June 17, 2024

A Hospitality Icon Reflects On Decades In The Business.

“It’s been a heck of a ride so far,” says John Kiesendahl as he sits in his office overlooking Lake Teedyuskung, the epicenter of Woodloch Pines Resort. “In 1958 my parents who were originally from Long Island purchased 12 acres of land here along with a lodge, annex and two cottages. The rest is history.”

And what a venerable history it has been. Woodloch Pines Resort, nestled in the Pocono Mountains of northeast Pennsylvania, has evolved from its humble beginnings into one of the country’s most popular all-inclusive family resorts, attracting guests who come to enjoy quality time together via an endless array of activities designed for the entire family.

“Since 1958, our mission has been to treat every guest as if they are company in our homes,” explains Kiesendahl, who with a partnership bought Woodloch in 1981 when he was 34 years of age. He became sole owner in 1992.

Serving up to 1,000 guests each day requires a skilled, dedicated staff. “Our staff is not formal or scripted but rather genuine and caring,” he says. “They demonstrate from-the-heart hospitality. The key to our success has always been the dedication, hard work, care, enthusiasm, warm hospitality and commitment to excellence of our team. What Woodloch offers guests is very personalized hospitality.”

The Woodloch complex includes Woodloch Springs, a sprawling golf community, and The Lodge at Woodloch, a luxurious destination spa. Woodloch has received several accolades naming it the “best place to work in the state.” Undoubtedly, the recognition is a direct reflection of the Kiesendahl family philosophy.

Jenifer Manzione, currently front office manager at The Lodge at Woodloch, has been at Woodloch for 40 years. She says, “The Woodloch philosophy is palpable. I would not have been here this long if not for the Kiesendahl way of doing business and treating their employees with respect. When people first arrive here they are in awe, and each guest receives a kind, personal greeting. It’s not pretentious but real. As a result we get a lot of repeat guests because it’s a place for people to let their guard down.”

The original managing partner of The Lodge operated the resort in a more elitist manner which was not in line with the Woodloch brand. During their three years the property averaged only 25% occupancy. “It was not being run with the Woodloch philosophy in mind,” says Kiesendahl. “People didn’t feel the spirit of genuine hospitality that has always been at the heart of Woodloch, so in 2010 Woodloch Pines became the managing partner/operator of The Lodge at Woodloch.” Today, the spa resort is thriving and is recognized as one of the best in the world.

Woodloch Springs is yet another success story. In 1988, as a more affluent clientele began to visit the resort, there was growing demand for a golf course. Kiesendahl says. “A study indicated 2,800 guests were interested in a Woodloch-owned and operated golf community so the process of creating Woodloch Springs began.” Woodloch Springs boasts a championship 18-hole course surrounded by exquisite vacation homes, an opulent clubhouse, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis and pickleball courts.

In addition to Woodloch Springs, there are a wide variety of vacation homes spread throughout Woodloch’s 1,200 acres. “We do not have a formal HOA in our communities, and 98% of the owners are former guests who have confidence and trust in how we operate our properties,” says Kiesendahl. “We have advisory boards and committees, but generally we operate as a benevolent dictator, which is perhaps the most efficient form of government.”

Not only is Kiesendahl an astute businessman, he’s an astute people person and remains the face of the resort despite officially stepping down as President and CEO in 2019 and handing over the reigns to his son Bradley. Other third-generation family members hold high-level managerial positions: Patrick Kiesendahl (Operations Director), Brooke James (Vice President of Sales, Marketing & Hospitality), Bob Kiesendahl (Food & Beverage Director), Matt Kiesendahl (Director of Services, Woodloch Springs). John Kiesendahl’s wife, Patti, oversees the gift shops and resort’s decor, while his brother Steven is Director of Sales and has kept Woodloch Pines at a very impressive annual occupancy rate of over 85%.

The ubiquitous John Kiesendahl personally greets guests at meals in the spacious dining room and often again at night in the resort’s nightclub before the talented cast presents their Broadway-like show. One guest asks as she gives Kiesendahl a warm high-five, “Do you ever sleep?” Known for his “funny” pants that are custom-tailored and feature many different children’s characters, Kiesendahl says, “I began this tradition to add an element of fun to each day for our guests and team members.”

A high number of guests are returnees who book the same week year after year, and Kiesendahl estimates he knows between 50 and 70% by name. In fact, many guests know one another as they have been coming here for generations. The vast majority return home feeling they received personalized service during their stay from the affable staff.

“It’s always a challenge to find high-quality staff,” says Kiesendahl. “During interviews we ask prospective employees about their attitude more so than what they know or their past experience. Their level of enthusiasm and a caring heart are the critical ingredients we search for. Once they begin working they find the culture to be very positive. Currently almost 150 workers come from overseas, many of whom are college students. Their work ethic is great. We could not operate without their energy and willingness to work.”

This energy is evident in the dining room where hundreds of delectable meals are served fresh and promptly by a smiling staff, all the while taking into account food allergies. It’s a well-oiled machine and a driving force behind the success of Woodloch.

Kiesendahl attended Cornell University’s Hotel School and served in the US Navy. Community service is a high priority for the entire family, and Kiesendahl serves on the Board of Directors for the Dime Bank, as well as the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau and is an active member of the Wallenpaupack Area School Board. He was recently honored with the Chairperson’s Award from the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau.

Brad Kiesendahl serves on the Board of Directors for Wayne Memorial Hospital, the Lackawaxen EMS, the Hawley First Presbyterian Church and as a youth sports coach. Brooke James serves on the Wayne Memorial Hospital Foundation Board. Bob Kiesendahl is the president and founder of the BK Hope Cures Foundation and also serves on the Board of Directors for the Chamber of the Northern Pocono Mountains.

“I loved growing up in the business,” reflects John Kiesendahl who at age 11 began working at Woodloch. “Over time I experienced every aspect of the business. I’m not planning on retiring any time soon, although it’s sometimes hard not to be in charge any longer.” With a smile he adds, “I’m still learning to take directions.”

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