Skico ready to farm out Little Nell name
September 18, 2007
ASPEN The Little Nell name that has been associated with Aspen Mountain for so long is about to get exported to other resorts by the Aspen Skiing Co.The Skico has signed a letter of intent to allow a developer to use The Little Nell name for a new condominium-hotel project in Jackson Hole, Wyo., the firms announced Tuesday. The maneuver is part of the Skico’s ongoing effort to build the brand of its world-famous Little Nell hotel at the base of Aspen Mountain. The hotel opened in 1988 and perennially earns the Mobil Five Star award for excellence and the Five Diamond rating from AAA. Now, the Skico is exploring opportunities to earn money off that name and its reputation for excellence by allowing the Little Nell name to be affiliated with other tourist accommodations.The Skico has already agreed to manage The Residences at Little Nell, a project at the base of Aspen Mountain. It also will manage The Little Nell Snowmass, a project in the new Base Village.”There will be other Little Nell hotels; we just don’t know where and when,” said Paul Cherrett, senior vice president for the Skico’s hospitality division. He stressed that there is no mandate to add a certain number of hotels in a set amount of time.In the Jackson Hole deal, the letter of intent is anticipated to lead to a binding agreement within 90 days. With the consummation of the deal, developer Robert DesLauriers and his Tramline Development LLC would be able to use the Little Nell name for a 45- or 46-unit condo-hotel project at a premiere ski-in, ski-out site. DesLauriers hopes to gain government approval in time to break ground in 2008. The Little Nell in Jackson Hole would open in 2010.Odd deal in ski industryThe licensing agreement is unique and a little surprising in the ski resort industry, according to Jerry Jones, a Colorado-based ski industry consultant.
“The Little Nell name has cachet, and they’re selling it,” Jones said. “What they’re doing is taking the reputation and parlaying it into a new business.”The downside is, they’re not getting as much out of it as they could,” Jones said.The Skico would make a lot more money managing a Jackson Hole project that bears its name, Jones said. Companies like Ritz-Carlton typically receive a percentage of gross revenues for hotels they manage. The owner covers all expenses, but the operator also gets a share of profits.The Skico had to stray from that formula out of necessity. The Skico doesn’t have the resources yet to manage a luxury property as far away as Jackson Hole, Cherrett said. One of his responsibilities is to build a hospitality division with that capability.Since it cannot manage a hotel at Jackson Hole now, the Skico is taking a risk by allowing someone else to operate using its name, Jones said. If the Jackson Hole developer runs a “crappy” operation, it will reflect poorly on the Skico, he said.
DesLauriers has good reputationCherrett said the Skico has thoroughly investigated DesLauriers’ performance and has worked slowly since January to reach a satisfactory licensing agreement. “It was a very cautious, slow dance,” he said.DesLauriers’ Terra Resort Group runs the Teton Mountain Lodge and is preparing to open Hotel Terra, both luxury properties in Jackson Hole. Cherrett came to the Skico from Jackson Hole, where he ran the Four Seasons Hotel, so he knew about DesLauriers’ reputation for high standards.DesLauriers said he dreamed of getting the Little Nell name connected to his third tourist accommodation in Jackson Hole. “The Little Nell is kind of an icon in the ski industry,” he said, labeling it the best ski resort hotel in North America and possibly the world.DesLauriers set the wheels in motion in January when he called Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan and pitched the idea. Kaplan’s strategic plan for the Skico has focused on maximizing business opportunities.Skico lags behind competitionJones said the time is ripe for the Skico to export the Little Nell name. The Skico lags behind some major competitors in seizing lodging opportunities. For example, a division of Vail Resorts called RockResorts is managing luxury properties throughout the West, including Aspen’s historic Hotel Jerome.The Skico wouldn’t disclose what it will charge to let DesLauriers use the Little Nell name. “A hell of a lot, I would think,” Jones said. “The Little Nell has an outstanding rating in the world.”
Jones said the Skico could expand the Little Nell brand to as many as 100 hotels worldwide, if it so desired, without losing the cachet.Cherrett said expansion is the plan, but at a slow, well-conceived pace. The Skico will consider hotels only in ski resorts that also have strong summer business, he said. The properties must be small with slopeside access. It will affiliate only with properties that can achieve five-diamond rating. “Nothing less than that,” he said.In all probability, Cherrett said, the Jackson Hole deal will be the only licensing agreement where the Skico gives naming rights to a luxury property but doesn’t get involved in the management.So, are Skico officials prepared to manage a Little Nell hotel in Vail? They would be labeled traitors, Cherrett quipped.In the minds of some, exporting the Little Nell name from Aspen Mountain might constitute treason. The hotel took its name from a ski trail on Ajax’s lower slope. The ski trail was named after a mining claim that dates back to Aspen’s founding as a silver mining camp in the 1870s. And the mining claim got its name from Little Nell Trent, a character in a novel by Charles Dickens.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org