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October 2018

Promoting the Portfolio

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By Rob Carey

With various facility upgrades to tout, La Cantera boosted its marketing to a new level

Aaron Green spent 13 years at La Cantera Resort and Golf Club in San Antonio, Texas, rising from a front-desk staffer in 2001 to head professional by 2007. Come mid-2013, though, Troon Golf offered him a larger role at a public facility near Corpus Christi, followed by a general manager position at a private club in Pittsburgh. But when the director of golf position opened up at La Cantera this past February, Green jumped at the chance to return to where he started.

Even better for Green was the fact that the La Cantera he came back to had added significantly to its hospitality offerings since he left, giving him lots to work with as he planned ways to drive more rounds and revenue.

First, there was what he calls “a massive renovation” of the 496-room hotel that included the creation of Seven, an entire floor exclusively for guests over 21 that features a large lounge area with food and beverage. New ballroom space plus reimagined pool areas (including an adult-only offering) and restaurants debuted as well, as did a luxury spa overlooking the golf course along with 48 refurbished villas of one to four bedrooms.

On the golf side, a six-month closure of the Resort course in 2017 allowed for rebuilt green complexes featuring Bermuda TiffEagle as well as 18 new tee boxes and eight fewer bunkers. Over those six months, the resort’s Palmer course was able to absorb additional play beyond its typical 22,000 annual rounds. In the Resort course clubhouse, Grill 254 opens in November as a sports-themed casual outlet commemorating the record-low score by Tommy Armour III in the 2003 Valero Texas Open at La Cantera. And just steps away at the practice range, high-end restaurant Signature now occupies the building that housed the golf academy, which itself got a new headquarters on the range’s opposite end.

First Construction, Then Communication
To get all this infrastructure investment to provide the expected financial return, Green quickly understood that he needed to assist the resort’s marketing team with presenting the right messages to the right audiences at the right times.

As a result, “we emphasize to our main markets of San Antonio, Houston and Austin that if you have kids and want to do the family thing along with golf, we’re great for that,” he notes. “But for couples, buddy groups and even ladies’ groups who want to get away to golf and relax, we have the right elements for them, too.”
Having both a Six Flags theme park and a luxury shopping district within easy shuttle distance of the resort also greatly helps both causes.

In his first season as director of golf, Green has had success in landing parties of two to eight people for a stay-and-play package within the hotel that includes discounts and benefits at other outlets on property. He’s also secured groups as large as 120 players who occupy the majority of the villas at one time. Interestingly, the spa is a strong lure for golf groups of both genders.

“When I first came back, the golf-and-spa combination was not being leveraged,” he notes. Now, “we actually have guys’ groups spending the whole afternoon there after a morning round, because it offers a wide variety of treatments plus an infinity pool and its own bar and grill.”

For the fly-in market, Green says that the sell is complicated by the fact that “people assume the terrain in Texas is all the same — mostly flat.” To remedy this, he changed the golf-related visuals on the resort’s website from still photos to a rolling gallery of five-second video snippets taken from a remote-controlled drone. With each snippet filmed as the drone slowly drifts upward from the treetops, the contours of the two Hill Country courses are apparent, while the clubhouse and its surrounding amenities become better appreciated as well. “Anytime you can get people to see and feel the course more, it creates a wow factor,” he notes. The result: Total golf-page impressions are up this year, as is average length of time spent on those areas of the resort’s site.

With social media channels, Green works daily with the resort’s marketing team to vary the messaging aimed at golfers.

“The four or five ideas we provide each week have helped increase our Facebook and Instagram page likes tremendously,” which means the people who hit “like” on a post will then see other La Cantera posts more frequently because of how Facebook and Instagram operate their algorithms. “Signature restaurant and our spa have big followings on their own Facebook pages as well,” notes Green, who occasionally taps that audience by providing relevant crossover content.

Green and his team most often create “wish you could be here” social posts featuring a photo or brief video of a particular area of the golf facility, or tips on how to best play particular holes. At other times “we’ll do a contest about who will win the next big PGA event and at what score, or a contest for the smartest get-around-our-course tip,” he says. Also on his content calendar are updates on lessons and junior clinics, F&B outlet updates, and mention of the Twosome Card frequent-player program which offers preferred rates for the member and a guest. Only rarely does Green post special rates on play; “we’ll do a few about our $39 special during weekdays in summer, because we need people here when it’s 100 degrees.”

Service Brings Them Back
Once players arrive on property, the goal is to provide a service experience that sells return visits and recommendations to friends. In 2013, near the end of Green’s first stint at La Cantera, the facility was named one of the 15 most friendly resort courses in America by GolfNow; five years later, Green is intent on maintaining that pedigree.

“Attention to detail is something we’ve always pushed down through the culture here,” he says. “It’s everything from a pleasant phone exchange to a friendly bag-drop encounter with proper body posture, approaching guests before they approach you, looking them in the eye and then calling in their name to the golf shop so they can be greeted personally when they enter.”

Green and his head pro review customer surveys daily, sometimes with the superintendent.

“We’re looking generally for areas we can improve on, but we do contact any guest who did not have a satisfactory experience,” he says. “It helps us make sure it doesn’t happen to another guest, and also turns that specific encounter around and maybe creates a lifelong guest.”

This approach is working: The golf operation’s net promoter score hovers just above 70 percent, an enviable position for a daily-fee facility.

As evidenced by the spate of new infrastructure at La Cantera, “we do a good job with not being comfortable with the status quo,” Green says. “Our Wednesday staff meetings are all about how we can get better this coming week versus last week. Then we have monthly meetings where we go over surveys with the whole staff. We’re trying to improve the staff to get everyone up to an A player, which improves the customer experience but also helps their careers. It’s a tough hiring environment now, and money is important to people, of course. But we try to show that culture is most important.”  

Rob Carey is a freelance writer and principal of Meetings & Hospitality Insight.

 

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