Customer service makes Clifton hotel best of the Best Westerns

Owner and general manager Karen Nielson, left, and property manager Sandy Oehmke oversee the operation of the Best Western Grande River Inn and Suites in Clifton. The hotel recently won awards that recognize it as one of the best of the Best Western International properties. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Phil Castle, The Business Times

It’s not the spacious lobby with the gas fireplace and leather furniture that brings guests back to the Best Western Grande River Inn and Suites in Clifton. It’s not the indoor swimming pool, exercise room or even the meticulously landscape courtyard, either.

According to owner and general manager Karen Nielson, it’s the friendly customer service. “It comes so naturally around here. It’s about the golden rule: Treat customers as you would like to be treated.”

Customer service is among the criteria that earned the hotel and Nielson’s staff the M.K. Guertin Award as well as the Champion Customer Care Award from Best Western International.

The Best Western Grande River Inn and Suites was one of only 35 hotels out of more than 2,400 properties to win both awards for 2013, making the Clifton hotel the best of Best Western facilities.

What’s more remarkable is the fact the Best Western Grande River Inn and Suites is also among the smallest facilities in the hotel chain with only 49 rooms.

“The M.K. Guertin Award recognizes those Best Western Hotels in the top percentile that truly demonstrate the highest levels of quality and service within the brand,” said Julie Montmaneix, chairwoman of the Best Western International board of directors.

Named for the founder of Best Western, the M.K. Guertin Award is the highest honor bestowed by the hotel.  The Best Western Grande River Inn and Suites won the same award in 2009 and received an honorable mention in 2005.

Karen and Denny Nielson have owned the hotel since 1985. Denny Nielson designed the addition in 1997 that added 29 guest rooms as well as the indoor swimming pool, exercise room and a courtyard where guests linger over coffee in the mornings and sip wine in the evenings.

Along with providing such amenities, customer service remains a top priority, Karen Nielson said. “It’s what sets you apart.”

It helps to enjoy the hospitality business and maintain a positive attitude, she said.

She also credited Sandy Oehmke, the property manager at the hotel, and a staff of 10 to 20 people that fluctuates along with seasonal business.

“You treat employees with the same caring as you do guests,” Nielson said. “We consider ourselves a family here.”

The hospitality industry has suffered over the past five years as the recession and slow recovery has affected the tourism and energy industries in Western Colorado, Nielson says.

But friendly customer service has earned the Best Western Grande River Inn and Suites not only awards, but also repeat business, she added.

“Once we get a guest, they’ll stick with us.”


Phil Castle is editor of the Grand Valley Business Times, a twice-monthly business journal published in Grand Junction. Castle brings to his duties nearly 30 years of experience in editorial management positions with Western Colorado newspapers. In addition, his free-lance work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the Washington Post. He holds a bachelor's degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University.
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