The hospitality industry had its “worse year on record” in 2020, but optimism is growing for a much better 2021, a Kohler Co. executive said during this week’s St. Norbert College State of the Economy event.
Christine Loose, a St. Norbert alum and vice president of lodging and wellness for Kohler, gave a special presentation focused on the hospitality industry following a broader look at the economy as part of the annual event. Looking back at 2020, she said occupancy declined industry-wide 33.3 percent year-over-year and the industry had more than 1 billion unsold room nights.
“The industry isn’t expected to show any profit” for 2020, said Loose, who oversees four hotels — Lodge Kohler in Green Bay, the American Club and the Inn on Woodlake in Kohler, and the Old Course Hotel St. Andrews in Scotland. She said each property had its individual struggles, such as Lodge Kohler seeing a drop in occupancy due to a lack of fans at most Packers home games and strict quarantine measures in Scotland keeping golfers away from the Old Course Hotel.
Perhaps the biggest change for Kohler was the postponement of the Ryder Cup to this fall. Loose said the company is actively planning for this year’s event.
The year’s challenges also provided some opportunities, such as an expansion at the Old Course Hotel and rebranding and redoing its Cucina Italian restaurant in Kohler to Taverne on Woodlake. Loose said updates also were made at each property to help guests feel safer when traveling.
“Kohler uses slowdowns to make changes that will make us stronger … We have multiple health protocols in place, including mandatory mask wearing, which surveys say is very important to travelers,” she says. “We also are putting in keyless entry locks, no contact check-ins — you can check in on your phone and skip the registration desk. We continue to look at other innovations to keep travelers safe.”
Looking at 2021, Loose pointed to surveys showing that one in two people are planning to travel this year.
“When making those decisions, flexibility is the most important aspect in case something happens and they can’t take the trip,” she said. “People are also traveling to rejuvenate themselves and we believe we fit well into that market with our spa and sports offerings.”