In search of hotel excellence: The Sagamore Resort on Lake George

Recall the movie “Dirty Dancing” (1987) starring Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze to put you in the mood. Now fast forward 25 years and modernize by adding a lakeside setting with multiple dining and leisure options, and you have The Sagamore Resort. (For the record, “Dirty Dancing” was actually filmed in North Carolina and Virginia.)

This 375-room historic property spread out amongst a main building and a series of lodges located on its very own 70-acre (28-hectare) island just off Bolton Landing on Lake George (about three hours north of New York City) seems like the idyllic summer getaway. With several pools, a spa, tennis courts and a massive family-oriented recreation center, the resort just may be the perfect destination to take the family for a July or August sojourn.

My two-night stay confirmed this; I’ve haven’t seen so many families with kids since my last trip to Disney World in Orlando. However, this wasn’t a family-only resort as witnessed by my time in the main restaurant, where I could easily point out many couples and even a few business groups (taking advantage of the massive convention center), all of them dining in noisy harmony.

The property is so large there was something for everyone. A lakeside bar drew the singles and couples while the pool seemed to attract the families. Another indoor pool lured the teens like a magnet. And the waterfront held rental boats, jet skis, the Morgan (a large touring boat) and a shallow lakeside swimming area. Even more kids could be found tucked away at the Rec Center, a building housing a myriad of activities for the young folks.

The guestrooms were comfortable and functional but not overly ostentatious. Our room had a great view and was about 375 square feet (35 square meters). The bathroom was small and somewhat dated, but not in such a manner as to be considered a major negative. And it was spectacularly quiet.

Managing a property of this magnitude requires patience and exceptional teamwork. I sat down with General Manager Tom Guay to discuss some of the challenges and processes he undertakes to keep The Sagamore up to its high standard of excellence.

Larry Mogelonsky: What’s the team dynamic like for a summer resort?


Tom Guay: Each year, we have to reinvent ourselves, as our team rises from about 130 to 630 for the Memorial Day through Labor Day peak season. This means an intensive recruiting effort that starts each November, with our key team leaders visiting hotel schools as far north as Prince Edward Island (Canada) and as far west as Niagara.

Then, once staffers are hired, we have to train them. This includes intensive mentoring and shadowing our core team until they quickly “solo” in their positions.

LM: I’ve read your TripAdvisor reviews. How do you manage to keep every guest happy?

TG: I wish it was as simple as ensuring that there was a chaise in the sunshine for every guest. While this is important (we have over 800 chaise lounges), there is a lot more to it.

It starts with an appreciation for the guest and understanding their needs. For example, if you have a family in the dining room, you really need to serve quickly. In comparison, a couple dining alone does not want to rush their service. You have to have the necessary experience to anticipate how to manage each type of guest.

LM: Speaking of the dining room, I’ve rarely seen the combination of families, couples and business groups all cohabitating the same dining space.

TG: It isn’t something that is done easily. We do not segregate couples from families. Our experience is that the children seem to rise to the occasion. Somehow, they know to be on their best behavior, and their parents seem to self-regulate their younger family members. Our team members know how to keep things moving, and this is something we stress during the training process.

LM: So, how’s business?

TG: Over the past five years, we’ve seen continuous business improvement. Our occupancy levels have been increasing, and this is coincident with higher unit room revenue. While there is always room for improvement, we’re convinced that the marketplace approach makes sense.