Though his journey there was by no means short, Netherlands-born Pascal van Dijk today calls the Canadian Rockies home. Now, having been at the helm of British Columbia’s Fairmont Hot Springs Resort since July 2014, he’s poised to embark on an even longer adventure: shepherding the half-century-old family destination into the future. His formidable agenda includes harnessing the resort’s signature natural mineral hot springs into a geoexchange system that will heat and cool the Columbia Valley property.
“Our goal is to be the most environmentally friendly resort in North America in terms of carbon footprint and energy consumption,” van Dijk says. “We are even looking at providing that energy to other businesses or residences in the town of Fairmont.”
The upgrades are part of Fairmont’s efforts to compete with the region’s more modern vacation destinations such as Whistler, British Columbia, which draws largely from Vancouver. Van Dijk believes the year-round Fairmont can become a “mini-Whistler,” with Calgary and its 1.2 million residents as a major market. The resort is a less-than-four-hour drive into the mountains from the city, and it offers everything a rural vacationer might be looking for.
“That’s the big draw,” van Dijk says, citing the resort’s three golf courses, two hot springs swimming pools, 143 hotel rooms, ski area, cabins, cottages, spa facilities, multiple food and beverage venues, trail rides, two campgrounds with a combined 400 RV sites, and more. The resort has also provided a mortgage loan to the Fairmont Hot Springs Airport, which can accommodate 737s. “A lot of resorts would kill for airport access three minutes away,” van Dijk says.
It was while conducting financial services for Netherlands-based construction and engineering company Ballast Nedam that van Dijk was first exposed to the hospitality industry. He was sent on a part-time basis to the company-owned Kicking Horse Mountain Resort in Golden, British Columbia, in 2005, charged with creating a link between the resort’s accounting system and Ballast Nedam’s reporting system. “A ski resort has a completely different set of metrics and factors that determine how the business is doing,” van Dijk explains, mentioning stats such as the number of lift tickets purchased and revenue streams such as retail, food, and beverage as typical concerns. “There is a lot more variety and dynamics to hospitality than construction.”
With an MBA and an executive master of finance and control degree pursued while working, van Dijk accepted an offer for the CFO position at Kicking Horse in 2008 and moved there full-time with his new wife. Ballast Nedam continued developing Kicking Horse as a ski resort, readying it for sale, and when the company found a buyer in 2011, the van Dijks thought they would return to the Netherlands.
However, they ultimately found themselves too enamored of Canada’s Rocky Mountains, and van Dijk wound up taking over the CFO position at Fairmont in 2012, followed by a brief period as its COO. In July 2014, he became the resort’s president and CEO, allowing him and his wife to make Canada a permanent home.
“It was what you call a baptism by fire,” van Dijk says, noting a behemoth mudslide that paralyzed the property two weeks later. The $6.5 million insurance claim is still being resolved, and it covers the damage to the Fairmont’s potable water supply and the partial destruction of a golf course and swimming pool, among other things. “It was a small miracle in itself that we were only shut down for 19 days,” van Dijk says, crediting his more than 325 employees for their fortitude and perseverance.
Buoyed by the potential of the geoexchange project, van Dijk is also seeking capital to upgrade aging assets such as hotel bathrooms and changing rooms and to build more cottages and cabins, which are in great demand. His vision includes expanding the spa into its own structure to take full advantage of the resort’s celebrated natural mineral hot springs. He compares his approach to the guest experience to the approach taken with new homeowners in the construction industry, emphasizing the importance of setting a good tone. “It starts with the basics,” he says. “What’s important to you and your family?”
Together, Fairmont’s seasonal businesses make up a stable and well-balanced portfolio that van Dijk hopes will only continue to improve. “It’s all about inventive thinking,” he says.