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March 28, 2012 | 08:51 AMFONTANA — In 2011, the Abbey Resort had more guests in its rooms and more people eating at its restaurants than it did the previous year. With that growth, the village collected room taxes near prerecession levels.
Abbey General Manager David Lindelow said the resort's growth can be attributed to several factors, but he believes more growth is possible and there is some indication that it should be expected.
The room tax that the village collects from the Abbey Resort is so important to Fontana's budget, Village Administrator Kelly Hayden keeps a detailed record of how much the resort pays each month and how that compares to previous years.
Each night that a guest stays at the resort, a small amount is collected by the village to pay for municipal services that visitors use.
In 2011, the Abbey Resort paid the village $325,425 in room taxes, which is up about 20 percent from last year and more than 31 percent from 2009.
Lindelow credits the increase in room rentals to several factors.
"The most significant reason was the return of the group client, which we saw go away in '08, '09 and some of '10," Lindelow said. "Our group sales have rebounded pretty dramatically. At the same time, I think we are finding a much higher rate of return guest and I think that comes from overall guest satisfaction and an emphasis on the guest experience."
During the recession, the Abbey Resort and other businesses in the hospitality industry were hit hard by a decline in group visits to resorts.
In the fall season, the Abbey Resort saw some major growth from the prior year. In October the village collected 48 percent more in room tax revenue and 56 percent more in November. In fact, every month of the year the village saw an increase in room tax revenue from prior years. In addition to group growth, Lindelow said the resort saw an increase in what the industry refers to as "transient visitors," which are people who stay for just a few days.
"We feel very fortunate and we worked very hard to achieve this, so I don't think it was luck, but we all feel very fortunate to have the resort doing well," Lindelow said.
The room rentals, which can be measured in room tax, are just one revenue stream for the Abbey Resort. But the village can't easily see the Abbey's sales in other areas. However, Lindelow said the resort is seeing growth in wedding bookings and catering.
Lindelow said the resort was planning for significant growth in 2006 when it completed a multi-million dollar renovation. However, the economic downturn derailed its plans. Now, the resort has goals beyond returning sales to pre-recession levels.
"I think we are beyond that at this point. I don't think the promise of the 2006 renovation has been fulfilled as of yet. I think in 2007 we were focused on fulfilling the promise the renovation had delivered to the market and unfortunately we were kind of interrupted with this economic downturn," he said. "I think we are back on track to do what we hoped would happen, reintroducing the property following the renovation in 2006."
Lindelow said growth at the resort might come from the Avani Spa, which was completed during the 2006 renovation.
"The spa lagged behind the increase in the other areas in 2011, and the spa has been doing very well in 2012," he said. "We are very pleased that that has kicked in this year."
In March 2007, the ownership of the Abbey changed hands, which is when Lindelow took his current position.
To achieve the growth, Lindelow said it is essential to market the Geneva Lake area. He said the Abbey Resort joined the Lake Geneva Area Conventions and Visitors Bureau.
Lindelow said Lake Lawn Resort has also joined the LGCVB.
"We are working at developing a real regional effort," he said. "This will be very good for everyone, from area attractions including restaurants and retail."
The Geneva Lakes area competes for tourism dollars with Door County, the Wisconsin Dells and other areas. A lot of the marketing is trying to bring in new visitors, or tourists who haven't been around for awhile.