The ongoing impact of the global pandemic is a storyline that continues to resonate. The greater Phoenix / Scottsdale area is one of the most active, vibrant and diversified destinations not only in the USA -- but globally.
The area is also home to over 200+ golf courses and the number of those employed via the hospitality and tourism industry numbers in the thousands with overall tourism revenues in Maricopa County exceeding $12 billion.
With abundant sunshine, the immediate Phoenix / Scottsdale area has been a constant magnet in attracting visitors - many of whom opting to become permanent residents of the two locales.
In order to better comprehend what lies ahead -- several key figures actively engaged in the resort arena provided perspectives on how one of the most dynamic locations is taking crucial steps in clearly charting a proactive effort.
What's been the major lesson learned after the pandemic took hold in March 2020?
POWERS: Thankfully, in travel and in hospitality, being flexible is something we are all very familiar with, but the pandemic made us rely on that ability more than usual. When people stopped traveling, we shifted our focus to meet the new demands by offering to-go food and grocery pick-ups rather than in-room dining and property visits. And while we have always had a strict cleaning protocol, we implemented The Wigwam Cares Wellness policy, which includes a new SWAT --Sanitation and Wellness Awareness Team -- as a friendly and helpful resource providing further peace of mind during guests’ stays.
MCCAHAN: People like to stay active and try to get out of the house whenever possible. Being an outdoor activity, playing golf was reasonably safe, so we saw a strong uptick that continues to this day.
LASKEY: All of our nearly 250 Wyndham Destinations vacation club resorts had to close and, unfortunately, we could only retain a handful of associates at each resort to care for the physical assets. We recognized early on we were going to have to be agile and do things differently when we reopened. Our CEO Michael Brown tasked us to come up with new processes and procedures. A lot of great things came of this ask, such as enhanced cleaning protocols, protective barriers, and service-related processes like curbside check-in, which eliminates guests entering the main lobby when checking in.
MCANLIS-VASQUEZ: We have learned so many lessons over the last several months but for our Community and our Entertainment District, we have been reminded that there is power in relationships, strength in collaboration, comfort in friendships and success in planning.
BARR: The game of golf can be enjoyed by just about everyone – even with extraordinary circumstances and uncertainty. The game itself has always been somewhat of an escape from the proverbial rat race and we’re seeing that now more than ever.
Given your awareness of the broader Phoenix / Scottsdale area -- how do you see the region rebounding?
BARR: To pre-pandemic levels or even greater. The future looks extremely bright here in the Valley of the Sun. The golf industry in Phoenix/Scottsdale remains strong and vibrant and also remains one of the State’s main economic and tourism drivers.
MCANLIS-VASQUEZ: We love our visitors as much as they love our state and know we’ll be on their list of places to play when they are ready. It will take time for our industry to recover, but as long as we work together and continue to be creative and innovative in our efforts and offerings, we are hopeful.
LASKEY: So far, we are seeing a nice rebound in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area. Many businesses and attractions in the area are opening up more, especially those with outdoor venues. Businesses are still being cautious, but there's a very positive outlook as venues reopen or increase capacity and occupancy levels continue to climb.
MCCAHAN: With the area’s beautiful weather, endless outdoor activities, abundance of space, and most businesses open and ready to welcome travelers, this is an ideal place to enjoy a vacation. We are already seeing a strong resurgence of travel this spring, as travelers seek destinations where they can enjoy the outdoors.
POWERS: We are optimistic about Phoenix and Scottsdale’s travel rebound. We have already seen examples of travel and dining comebacks and we recently expanded our hours at Litchfield’s to keep up with the increased dining demand. We also believe people are flocking to the region for our beautiful weather.
How are bookings going for the balance of '21? Are they ahead, even or behind from levels prior to the pandemic?
LASKEY: Our booking pace is looking very strong for the remainder of the year. We are already seeing the return of occupancy levels rivaling pre-pandemic periods. Since the Phoenix/Scottsdale area has so much to offer travelers, it is a highly desirable destination. And with our vacation clubs offering a home-away-from-home experience with spacious suites and desired amenities, it’s a more comfortable experience for those returning to the road.
POWERS: Our leisure travel is very strong, we are noticing that our guests are driving further to stay with us and staycations have also been more popular than years past. As an expected side effect of the pandemic, our group business is softer than in previous years but we have also seen an increase in the last couple of months and are beginning to see more people hosting weddings at our property.
MCCAHAN: For golf, bookings continue to be ahead of pre-pandemic numbers. Other than a small dip at the onset of COVID, golf has remained strong. For the resort, we are seeing a booking pace that is also ahead of pre-COVID levels. We recently had a 14-day period where more future travel was booked than during any other 14-day period since our opening.
BARR: Bookings have been steady and solid throughout the high season with a significant increase in overall participation.
MCANLIS-VASQUEZ: We are seeing an increase in inquiries, bookings and daily foot traffic in our Entertainment District and believe this will continue to be the trend for the remainder of the year. Inquiries for group business is up across all our properties and properties like our golf venues continue to see great visitation and we are hopeful the weather continues to stay favorable for our players.
What major elements of concern are you hearing from those expressing interest in coming to the area?
MCCAHAN: People want to get out and travel, but still want to feel safe. They want to make sure that facilities are doing what they can to provide a safe environment while still offering a great experience. We are continuing with our enhanced protocols and clearly communicating these to our guests.
BARR: As vaccinations increase and positive cases begin to substantially decrease, concerns generally revolve around the openness and availability of planned activities and venues.
MCANLIS-VASQUEZ: The Salt River Community is a year-round leisure destination and we were happy to see our winter and spring visitors return with such positive feedback. Visitors are most interested in the practices we have implemented to keep them safe while visiting, seeing what’s new since they last visited and reconnecting with friends and family in spaces that are safe and familiar to them. Although the state has lifted the mask restrictions for businesses, our community continues to require them and we hope that this, paired with social distancing and the addition of other safety precautions will allow them to enjoy their time here in the Salt River Indian Community.
POWERS: It is not surprising that the majority of concerns about coming to the area are being voiced by our group business, which sometimes worry about the liability of asking their employees to travel. At The Wigwam, we try to alleviate these concerns by following CDC guidelines and monitoring the most up-to-the-minute information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Governor's Office of Arizona, and the Mayor's Office of Litchfield Park.
LASKEY: As expected, many travelers are concerned with the current COVID-19 situation wherever traveling. Wyndham Destinations has done a fantastic job communicating to owners and guests about the many new policies and procedures put in place for their safety while staying through our Vacation Ready program. The program includes enhanced cleaning protocols, hospital-grade disinfectants, and various new processes ensuring peace of mind so owners and guests can focus on enjoying their vacation.
From a staffing perspective -- what's been the most impactful consequence and how do you see things evolving in the months ahead?
BARR: We were fortunate enough to not furlough or lay off any employees and also fortunate in that increased demand has actually allowed us to explore additional hiring opportunities on the golf and F&B side of our operation.
POWERS: We are thankful for every one of our team members who have gone above and beyond during this challenging time in hospitality. For several months, many team members have worked in multiple departments and taken on tasks they wouldn’t normally work on, which has led to them learning that they enjoy other areas of the hospitality profession that they hadn’t previously had experience with. We value their flexibility and versatility so much, and couldn’t be prouder of what they’ve accomplished.
MCCAHAN: For businesses to survive, doing more with less has been required. As travel and activities increase, staffing up quickly has been a challenge. Looking forward, we anticipate the course being consistently busy, and look forward to having the proper staffing in place to ensure great service levels.
LASKEY: In early 2020, the pandemic forced us to close our resorts during the time of year when “staffing up” to prepare for our busy season. By the time we reopened and began bringing our associates back to work, we found a much smaller employment pool than initially anticipated because of lifestyle changes brought about by the pandemic. Now, we have an excellent pulse on our staffing needs and the challenges that exist with recruiting during a pandemic. I am also proud of the way our teams were able to quickly ramp-up once our resorts reopened and provide owners and guests a memorable vacation experience.
MCANLIS-VASQUEZ: For many of our area businesses, the biggest challenge has been the recall phase- inviting back staff but having lost a portion who found other employment during the temporary shutdown. All of our businesses are now open and many are in the hiring phase, which means increased live, work, play foot traffic back in the Community, which we thrive on.
Director of Golf and Club Operations
Mountain Shadows Resort
Joined Mountain Shadows as part of the grand reopening team in March 2017, overseeing the resort’s fitness center, gift shop, membership, golf, and golf course maintenance operations. Prior to working at Mountain Shadows, he spent 25 years at The Boulders Golf Resort, where he most recently led the golf operation and membership of the 5-diamond facility. While at The Boulders, he was named Manager of the Year in 2003 by the resort as well as Manager of the Year in 2008 by the Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association. He has been a PGA Member in the Southwest Section since 1989.
PGA / General Manager
We-Ko-Pa Golf Club
Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, Arizona
Has been employed by the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation since May of 2005 and has held a variety of positions at the golf club during his tenure, including; Assistant Golf Professional, Head Golf Professional and General Manager. He has been in his current position since May, 2013. He also serves on a variety of committees within the Tribal Nation, such as; the Resort Destination Tourism Committee, the Policies and Procedures Ad-hoc Committee and the Fort McDowell Casino Steering Committee.
Regional Vice President of Resort Operations
Jonathan Laskey oversees properties across Las Vegas, Arizona, and Mexico. Originally from Hawaii, he started working in the hospitality industry in Waikiki over 25 years ago. Since then, he has held various leadership roles in both the hotel and timeshare divisions that has taken him from Hawaii to the East Coast, before joining the Wyndham Destinations team 4 years ago.
Tourism Division Manager
Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community
Has served nine years as Tourism Division Manager and is also an enrolled member with the Community. Vasquez is an Arizona native and graduate of both Arizona State University and Grand Canyon State University. Vasquez believes her Community has a vibrant story to tell and wants to help control that narrative so the story stays true and is one her children will celebrate as they grow.
Managing Director and General Manager
Litchfield Park, Arizona
Joined The Wigwam in 2013 as Director of Food and Beverage and saw an impressive rise in dining outlet revenues and profitability throughout her tenure. Two years later, promoted to Resort Manager to oversee a wealth of responsibilities including full management of the property. Now serving as the Managing Director and General Manager of The Wigwam for the last three years.