Mike Waddell, general manager at the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells in California
Q: California’s tourism and hospitality recovery was hampered by strict lockdown measures over the past winter. Now that lockdowns have lifted, what level of demand are you seeing?
A: When California lifted stay-at-home orders in February, there was some pent-up demand, and we saw people start to book travel further out and for spring break. Of course, that’s something that’s normal during a typical year, but it wasn’t normal during Covid, when bookings have been so last-minute. As an example, in October, we had been booking 60% or 70% of our business for the weekends less than three days out. We would see 100 rooms booked on Wednesday or Thursday for that coming Friday and Saturday.
Q: Is it difficult to operate under such tight booking windows?
A: It is difficult. From a planning perspective, you create a schedule on Thursday for the following week. But then, when you suddenly see 100 or 150 more rooms on the books than you were expecting, you have to figure that out. There are all sorts of challenges to getting the staffing needed to handle that influx of business. We’re now doing a better job of forecasting that short-term demand. But the weather plays such a huge part in it, at least in our destination. If the weather drops from 82 to 72 degrees, you don’t see that last-minute pick-up. But when the weather hits the low- to mid-80s, the pick-up happens. You almost have to become a part-time weatherperson in this job.
Q: What’s your outlook on how the summer travel season might look this year?
A: I think that a lot of people will still be cautious about traveling, especially when it comes to jumping on an airplane. So, the fact that we are around a two-hour drive from some of the largest markets in the country, including Los Angeles, as well as Orange County and San Diego, is hugely beneficial for us. Additionally, our particular resort has standalone villas with their own little backyards, and some have splash pools, so that’s been helping. And then, last August, we completed an $8 million renovation, building two 30-foot waterslides and a 450-foot lazy river. So that’s something that, in the summer, we hope will attract those drive-market guests.