November 2007

Palmetto Dunes Takes Reigns on Rentals and Resort Activities

Author: Paul deVere

Reinventing a Resort

Forbes magazine put Palmetto Dunes on their “11 Best Family Resorts” list. Travel & Leisure Family magazine named it the #1 family resort. The Palmetto Dunes Tennis Center is always in Tennis magazine’s “Top 50” in the nation. GolfWeek named Palmetto Dunes as the only resort with all three of its golf courses rated in the top 50 in the Southeast.

Palmetto Dunes has never been short on accolades, from the media or from guests. In a recent interview, Vice President of Resort Operations Bret Martin said, “We’ve got a lot of great recognition out there and we want to stay on the front end of that.” In July, 2006, Martin was hired by Greenwood Development Corporation, the resort’s developer, to make sure Palmetto Dunes stays on that “front end.” In early September of this year, Martin and his staff took what is probably its biggest leap toward that goal when it was announced that Palmetto Dunes would be taking over short term rental management, and meeting and convention functions for the resort. Bottom line, that means one phone number will get the guest any and everything Palmetto Dunes offers, from golf and tennis packages to weddings to a three-day shark fishing package.

Shark fishing package? Sure. Martin said the travel and leisure business has dramatically changed since Greenwood purchased Palmetto Dunes in 1978, especially in the past few years. “It’s become a hands-on, concierge kind of service,” he said. His insights paint a fascinating picture of what he and Greenwood Development envision the “new” Palmetto Dune will become.

Celebrate Hilton Head: In the past year, what has been the greatest change for a guest at Palmetto Dunes?

Bret Martin: Our reservation system. It allows us to put all activities, not just golf, within the resort. In the past, it was always a golf focus; we even referred to it as “golf business.” But we’re really in the resort business. That will change our perspective. Now we reserve the whole resort, which includes all the activities in the harbor, dolphin tours, guided tours. We’re working on getting a dinner cruise and should have it going out next year. In the past, you had to call five different places. Now, it’s one. Where we used to develop just golf packages or tennis packages, now we’re doing marina packages. We just had a lady [with her sons] come in last week for our first shark fishing package. She had a couple bike rentals. We delivered the bikes, got her accommodations set up and picked her up at the airport. We arranged for the Dunes Buggy to take her to the marina. The captain was there to greet her. They caught five sharks, came back in, and we took them back to the airport. Five months ago we wouldn’t have dreamed of doing that. Now it’s a reality.

CH2: Where did the idea of “full service” come from?

BM: When I came in a year ago, the objective I had was to bring it all together into one resort. That’s what we’ve been doing—trying to create a culture of service and making sure our people take care of the guests and seek out and fill those needs. In addition to that, we’re also starting to look at the infrastructure. We’re 30 years old, and our plans are to invest back into the resort. We’ve been able, through some of the programs we initiated this year, to see pretty good revenue growth. We believe a lot of that is due to our working together with our partners. With the service that’s now being provided and the revenue streams, we think we have the opportunity to go back and reinvest in the property and do the kinds of things we need to do to keep us in the competitive environment of the resort business. We already have the best place: we’re in the middle of the island; we have three great golf courses; we’ve got the beach, the marina, the lagoon system, and we’re on Hilton Head Island.

CH2: How do you view the “culture of service” you mentioned?

BM: First of all, it’s saying “yes.” We don’t say, “No we don’t do that.” We say, “How can we help you do that?” It’s about finding out what those needs are and make sure we fill them. That’s one of the reasons we wanted to get into the accommodations business. In the past we were always just the activity provider. Guests would call someone and make their reservations; they’d come; they’d go do these activities, and then they would check out and leave. Now we’re taking the phone call before they ever arrive. We’re the ones who check them in and out. We continue that relationship with the customer to make sure we’re doing the things we need to do to make it right. Guests don’t have to come here and then figure out what they’re going to do. They’ve already got it planned out for them, like, where do I park when I go to the beach.

CH2: How has the travel industry changed, and how is Palmetto Dunes addressing those changes?

BM: The big thing is the Internet and the access to information. The guests are making sure they have a variety of options. They shop you online; they’ll see what you have and how you present yourself first. If you don’t make it there, you’re not going to be on the consideration list. If they run into a wall somewhere, you’re no longer considered. You’re out of the hunt. Another thing is that people are doing different things. It’s really about customizing the experience. They want to spend their time doing things they want to do, not trying to figure out where they’re going to go.

CH2: How will this affect islanders and Palmetto Dunes residents?

BM: I think what we’ll see is a much more exclusive environment in Palmetto Dunes. That creates a more private experience, and I think that’s an advantage to owners in the resort. Once they are part of the resort, they get all of those services, all of the privileges at preferred rates, like discounts for friends and family.

CH2: How long will the transition take now that you’re in control?

BM: I don’t know if you’re ever in control. I’ve never been completely in control of anything [laughter]. The objective isn’t really to be in control. The objective is to build the reputation of the resort and stay at the top of mind for the guests. They’re in control. We’re just responding. They’re in control of where they want to come. We just want them to come here.

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