This Thursday marks 20 years since RPB Hotels and Resorts group purchased a struggling hotel on the shores of Okanagan Lake.
“My father always had a vision that this would be a jewel of a hotel to acquire,” said David Prystay, general manager of the Penticton Lakeside Resort.
There were a few struggling years at the beginning, he admits, as they worked to remake the Lakeside and its image.
Part of the keys to success, Prystay said, was making the Lakeside as much a place for the local community as tourists.
“The theory was if the locals don’t support you, you wouldn’t be successful. Be it just the locals coming to visit and patronize your premises, or recommending you to family and friends is very important,” he said.
“That’s what we have strived to do over the last 20 years: to make ourselves a focal point, make ourselves a place where people want to go to be seen at, to meet their friends and family and have an enjoyable time.”
Prystay said that when he travels, whether it’s a restaurant in Maui or in London, he really doesn’t want to find himself sitting beside someone else from Penticton.
“I would like to meet someone from where I am. I don’t care if that somebody was a waitress working in the hotel that I am staying at, as long as they’re locals and can fill me in, that’s what I appreciate. That’s what we do here. Our staff are allowed to use the facilities,” said Prystay, remembering that people were shocked when he first introduced the policy.
But it was the casino proposal that was the turning point for the Lakeside, according to Prystay. The infusion of money from the Development Assistance Compensation funding that came along with hosting a destination casino helped expand facilities at the hotel, including building the Hooded Merganser, the ballroom expansion, redoing all the rooms; a long list of enhancements to the property.
When RPB purchased the property in ‘93, it had only a single bar, The Leading Edge, which Prystay nicknamed “The Losing Edge.” That was one of the first targets for a makeover.
“We do have quite a few places to go now in the hotel, from the Bufflehead (Tapas Bar) to the Hood, to the Parrot, to the casino, to the private beach, the marina,” said Prystay. “It’s all been a long, hard-earned vision that has finally come to fruition.”
The hotel’s casino bid also turned out to be integral to the development of the South Okanagan Events Centre.
“If it wasn’t for the hotel risking everything to get the casino here, the SOEC wouldn’t exist, so I guess you can blame us for that or thank us for that, because there would have been no DAC funds for the SOEC,” said Prystay. “We worked hard and we got the casino through so DAC funds flowed through, and in 2008 they announced they were going to allow them to go to the SOEC.”
Prystay said it’s been an enjoyable 20 years operating the hotel, watching both the business and Penticton grow.
“I love the community, I love our staff, they are the best staff in the business by far,” he said. “We have a lot of long-term employees here, that’s for sure.”
Some of the employees are so long term that employment spans generations. Base staff is about 200, rising to 360 employees at the height of the summer season. Over 20 years, that adds up to employing thousands of people.
“We’ve had a lot of staff members whose kids are working here now. Nepotism is alive at the Lakeside,” joked Prystay.
Reaching out to the community is integral to the resort’s plan, from sponsoring teams and major events like the upcoming Challenge, to the regular free barbecue Friday nights at the Barking Parrot.
“That’s a little perk that I started 19 years ago. I said let’s give back to the locals because they miss out in the summertime a bit, maybe their favourite seat is not available or maybe service is a little slower because we are busier,” said Prystay.
“Every Friday from October through May we give away a free barbecue (meal), and it is just a thank you for the patronage over the years.”
The Lakeside has a long list of firsts to its credit, including being one of the first hotels in North America to offer wireless, which has just gone through a major upgrade to handle large events like the upcoming 2013 Wine Blogger Conference.
“And we also have the farm. Unique in Canada, it’s our own 10-acre property we have been developing,” said Prystay, noting that they had a herb garden for the kitchens 16 years ago.
“This first week in April, we delivered our first tubs of bok choy to the kitchens of the hotel, straight from our organic farm, from our solar-powered greenhouses. Now we are in our second week of full lettuce production. We have our beehives going, and chickens. It’s crazy busy.”