Sept. 27 is World Tourism Day and this year’s theme is tourism for inclusive growth. To mark the occasion, read how Georgian hospitality grad Gary Farstad worked with Whitecap Dakota First Nation to successfully open a brand new, full-service resort and casino last fall, despite the challenges of COVID-19.
The Dakota Dunes Resort near Saskatoon was going to be an impressive resort, there was no doubt. But, in September 2020, in the midst of constructing the seven-level, 155-room hotel, General Manager Gary Farstad was told he had to pick an opening date for the following month.
Opening is not the easiest task when a hotel is far from complete, but this was also six months into COVID-19 and the only thing certain was uncertainty.
“I told my whole team, we’re going to be open on Oct. 8 with confidence, but inside I had that little bit of doubt,” Gary says with a chuckle. “My team had no idea I had any doubts.”
How could he not have doubts? Getting products from across Canada and the United States through lockdowns and factory shutdowns wasn’t easy.
But, Gary spent his entire career getting ready for this challenge. He was involved in resorts even before he graduated from Georgian College’s Hotel and Resort Operations Management program in 2006, when a co-op placement led to a job at Deerhurst Resort while he finished his studies.
For the next seven years, he continued to build up his resumé, including opening a restaurant in the Cayman Islands. In 2015, he was hired by Atlific Hotels as the Director of Operations at the Lake Louise Inn, a notoriously challenging resort to manage.
When he returned to Ontario in 2018, Atlific Hotels asked him to go to TownePlace Suites by Marriott in Sudbury, where, as general manager, he and his team won an award in 2019 for Revenue Performance Team of the Year.
All of these accomplishments caught the eye of the leadership team at Atlific and Sr. Vice President Philippe Gadbois asked Gary to check out the Dakota Dunes Resort project on Indigenous land near Saskatoon in October 2019. They had been working with Chief Darcy Bear and his community for 10 years on the project and they needed someone to take it to completion.
“The goal was to take some of the knowledge that I had acquired at other hotels and recruit a leadership team who could train the local community,” recalls Gary. “I think this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be involved with the community, to be able to open something like this. I don’t think I’ll ever open another hotel that will be this special.”
Dakota Dunes Resort and Casino, Saskatoon’s first ever full-service resort experience, is owned and developed by Whitecap First Nation and managed by Atlific Hotels.
This article was originally published in the spring 2021 edition of GeorgianView, the college’s alumni magazine.
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