Sarah attended Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and worked at a 5-star-5-diamond resort in Colorado, a 4,000+ all-suite hotel in Las Vegas, and an international restaurant company in New York City, all before graduating. At age 22, she was the Director of Sales and Marketing for a private resort in Florida. During a brief career in Boston, she managed a 220-seat jazz club in Harvard Square.
She then moved back to Vermont and started working with her mom and uncle as the fifth generation of her family to manage Basin Harbor Club. As the Director of Sales, she now describes her role as helping people enjoy all that Basin Harbor has to offer, whether that’s a family reunion, a wedding, a group retreat, or a day spent on the Lake. Sarah was also chosen as one of VBM’s Rising Stars in Vermont.
In her free time, Sarah is a lover of the great outdoors, a gastronome, and a world traveler, and she is also certified as a Wilderness First Responder.
On this episode of Destination on the Left, I talk with Sarah Morris, who is passionate about keeping pace with evolving customer expectations while staying true to her 136yr old Vermont resort’s brand. She shares her insights on gearing up for each new summer season and why a spirit of collaboration with resorts with opposite seasons helps when successfully hiring new staff.
What guests are looking for changes as much from year to year as generationally. So in a resort that has been operating for over 100 years, there have been changes over time. Sarah describes the themes that the Basin Harbor Club has carried forward over the years, including being actively involved in the tourism community, as well as the general business community in Vermont, and how that has helped them maintain their family-centered ethos.
We discuss the personality of a truly rural campus resort and how the Basin Harbor Club has stayed true to a product that they want to deliver upon experientially for their guests. Of course, it’s also important for tourist destinations to keep up with modern sensibilities, so Sarah describes how she has married online accessibility with an atmosphere of allowing people to disconnect from their home life, their work-life, and be very present during their vacation time.
When times are tough, as they have been in our industry over the last two years, we have to find creative solutions to help you overcome challenges. Sarah and I dig into some of the ways that she has leveraged the resort’s history to understand how to grow through adversity. We also discuss the importance of fostering a sense of ‘coopetition,’ where perceived competitors come together to do something bigger together than they can do on their own.
At Basin Harbor Club, they want to provide an experience that their guests love, and that includes recommending other resorts that might be more suitable for their needs. Sarah dives into what she loves about the willingness to share in the industry and why they love to work with local artisans and food and beverage producers, so they can highlight the region’s growers and producers and incorporate that Vermont flavor into their products too.
We also take the conversation in the direction of managing a seasonal property and the challenges of scaling from 20 employees in the winter to north of 150 employees in the summer months. Sarah lends her expertise on hiring seasonal staff strategies for scaling up and how she recruits new employees in collaboration with resorts and their current staff.
The joy of being a seasonal destination is that you can seek out opportunities to connect with properties that are in opposite seasons and make sure that you are keeping good staff in well-supported roles. Recruiting staff is such a critical part of creating an amazing guest experience, especially in a resort that prides itself on its family feel and counts guests and staff as part of that extended family.