Skip to site content
The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Grove Park Inn Resort and Spa

Courtesy Grove Park Inn

Edwin Wiley Grove wanted his sturdy mountain inn in Asheville, N.C., to serve as a calming balm for stressed souls. Nearly 100 years later, the Grove Park Inn Resort and Spa remains true to its original mission, especially when it comes to soothing meeting planner clients.

In the past year, the 160-acre resort, edged by Asheville neighborhoods, has sheltered meeting planners by offering solutions to economy-inspired problems.

Concrete solutions in hard times
For example, the Grove Park Inn stepped up to host receptions for several conferences after sponsors withdrew their financial support. When a meeting planner needed to trim expenses, the resort suggested serving wine and keg beer instead of mixed drinks at a reception.

Courtesy Grove Park Inn

To help planners meet their goals for attendance, the inn offered Grove Park Inn gift cards for early signups as a way to encourage turnout. Incentives at the spa were another attendance builder.
“I’ve spent the majority of 2009 working with groups that were on the verge of canceling, coming up with solutions to drive their attendance,” said Pola Laughlin, director of group sales.

The payoff for those efforts? “About three out of five ended up with better attendance than they had had the year before,” said Laughlin.

“The things we did that cost us money didn’t cost us as much as if the people didn’t come to the meeting at all, and it kept us from having to lay off more people than we did,” said Laughlin. (The resort laid off 15 of its 1,000 staff, a small percentage, but a blow nonetheless because of the resort’s large number of long-term employees.)

Even in a tough year, the Grove Park Inn kept a sense of humor. When its long-time client the North Carolina Optometric Society held its 100th anniversary celebration at the inn, Laughlin ordered Harry Potter-style glasses for staff to wear during the conference. “We tried to do things for the people who were still meeting to make it a special event for them,” said Laughlin. “The hotel has 13 values we follow, and one of them is fun. We had a whole lot of fun making it special for them.”

A special place for sunsets and more
From its early days on Sunset Mountain, the inn has been a special place. Eight American presidents have stayed there, and author F. Scott Fitzgerald spent two summers at the inn while his wife, Zelda, was hospitalized in Asheville.

Courtesy Grove Park Inn

Stepping into the cool, cavernous Grand Hall, 80 feet wide and 120 feet long, on a summer night can feel like arriving in a bustling city square as guests rub elbows at the bar, sit in clutches on couches, and wander over to open doorways that lead to terraces with mountain views. A winter scene is similar, although warmed by 12-foot logs that burn in stone fireplaces at each end of the lobby, each one high enough for a tall man to stand in.

The original inn, built of granite boulders gleaned from the mountain, some weighing as much as 10,000 pounds, is handsome but not flashy, blending with the mountains rather than outshining them.

Its cobbled walls and red-orange tile roof, which droops over windows like eyelids, looks like a team of gnomes dreamed its design.

Grove Park Inn will be 100 in 2013, yet in terms of meeting business, it is a youngster. Until the late Charles Sammons built the Sammons and Vanderbilt wings in the 1980s, the inn was strictly a leisure travel destination.

Sammons, a Texas entrepreneur, changed the model. The inn was rather downtrodden when he snapped it up in the 1950s, and over the course of several decades, Sammons saved and preserved the original inn and added modern wings that flank the original building and create a U-shape. The privately owned company he founded, Sammons Enterprises, still owns the hotel.

Today’s inn has 512 guest rooms and 53,000 square feet of meeting space in two ballrooms and 40 meeting rooms. Each of the modern wings has a ballroom and numerous breakout rooms. The Vanderbilt Wing, the newest, is also the largest. Its Vanderbilt ballroom is 17,000 square feet; the Heritage Ballroom in the Sammons Wing is 8,778 square feet.

Elaine Sammons makes her mark
Sammons’ wife, Elaine, who had had a career in hotel sales, is credited with saving the inn’s original spirit and its Arts and Crafts style.

Courtesy Grove Park Inn

A decade ago, Elaine Sammons decided that she — and the hotel — needed a spa. Again, she made sure that the inn’s original charm was not compromised by the new addition. The subterranean spa is at the foot of the hill behind the original hotel.

“She had the spa built underground so it didn’t interfere with the views of the mountains,” said Laughlin.

Sammons died a year ago, and her spa has had much to do with the Grove Park Inn’s continuing popularity.

It was recently expanded, largely because guests are encouraged to spend time there relaxing before and after their treatments. So many of them did so that more lounging spaces, indoors and out, were needed.

Old pool becomes new party room
When the spa and its indoor pools were added, there was no need for the hotel’s indoor pool. It has been turned into meeting and event space, the Skyline Room and the adjoining Mountain View Terrace.

The 3,600-square-foot room has two walls of glass with “the best view in the hotel,” said Laughlin. “You look straight at the mountains and straight at the sunset. There is nothing that can top the location and the view.”

Courtesy Grove Park Inn

The Skyline Room is where many groups begin or end their conferences, and the view creates an interesting group dynamic.

“You watch the group when they come in, and 90 percent of them will be facing the mountains and the sunset,” said Laughlin. “The view is a conversation piece, and it right off the bat gives people something to talk about. And they won’t leave – they want to see the sun go down.”

The resort has garnered a faithful following of state and regional associations, many of which have met at the Grove Park Inn for 20 years or more. Laughlin estimates that 50 percent to 60 percent of meeting business is repeat.

Meeting in slower periods and on weekdays has resulted in surprisingly good rates for the Carolinas Air Pollution Control Association, according to Connie McElroy-Bacon, who contracts to plan meetings for the group.

For almost 20 years, the association has met at the inn for three days during the week after Easter. Last year’s room rate at the inn was better than the rate the group got at its nearby overflow hotel.

More important than the rate, though, is the quality of the experience her group receives, said McElroy-Bacon. With its setting, spa and golf course, the inn “is appealing to the people who come and the families who come with them,”she said. “ It is just such a relaxed atmosphere. The food is always impeccable.”

Most important is the level of service, a sign of the inn’s seasoned staff. They not only remember attendees by name, but also the attendees’ food preferences.

In times of economic and emotional upheaval, that familiarity can be a comfort.

“We have some of the same wait staff and banquet managers that they had 15 years ago,” said McElroy-Bacon. “You feel like you are coming back home.”