At Lansdowne Resort, where the bathrooms are stocked with extra-thick hand towels and the floors are sparkling, the feel of the place is decidedly old-fashioned. But in a few months' time, the conservative, leafy wall coverings will come down, and oil paintings of fox hunts will be replaced with more modern art.
The chichi resort is launching a multimillion-dollar renovation and expansion that the owner, LaSalle Hotel Properties, hopes will lure more leisure travelers -- not just the business clients who have long been the resort's bread and butter.
Over the next year, Lansdowne will change dramatically as the public areas and 300-plus rooms are renovated top to bottom; a nine-hole golf course, an 18-hole course designed by Greg Norman and a clubhouse are built near an existing 18-hole course; and a small spa is replaced with a fancier, significantly larger one. Most of that work will be completed by next summer, if not sooner. By 2007, the resort plans to open a 240,000-square-foot building on the grounds with more hotel rooms or condos or a mix.
Jon Bortz, LaSalle chairman and chief executive, said he wanted to turn Lansdowne into the premier resort and convention center in the mid-Atlantic region.
"I think it has such incredible potential," Bortz said. "When we look at things, we don't look just at what they are, but what they could be."
When the resort opened in 1991, the picture was less than promising. "We were literally the only property" in the Lansdowne subdivision, said Jerry Dumont, the hotel's manager. "We were perceived as being in the middle of nowhere. . . . It was a little lonely."
Not long before LaSalle purchased the property from Lansdowne Resort Limited Partnership in June 2003 for $116 million, the resort had taken some knocks. Like other businesses in the tourism industry in the Washington area, it suffered from waning corporate travel because of would-be visitors' fears after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
But things are looking up, according to LaSalle and Benchmark Hospitality, the resort's management group. LaSalle's confidence is reflected in its investment. It plans to spend $45 million to improve and expand existing facilities and $60 million to $75 million on the new building.
Part of the goal is to attract more leisure travelers, who make up only 10 percent of Lansdowne's guests. About 80 percent of its guests are members of groups staying for conferences or individual business travelers. Bortz said he expects, with the renovations, that leisure travelers will make up 20 percent to 25 percent of the clientele at Lansdowne, which will be marketed more strongly as a "destination resort."
In that sense, Lansdowne fits well into the vision for tourism in Loudoun County, where the leisure market is growing in importance, said Cheryl Kilday, president of the Loudoun Convention & Visitors Association. She said the industry is trying to reach younger travelers who are looking for trips that are more "experiential" -- trips that include golf outings, visits to wineries and events.
"We're connecting the beds to the activities," Kilday said.
The tourism industry already generates a windfall for the county. Market research shows visitors spent $777 million in Loudoun in 2001, the most recent year for which data were available. The county, with Dulles International Airport in its back yard and Washington a short drive away, is uniquely positioned to benefit from tourism. The launch June 16 of low-fare carrier Independence Air, which has its headquarters at Dulles, could be a boon for the tourism industry.
Lansdowne has 450 employees during its busy season and is already among the county's largest employers. The resort plans to hire about 100 people next year and possibly more.
LaSalle said its investments in the resort would eventually lead to higher prices. Room rates are expected to rise 5 percent to 10 percent in the next year and by as much as 15 percent the year after. A package including a one-night stay, breakfast, a round of golf and access to health facilities now costs $149 to $185 a person based on double occupancy, depending on the season. Replace the golf with a trip to the spa and an exercise class, and the price ranges from $240 to $265 a person based on double occupancy.
When LaSalle purchased the property, membership in the golf club cost $35,000. It is now $53,000.
Bortz and Dumont say the prices are a reflection of quality. And that quality, they say, will be more than apparent in the new facilities. A room that has already been refurbished has been decorated in fall colors and two-toned woods. The shower curtain is terrycloth. The intent, Bortz said, is to make the rooms feel less commercial than those in other hotels.
Bortz said the Norman course also would be a big draw for visitors. He stepped out on the balcony of another room, looked out over the property and pointed to where the course would be.
"You won't see the brown," he said. "It will be green. And, hopefully, you'll see a lot more people."