PEMBROKE – Mountain Lake Lodge in Pembroke has been named “Hotel of the Year” by the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging & Travel Association which annually recognizes the best among the State’s hospitality and tourism industry.
After the lodge was neglected for more than a decade, facing the realities of an empty lake, the site of the cult classic 'Dirty Dancing' was revitalized, once again bringing crowds to the mountain.
It's a success Mountain Lake’s general manager, Heidi Stone, attributes to old-fashioned hospitality, tenacious teamwork and a refocus on the “have's” rather than the “have-not’s.”
An extensive seven-year grassroots effort has saved Mountain Lake Lodge and transformed it into a thriving, award-winning lodging destination. In addition to the lodge being named 'Hotel of the Year,' Mountain Lake’s General Manager, Heidi Stone, has been named 'Hotelier of the Year'.
“We stand in awe of our ‘Miracle on the Mountain.’ It’s a real comeback story where Heidi Stone and her hard-working team, along with the Mountain Lake Board of Directors, have kept Mountain Lake and the 'Dirty Dancing' spirit alive," said Betty Massey, executive director of the Mary Moody Northen Endowment, the private foundation based in Texas that owns Mountain Lake Lodge.
The property’s turnaround includes a complete overhaul inside and out, but Stone said it wasn’t big money that saved Mountain Lake Lodge. “To those hotels that are struggling, my advice is to focus on your assets and what you have, not what you don’t. You can spend many millions on a renovation but listening to your customer base is the key,” Stone said.
Initial plans, for example, called to entirely eliminate the Lodge’s connection to 'Dirty Dancing'.
Management reasoned that since the lake – where key scenes in the movie were shot – had
dried up, the whole 'Dirty Dancing' concept had died with it. But that was not the case and when they cultivated the film connection, everything changed. One by one, guests became loyal
customers, and fans became loyal followers.
Under Stone’s leadership, occupancy, revenues and group business have soared and the resort
has seen consistent growth every year since 2013. Last year, during the film's 30th anniversary,
Stone chose to drive an already formidable social media presence to increase website traffic
and online reservations by way of online contests.
According to hospitality management, budget earnings exceed 100 percent. In fact, efforts resulted in an increase of more than 21 percent in revenue and 181 percent in website traffic, far surpassing original goals.
“Mountain Lake Lodge would not exist today if it weren’t for Heidi Stone. When I first visited in
2011, it was rundown, stale and neglected. The Endowment was considering closing the resort, not sure we could save this worn out gem. So we hired a talented hotelier and true visionary whose insight and passion has not only saved Mountain Lake but transformed it into a very successful property," said Board Member Bob Donovan, who nominated Stone for Hotelier of the Year.