Large, family-owned resorts offer personal touch
The Homestead in Michigan has been operated by the Kuras family since Robert Kuras purchased the property in 1975. Originally a boys camp in the 1920s, the Homestead is now a 500-acre (200 hectares) resort with four distinct hotels and year-round activities, from golf and water sports in the summer to skiing and snowboarding in the winter. It's surrounded by the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore at the mouth of the Crystal River, which Kuras proudly notes was voted the most beautiful place in America last year in a "Good Morning America" contest.
Kuras' children now help run the business, with the youngest in charge of social media. He said what makes a family-owned resort different is "values and tradition. We try to stress that. We view our guests as family and friends, and 80 percent of our guests are repeat. We're pretty proud of that."
A fourth-generation hotelier, Johannes Faessler grew up in a resort called Sonnenalp in the Bavarian Alps, in Germany, founded by his great-grandparents in 1919.
Faessler's parents purchased a Vail hotel in 1979 and founded the U.S. version of Sonnenalp, which means "Sun on the Mountains." Johannes took over operations in 1985 and lived at the resort with Rosana until they had kids and moved into a house nearby.
But Sonnenalp will always be their home, and they treat it that way, with Rosana doing most of the decorating to make sure the 127-room resort stays true to its Bavarian feel. The Faesslers still spend most of their time at Sonnenalp and plan to move back when their youngest daughter leaves for college.
"This is more than a business. This is our lives," Rosana Faessler said. "This is where our kids grew up. This is where my son learned to swim. It has to be not just cozy or elegant. ... It has to be special."
When problems arise, there's no calling the corporate office for an answer. With owners on site, decisions can be made on the spot. "It's the opposite of a large, corporate situation where it takes a long time to get a decision on anything," Johannes von Trapp said.
Family-owned resorts also offer a consistent, personal experience. Other resorts may change owners, managers, sometimes even names and themes, but here, guests know what they're getting every time. Even the employees sometimes stay on for decades, and like the owners, they get to know repeat guests, forming bonds that reach beyond the walls of the resort.
"Many guests come over and over, and you get to know them on an intimate level," Johannes Faessler said. "They become more friends than hotel guests."
If You Go...
TRAPP FAMILY LODGE: Stowe, Vt., http://www.trappfamily.com
THE HOMESTEAD: Glen Arbor, Mich., http://www.thehomesteadresort.com
SONNENALP: Vail, Colo., http://www.sonnenalp.com
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