Ruby’s Inn Celebrating a Century of Scenic Stays

Bryce Canyon City—A lot can change in a hundred years.

But for a century, Ruby’s Inn has been a constant for visitors to Bryce Canyon National Park—even before it was a national park—all while staying in the family. General Manager Lance Syrett said he thinks its longevity is partially luck and partially foresight by each generation.

“We’re out here in beautiful country, right on the doorstep of Bryce canyon, and a lot of it has to do with quality of life,” he said. “You can’t get the same quality of life other places. I think that’s part of it, being in such a beautiful place. As a family, we try to keep things in the long-term perspective. You just have to be patient.”

That long-term perspective has helped when disaster strikes, like in 1984, when the original 100-room lodge burned to the ground just before the summer season got underway. The family got together, Syrett said, and came up with a plan to open a temporary kitchen for restaurant customers and figured out how they wanted to rebuild. Syrett’s uncle and the general manager at the time, Bob Syrett, decided to use the rebuild as an opportunity to reach out more to international travelers.

It took some finagling to sort out pricing and marketing, Syrett said, but courting to foreign guests turned out to be a home run. When the inn was rebuilt, business boomed. Today, Ruby’s Inn has three buildings with almost 700 rooms between them.

“It took us 70 years to get us to 100 rooms and then it took us 30 to add six hundred more, so it was kind of exponential growth,” he said. “It brought a lot of resolve when that main lodge burned down to rise from the ashes and make it better.”

Rising from the ashes is in Ruby Inn’s DNA. When Reuben “Ruby” Syrett first settled in Southern Utah in 1916, he came to ranch, but noticed the beauty of the landscape and saw an opportunity to run a business on the side to cater to visitors to the canyon. A few years later, he got permission to do just that—only to find his new lodge was in the boundaries of what was then Bryce Canyon National Monument.

Instead of accepting defeat and putting his energy back into ranching, Syrett said, Ruby offered the government part of his ranch land to build a road into the park to the north.

“It was one of the best things he ever did, because they built the road there and he could build his lodge along there,” Syrett said.

There, the lodge thrived through two world wars and the Great Depression. Business was not without its ups and downs, but the family learned how to roll through the cycles of good and bad.

“One thing being in the tourism business is it’s kind of cyclical. Right now we’re in a high time in tourism, with the national parks, but going back to 9/11, we were in a similar trajectory where things were looking pretty good, but all of the sudden, almost overnight, all that international tourism went away, and it took us three or four years to recover from that,” Syrett said. “It was the same thing with 2008, with the economic downturn—it was the same thing, it took us several years to recover from that.”

In 2013, national parks were shuttered as part of the government shutdown. Syrett said the family is under no delusions about what draws visitors—the park, not the hotel—but were able to weather that blow to business with a trump card passed down from Ruby: The family owns a small portion of private land in the park that they were able to open up for people staying at the inn.

“We had a lot of people say, ‘Hey, you saved our trip,’” Syrett said. “We still lost money, from people who canceled, but a lot of the people still showed up.”

Right now, the tourism cycle is at a high point, especially with the centennial of the national parks occurring this year, he said. But the family is also to the future, when the industry inevitably dips again. Syrett said the inn will offer more wintertime activities, such as snowshoeing and ice skating, in addition to the cross-country skiing already available, in an effort to draw more off-season guests. Peak tourist season, starting in mid-April and running through mid-October, is also often completely booked, but guests can find much more availability and lower prices during the other half of the year, as well, he said.

The inn has also sought to help the park that brings it most of its business. Since 2003, guests at Ruby’s Inn have been invited to donate a dollar per night to a nonprofit organization that helps Bryce Canyon National Park. To date, Syrett said, the inn has facilitated between $40,000 and $50,000 annually.

But above all else, he said, the family hopes to keep the business strong for the next century. Syrett is the fourth generation of family members to run the inn, and he said he hopes the coming generations feel the same excitement and love for the business that has driven it for the last hundred years.

“We anticipate that we’re still going to be here, and we’d love for it to still be a family business—we’re looking at how we get to the fifth generation, and the sixth generation,” he said.