Kurt Bjorkman

Kurt Bjorkman

General Manager | The Ranch at Laguna Beach

Industry
Hospitality

Location
Laguna Beach


Kurt Bjorkman: The GM of The Ranch at Laguna Beach on Re-opening a Golf Resort Just in Time for the Summer Season

As the General Manager of The Ranch at Laguna Beach—the only National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World on the west coast—Kurt Bjorkman has cultivated an atmosphere of exceptional service at the property, creating an engaged team and leading to several prestigious awards and accolades for the property, including its distinction as California’s only member of the National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World program. The hotel is located 50 miles south of Los Angeles on 87 acres and features 97 rooms, a 3,000-square-foot spa, resort pool with bocce ball and sand volleyball courts, and the only golf course in Laguna Beach. Previously, he was the founder and managing partner of Over5 Hospitality, a company catering to real estate developers and independent hotel operators who seek to push the boundaries of the status quo. This venture awarded him with valuable insights working with world-class brands, including Norwegian Cruise Lines, the Buena Vista Hospitality Group, The Desert Inn Las Vegas, The Mirage Corporation, Regent International Hotels, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, Kor Hotel Group, Joie de Vivre Hospitality and Montage Hotels & Resorts.

What are your biggest business concerns surrounding COVID-19? 

Our resort closed in March due to California’s Safe at Home restrictions. We are waiting for clarity on when we can safely reopen. The primary concerns are financial
how soon will we be able to recover from this loss of revenue, along with the financial health of our team members.  Our resort is ideally situated as a domestic drive market resort destination, so we do anticipate strong demand as travel restrictions ease. We are slated to open on May 15 with special social distancing and dining restrictions. Our restaurants, typically open to the public, will be open for hotel guest room service only, as we aren’t permitted to open restaurant dining rooms yet in California. However, we are concerned that new guidelines will have an industry-wide effect on overall productivity and will change the profitability models for resorts and hotels. It will take longer to clean rooms and other areas of the hotel, which will add to cost. Social distancing measures requiring hotels to reduce the number of seats in their restaurants will also reduce revenue opportunity.  

The Ranch Laguna Beach is located just south of Los Angeles.

What is your current business strategy for dealing with the situation? 

We are focusing on positive, honest messaging through our various social media platforms. We recognize the impact, loss and stress resulting from the crisisOutgoing messaging to our guests and community have focused on honoring the reality of what is going on in our world, while doing what we can to contribute a sense of positivity and zenAs for social media, our most popular posts were those highlighting our healthcare heroes, and tranquil photos of our canyon presented with calming quotes and thoughts. As a place of rest and relaxation, we hope to inspire a moment of escape or the opportunity to recenter, even if that can only happen virtually. Instagram stories, like our “Coffee with Kurt” series, have also garnered high engagement. As guests can’t go out and celebrate, posts about holidays like St. Patrick’s Day have not made their usual impact.   

With so much uncertainty, we’ve also harnessed our social and email channels to provide timely updates as they arise to staff, guests, the community, and stakeholders. By keeping the lines of communication open, these updates help give our community and guests some peace of mind.  

The golf course on the property is currently open, with some restrictions for play.

How do you think things will look in your industry a year from now?

This is the big question we are all trying to anticipate and answer. I believe that that travel will rebound, but what that looks like is anyone’s best guess right now. COVID-19 is changing the way people feel about personal health and safety. I think we need to be prepared to accommodate various levels of trepidation in regards to travel. 

At The Ranch at Laguna Beach, we have gone above and beyond to ensure our guests and staff feel safe, and right now, safety is sanitization. We’ve already received The California Hotel and Lodging Association Clean + Safe Certification, which requires hotels to complete a rigorous 32-point checklist of protocols for guests, employees and cleaning procedures.  

As for social media, our most popular posts were those highlighting our healthcare heroes, and tranquil photos of our canyon presented with calming quotes and thoughts.

We took this even further by adding a new team of Sani-Czars who will ensure the new cleaning protocols are followed. This includes everything from cleaning public areas several times a day, to refilling sanitization stations, and making sure guests are social distancing. We’re scheduling check-in times to give guests more breathing room on arrival and allowing them to check out via email to skip the front desk. We’ve removed high-touch points from rooms, including decorative pillows, magazines, and reusable glassware, and are allowing guests to schedule their preferred housekeeping times (daily, or after checkout) to limit contact points. These are just a few of the myriad of measures we’ve implemented across the resort, and we’ve set up a landing page on our website to clearly communicate all of these procedures to our guests. 

Accommodations at the Ranch include The Treehouse, a two-bedroom 1,600-square-foot suite with its own gazebo.

What have you learned from other difficult times in the past?

I have worked through September 11th and the economic downturn of 2008/09. The major lessons I learned are that you should not panic, take it day by day and keep being positive. 

The Ranch at Laguna Beach General Manager Kurt Bjorkman.

Safe–and entertained–at Home: What business leaders are doing with their downtime

 

Morning routine?
As an essential part of our team, I am still working at the resort. However, I do sometimes feel like I am the innkeeper from the Overlook hotel. I make sure to start my day and finish my day by reading something positive. No news or screens before bed or right when I get upthat has really helped. 

Currently binging? 
Catching up with the Jack Ryan series on Prime.

Currently reading?
I check  Skift.com  several times a day to stay current on our industry. I’m reading a few books, including Stories that Stick by Kindra Hall. Storytelling is going to be even more important for hotels when we come out of this, as we will need to inspire people and remind them how rewarding travel can be.

What are you doing to spend quality time with those you’re sheltering with?
Trying (emphasis on trying) to learn guitar with my two young sonswho are doing far better than I am! 

What are you doing to stay healthy mentally and physically? 
Trying to eat healthy and ride my mountain bike as much as I canwhere it’s open and safe!