Large resorts in the Brainerd lakes area that usually have robust staffing levels are almost completely cutting out international workers and reducing the number of local workers this summer because of COVID-19 concerns.

“We don't have any international employees this year,” said Mark Ronnei, managing director of Grand View Lodge in Nisswa.

“We're working with our providers and we said we don't believe we need anyone at this point; we aren't bringing any (international) students in, called J-1s. And we also aren't able to get our H2B (foreign workers) staff. That's a little more involved,” said David Spizzo, owner of Breezy Point Resort. “The government basically said no more H2Bs are going to be in the country until things get settled. We did get a couple, but nowhere near the number we typically have for a regular season.”

Breezy Point Resort usually has 50-60 international staff, while this year there are only eight. Grand View Lodge typically employs approximately 60 as well.

Some resorts are having a harder time filling a reduced number of locally sourced positions for the summer.

“We're not seeing applications come in like they typically do,” Spizzo said. “And typically they don't flow in either. There's not a whole lot of people applying for jobs at this point.”

“We had 350 employees on March 1, and we had as little as 26 or 21 employees for a while,” Ronnei said. “Now we're working our way back up. We're probably at about 80 employees now and trying to get back to 300 by the middle of June.”

Last year, Grand View Lodge peaked at about 800 employees total.

Kathy Reichenbach, marketing director at Madden's on Gull, said the resort has downsized its staffing levels by about 50%, and is not having trouble filling those positions thanks to returns.

“We have such a large population of returning employees every year,” Reichenbach said. "Those people are coming back to work. We're able, as more guests arrive, to increase our staffing levels. We typically have between 400-500 employees in our peak season in July. I believe we're around maybe 230 right now.”

Resorts are making plans based on what they expect from their customers and what the state will allow. Those two factors will be important in determining which amenities the resorts will hire to provide.

“There's so many unknowns right now as far as if the governor's going to allow certain things to open up and what is the public appetite for travel,” Spizzo said. “What is the public appetite for going to restaurants? We have no idea what staffing levels we need, but at the basic part is we are struggling to get people to apply at this point.”

“We won't have as many restaurant openings and operations,” Ronnei said. “Our spa employs 75 people and we don't know when that will open. If that opens we have the biggest spa in Minnesota. So we think those people should come back to us. We'll look at the way we do every operation in the resort. It'll be different. That's for sure.”

The comfort of clientele will be a large factor in determining if resorts overstaff or understaff. Local resorts are making adjustments and plan to continue to make changes as they learn more.

“One of the questions I've been asking people is if they would take their family on a trip,” Spizzo said. “I get a mixed message. Very few people I talk to would want to fly at this point. Another question I ask people is if they are comfortable staying at a resort. Are they comfortable traveling from their home? It's a mixed answer and most people are a little hesitant yet. We clean and sanitize our rooms to the state's requirements and we always have. We've used chemicals that kill coronavirus for years. But nobody knew what the coronavirus was two years ago. We just don't know what demand is going to be. We know it's not going to be a typical year. We anticipate people will want to travel and do their summer vacation. “

“One of the things we don't know yet are what our guests' expectations are going to be,” Ronnei said. “They probably don't want as much personal contact. They may want more distancing. We have to adjust to a new type of hospitality business in the future - one that relies maybe on technology and is not as up close and personal and obviously one that's really safe. There's a lot of things we're learning together as we go along. We have plans for disinfecting units, making sure everything is clean, making sure our employees are masked up. It's just a little weird to think about hospitality behind a mask. That's what we have to do.”

“For everyone it's going to be a very different season,” Reichenbach said. “We're just excited to move forward and see our guests and tourists back in the area. Hopefully things will be back to normal, whatever that may be, sooner than later.”

Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Travis.