The Park Rapids resort community faces a rapidly evolving situation as tourist season approaches and the end date of coronavirus-related travel restrictions remains unclear.
“Resort owners are like everybody else in the country,” said Joel Carlson, who owns a legal research and government affairs business in St. Paul and serves as a lobbyist for the Community of Minnesota Resorts (CMR). “They are watching this pandemic and taking all of our guidance very seriously about social distancing and proper hygiene and public gatherings. That’s our number one priority right now.”
Carlson said his firm is monitoring developments in state and federal programs as to how they may help resort owners stay in business – “whether it’s the federal payroll protection plan or the state emergency loan program. We’re pushing that information out to resorters. If they can utilize any of those programs, we’re encouraging them to do so.”
Voicing the hope that the situation will improve, Carlson said, “We don’t have any timeline of when that may happen. We are in constant contact with our customers and guests. They are eager and anxious to come and partake in Minnesota’s great outdoors. Right now, the future is very unclear. We are hopeful and watching.”
“Resort owners are wondering what the future months will hold for their business,” said Jennifer Bateman, adding that while resorts can accommodate social distancing with outdoor and more solitary activities, “the stay-at-home order is certainly more concerning if that is extended into summer.”
Bateman owned the Two Inlets Resort from 1997 to 2019; owned Thunder Lake Lodge in Remer from 2008 to 2013; and served for three years as president of the CMR.
Everyone has canceled
“Literally everyone has canceled,” said Robyn Capistrant, manager at the Red Bridge Inn.
She said the inn’s staff took advantage of their downtime to do deep cleaning, including paint work and carpet cleaning.
They have been refunding deposits and releasing credit card holds, Capistrant said, because they understand “people don’t want to move much or can’t move much. We don’t want to encourage people to come up from the Cities or the higher-hit areas.”
Carlson said there are no statewide guidelines for handling cancellations or refunding deposits. “Every individual resorter has their own mechanism,” he said.
On an optimistic note, Capistrant added, “We hope that everything blows over and we’ll be open for business as normal, just as soon as people feel comfortable coming back.”
Phone not ringing
Cathy Zaczkowski, owner of the Timberlane Resort, a seasonal resort that doesn’t open until June.
“All I can say right now is, a lot of resorters are in the same boat as me,” Zaczkowski said, noting that none of their standing reservations had canceled as of March 31, but also, the phone had stopped ringing with new reservations two weeks earlier. “The way things change from day to day, there’s now way to predict where we’ll be at in two months.”
Meantime, she reported difficulty finding cleaning products for sale, even online.
However, her biggest concern is the phone not ringing. April is typically when Zaczkowski spends a lot of time on the phone, taking reservations for mid- to late August – and that’s not happening now.
“That’s not surprising,” she said. “I’m getting some other resorts saying the same thing. Our hope is this will turn around. Once restrictions are lifted and things start to look better, then we’re hoping that the phone will start ringing and we’ll start filling up for those later August openings that we have. I can’t predict that, unfortunately, any more than anybody else can.”
Owners remain optimistic
There have been no cancellations as of Monday morning at the In-We-Go Resort on 8th Crow Wing near Nevis. Owned by Sara and Ed Becker, the resort includes four motel rooms and 13 cabins along with camping. Many of the guests return year after year.
“Typically, most of our reservations aren’t until Memorial Day weekend,” Sara said.
Updates and advice from the Minnesota Department of Health for hospitality is received through ongoing webinars at CampgroundAccounting.com.
For now, they are busy cleaning cabins and planning to put docks in for the season in a few weeks.
“Right now we’re hopeful we will be able to open,” she said. “We have a great summer booking lined up and since we’re all doing what we should with shelter in place, we’re hoping this virus will disappear as fast as it came.”
In case restrictions last into the resort season, they are getting information from the SBA and Community of Minnesota Resorts on loans that may help down the road.
“Resorts still have to pay their mortgages and property taxes are coming up due May 31,” she said.
Working to accommodate guests
Located on Big Mantrap Lake and owned by Andrew and Charlotte Hansen, Mantrap Lodge has only received one cancellation so far and that was from a family in the Minneapolis area. About 70 percent of their guests return summer after summer.
“We’re probably 60 percent from within Minnesota, and the majority of the rest of our guests are from South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa with some from the Chicago area as well,” Andrew said.
“We plan on being open if we can. We don’t open until Memorial Day weekend, so we’ll just have to wait and see what’s going to happen in the next few weeks and how it’s going to impact us. Right now, we have to plan on being open while preparing financially for the possibility things could change. We’re looking into SBA loan options while cleaning up the grounds to be ready to open. We’re doing some cabin work as well.”
The resort has expanded its cancellation policy. Normally, unless cancellations are made 90 days in advance, the guest has to pay the entire amount of the stay.
“We waived that this year because so much is unknown,” he said.
Hansen said if guests need to cancel, they plan to roll their deposit for next year’s vacation. Since they stay open until mid-October, he said some guests might be able to come enjoy a vacation in the fall if they can’t come in the summer.
‘Human life is worth more’
Lyn and Rick Pinnick, owners of Jewel of the Northwoods Bed & Breakfast in Menahga, say, “Has there been an economic impact on us? Absolutely.”
When Gov. Tim Walz issued the stay-at-home order, the Pinnicks determined that closing temporarily was the best course of action. “We cancelled, or received calls of cancellations, from all guests in March and early April.”
They will remain closed “until we are certain it is safe for ourselves and our guests.”
Normally, they get summer bookings every day. They have received one.
“Although the economic impact is huge, human life is worth more. We are hoping that, across the nation, all states will follow aggressive stay-at-home policies. From a business perspective, we want this to be over sooner, rather than later, and the only way that will happen, is if everyone realizes the seriousness of this disease and everyone complies. We are in this together, and unless we all stay at home, if others continue to gather and to travel, we will all suffer.”