How to Have a Thriving Hospitality Business
even during a global pandemic
By Holly Morris
Respect for the past, eye on the future. These are the words Kari Cordisco, General Manager of Sanibel Moorings Resort on Sanibel Island, Florida, lives by.
I sat down in an interview with Kari armed with lots of questions about running a beach resort during a pandemic. I hardly needed them because she was more than happy to share her experiences with little prompting. It’s clear she loves her job where she’s been the GM for ten years. “It’s such a cool place” she says of the resort, referring especially to how it’s nestled on 6 acres of botanical gardens.
While the pandemic has certainly had a huge effect on the travel and tourism business in general, Sanibel Moorings managed to not only survive, but thrive during Covid. Other resorts in Florida completely shut down last summer due to Covid. But Sanibel Moorings’ status as a condo association–not a hotel–saved them. The bookings were way down, but they stayed open.
It’s not been all peaches and cream though. Cordisco juggles three balls in her role at Sanibel Moorings.
The Juggling Act
One of those jobs in the juggling act is to keep resort guests happy. In this respect, Cordisco has certainly found her calling as a hospitality manager. In fact, one might say she’s a master at keeping her guests happy with a 4.5 rating on TripAdvisor. But it’s not just the guests she has to keep happy.
She is also charged with keeping the owners happy. The resort consists of 122 one, two and three-bedroom suites with fully equipped kitchens, all owned by 122 different owners. “Your home away from home,” is their tagline. Owners don’t necessarily live in the area, so it’s imperative they stay updated on the upkeep and maintenance of their units. Regular newsletters and personal communication are vital to keeping the owners informed and therefore keeping the guests happy. And the owners know that happy guests = more bookings = more money. So, Kari works hard to keep both the guests and the owners happy.
She also works to keep the staff happy. This was perhaps the hardest ball to juggle during the Covid crisis. She had to come up with a way to keep everyone on the job. She calls it getting “creative with the personnel.” Staff continued to work doing deep cleaning projects and maintenance that might otherwise have been pushed to the back burner.
Kari is proud of how she never laid anyone off during the pandemic. She values her staff almost above all else. She knows that if you keep your staff happy, they remain loyal. In fact, one of the staff members has been at Sanibel Moorings for over 37 years and several others have been there over 20 years. Cordisco knows that a happy staff = happy guests = happy owners.
This 3-legged stool at the Sanibel Moorings is well-balanced and sturdy.
So, how DID they manage to keep guests both safe and happy during a global pandemic?
Well, believe it or not surviving the pandemic wasn’t all about the safety protocols. Yes, they really had to up their game when it came to cleaning and adhering to all the covid procedures for safety and sanitation. Yes, they use electro-static foggers to clean each room, then seal it after every stay. Yes, they expanded their towel exchange hours to avoid crowds at housekeeping. Yes, they stopped offering guided garden tours to avoid close proximity on the pathway. Yes, they suspended kayak and paddleboard rentals because of life vest exchanges. Yes, the staff had to pass health checks and wear masks.
But that’s not where Cordisco attributes the success of keeping guests happy during the pandemic.
A Little Lesson in Old-School Hospitality
Prior to Covid, you received an email confirmation of your reservation and that was the extent of your contact with the resort until you walked in the front door. Now, because communication is so important in keeping people informed and feeling safe about traveling, there are several communication avenues and touchpoints along the way.
Because of Covid, they closed their lobby completely to guests. It’s not a big lobby and they just didn’t want to have to police the number of people in there at any given time, and whether everyone was wearing a mask and/or staying 6 feet apart. So, they simply closed it.
This has led to interesting shifts. They had to get creative again. So now, when you check in as a guest to Sanibel Moorings, you call the front desk upon your arrival, and they come out to greet you in your car. You get a very personalized, very you-focused welcome and check in.
The ease of checking in is facilitated in large part by a personal phone call made to you on the day before your arrival. Almost as if you were a friend coming to stay, they call to tell you they’re looking forward to your visit, they confirm your reservation and arrival information, and they tell you about the new curbside check-in procedure.
Once you’re on the property, you can get a quick response to questions or concerns by contacting hotel personnel through a phone call, text, email, or a downloadable app on your phone. These new procedures have gone so well Cordisco has no immediate plans to open the lobby again and of course these vital lines of electronic communication will stay wide open.
Keeping guests informed and giving them multiple communication methods have been the key to smooth operations from reservation to check out. The comments on their customer service surveys have been overwhelmingly positive, so they know they’re doing something right.
Although some of their amenities like kayaks and paddleboards are still not available, Sanibel Moorings has continued to offer their most popular amenity–the beach! The beach is why people come to Sanibel and it’s why people keep coming back.
In fact, 75-80% of the guests at Sanibel Moorings are repeat customers. These returning guests, however, are not booking through Expedia or Travelocity or Hotels.com. No, they’re NOT using the online travel agencies because they appreciate the personal touch they get by booking directly with the resort. When they book directly with the resort, they know they’ll be well taken care of.
The OTAs are just the middleman–one step removed from a direct booking. And the OTAs are not nearly as invested in your happiness as that person at the resort who thinks of nothing BUT your happiness.
The Silver Lining
Covid-19 thrust us into an uncertain future in so many ways. It also forced us to be innovative in many ways. While some businesses looked for a way out, this is one business that looked for a way back, looking to the past in order to survive into the future. Good old-fashioned principles like personal communication, making guests feel like family, going above and beyond for the owners, and showing appreciation for staff seem like quaint business practices from a bygone era. But they have proven to be steadfast values in a world that sometimes seems like it’s spinning out of control.
Top shelf hospitality isn’t a downloadable computer program or what’s trending on social media. It’s about how you treat people. In 100 years, the same principles will, no doubt, still apply. Going out of your way to make people feel welcome, special, and valued—it’s the cornerstone of hospitality and a formula for enduring success.
Holly Morris lives in Fort Myers and is a lifelong Floridian with a vested interest in preserving our way of life. A copywriter for travel, tourism, and hospitality, she also works with the Visitor and Convention Bureau promoting tourism for Lee County. Visit https://www.hollymorriswriting.com/ for more information.