four minutes since the information is tabulated throughout the day. These time savings mean staff can perform other duties that benefit the resort’s bottom line. As a result, Gowers estimates the company was able to reduce staffing levels in the revenue management department, saving as much as $200,000 annually. “On an application that you spend half a million or a million dollars on, that’s a pretty quick return,” Gowers adds.

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