Resorts Adjust to a Pandemic Summer

Resorts Adjust to a Pandemic Summer

For a lucky few businesses—particularly those in the fields of health care, distance learning, and delivery—the pandemic actually expedited success.

As urban hotels languish with locked doors or limp along with skeleton staffs and 10 percent occupancy, the region’s “up north” resorts are getting ready for a banner summer.

Say what?

Think of it this way: With people reluctant to get on a plane, yet stir-crazy from months at home, driving vacations will be the rage this summer. Even if it means being cooped up with the same people in even smaller quarters.

Grand View Lodge, in Nisswa, is the state’s largest resort, with more than 800 peak-season employees. CEO Tom Juliano says 60 percent of Grand View’s business is booked far in advance. “Those reservations are holding,” says Juliano, who expects maybe 80 percent occupancy this summer, a bit off the typical 90.

Juliano echoes most resort operators, small and large, who say group and wedding business, a mainstay of the shoulder seasons, has dropped to nil due to bans on large gatherings, with no clear sense of when these can resume. Grand View is the second-largest employer in Crow Wing County. Because 150 of its cottages and homes have full kitchens, they “anticipate a summer that’s nearly as busy as normal,” Juliano says. He has numerous contingency plans for operating Grand View (and its sister businesses, camps Lincoln and Lake Hubert), “and our guests will tell us what they are comfortable with.”

Across the border in Wisconsin, Barron and Bayfield counties have not been as proactively welcoming to summer cabin dwellers or vacationers, issuing quarantine warnings and advertising a lack of capacity in the local health care system. Nonetheless, Stout’s Island Lodge, near Rice Lake, will open with a modified business plan, leasing lodgings for 90- and 60-day summer rentals, minimizing the number of different people on the island, says managing partner Stephanie Rupp, who moved Stout’s wedding and group bookings to next year.

Up the road in Chetek, Canoe Bay, the region’s luxury leader and a member of global alliance Relais & Chateau, has long focused on privacy and served most meals in its cottages. Owner Dan George says Canoe Bay now also offers in-room dinner and is expecting a busy summer. “Everything is business as usual here,” he chortles. “We invented social distancing!”

George is also seeing sustained business for his tiny-house manufacturing and travel rental business, Escape Vacations, booking private lodgings across the U.S. “It’s like after 9/11. This is where the market will be for
a while, isolation.” —Adam Platt

Read more from this issue

This story appears in the June/July 2020 issue with the title “Alone Again, Naturally.”