Oak Island Inn Resort
There is a perfect escape nestled between Chester and Mahone Bay along Nova Scotia's southwest shore -- a place to catch your breath, enjoy a well-deserved massage, or cruise the islands of Mahone Bay. It is Oak Island Resort and it has been a source of relaxation, employment and economic spinoffs for more than 30 years.
The resort offers a fantastic view of Mahone Bay and the famed, yet mysterious, Oak Island, believed by some to be the hiding spot of Captain Kidd's long-lost treasure. Visitors can enjoy a premier full-service spa, three local championship golf courses, a marina and top-notch accommodations.
"Our seaside chalets are only steps from the ocean coastline and we are only an hour drive from the Halifax airport," says regional sales manager Rhonda MacDonald.
Oak Island Resort has gone through a number of transformations and Ken Petrie, who has lived in the area for almost 30 years, has witnessed most of them. Petrie, who used to own the hotel, and his wife Nancy manage tour-and-travel sales for the resort.
"The resort was originally called the Long Boat Inn when it was built in the 1970s," says Petrie of the inn that began with 30 rooms. Petrie bought the resort in 1982 and operated it until 2000, when he sold the resort to I.M.P. International Group Inc.
The resort now has 107 rooms and 13 chalets in addition to an indoor and outdoor pool.
"Oak Island Resort has established itself as the single-largest tourism employer in Lunenburg County," says Petrie. "We normally have more than 100 employees working on the property during peak season."
General manager Dan Myers said the locale is ideal, but says that Oak Island Resort's best asset is its people.
"We have a strong team of individuals who love the hospitality industry and consistently deliver a proud Nova Scotian welcome to all guests who enter our doors," says Myers. "Many team members have been employed with us for more than 10 years and that is rare in this industry.
"Visitors will remember people like Lucy, who is a server in our La Vista Dining Room, for years to come. It is people that make the difference."
Ninety-nine per cent of resort employees are from surrounding communities. And MacDonald says that is a key to the resort's success.
"We recently initiated an employee recognition program where employees are peer-nominated every four months for exceptional work performance," she says of the plan that awards days off with pay and spa certificates.
"We are also developing an employee referral program that has a monetary incentive for new hires referred by staff."
The incentives seem to be working. Administrative assistant Jennifer Young has worked at Oak Island Resort for 20 years. Her family is an example of the resort's new generation of employees.
"My oldest daughter worked here for a couple of summers while she was in school and my son has worked here," Young says. "Even my youngest daughter will be starting here soon."
And that kind of resort-employee bond gets noticed.
I.M.P. recently took home an award for being one of Canada's 50 Best Managed Companies in 2006.
MacDonald says that type of leadership helped the resort become an integral part of the community's economy.
"We buy local pastries and breads from Chester, meats from local farmers and organic coffee from the Valley. It is important for us to give back to the community."
Oak Island Resort gives back in other ways, too, says MacDonald.
"We recently had a staff party where we raised money for local charities. We even had an event where you paid to throw a pie at your manager," she says with a laugh. "We also held a Mardi Gras party in 2005 where some of the proceeds from the event went to the Hurricane Katrina relief fund."
The resort has been quick to respond to an ever-changing and highly competitive tourism industry. In addition to its numerous specials and customized packages, the resort also caters to business clientele with 8,000 sq-ft. of conferences space with complete audio and visual access.
"Travelers today are much more educated as to their options," says Myers. "They expect an exceptional and quality product when selecting a four-star property."
Petrie says website upgrades and working closely with organizations such as Destination Southwest Nova Scotia and the Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage has also been beneficial in expanding the resort's relationships with its guests.
"There are so many things going on at Oak Island Resort that it would be impossible to promote tourism on our own as a single entity," says Petrie. "The involvement and input of these organizations is substantial in helping us open up many doors and reach our targeted markets."
Staff at Oak Island Resort are always looking for ways to offer unexpected service, the kind that makes guests feel appreciated and valued. Sometimes, they look to other businesses in the community to offer that one-of-a-kind treatment.
"I originally started with the resort when I designed their walking trail over 10 years ago," says local eco-tourism businessman Mike Ernst. "Around that same time, the resort asked me to help with client requests for team-building programs that could be used during corporate retreats. I started developing customized activities, such as treasure and scavenger hunts, and have designed over 40 programs.
"The programs consist of a series of competitive activities based on mapping programs and grid searches around the property. Tasks are to be completed in between each stage."
Oak Island Resort is looking to attract permanent residents, too.
"The area is becoming not only a popular place to visit, but to live year-round now," says MacDonald, who adds that the resort is planning to build 24 condominiums.
It's that willingness to embrace change that has helped Oak Island thrive and its staff, community and visitors are reaping the rewards.