What a strange few years it’s been, right? So far the Mt. Washington Valley business community has operated within three different versions of a summer marked by the Covid-19 pandemic. 2020 was all about operating within a current pandemic, 2021 focused on moving past it, and 2022 tried to get back to the feeling of pre-pandemic days.
While businesses still dealt with staffing shortages and supply chain issues, some reported through an informal survey sent out by the Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce (MWVCC), that 2022 felt a lot more pleasant compared to the last two years.
This could be due in part to many things - perhaps we, as a community, are now just used to the new “normal” as it describes traveler trends and visitor numbers; perhaps modified hours and new approaches to staffing provided time for real R&R for teams who were facing burnout in years past; it could also be due to the fact that the onslaught of visitors felt slower due to many taking longer to pull the trigger on their trip due to gas prices. So those who did visit, stayed for a shorter amount of time with less lead time in planning, but spent more once they arrived.
Becca Deschenes of Cranmore Mountain Resort followed this concept up by sharing that park admissions were slightly behind in admissions, but revenue for the park as a whole is up.
This was certainly a demographic that Carol Sullivan, co-owner of White Mountain Hotel and Hales Location Golf Course, noticed when reviewing guest demographics. All three entities of her business - hotel, restaurant, and golf course - were up in numbers compared to 2019. Many of the hotel guests were from Connecticut and New York, a trend in traveler demographics that continues from 2020.
Rob Arey, of the Mount Washington Cog Railway, shared that if it hadn’t rained on Monday the 5th, Labor Day weekend would have been record breaking. He noted that Canadian visitors flooded its demographic, after two years away.
These two things have helped Mt. Washington Valley tap into a new market of visitors that extends beyond its loyal Boston-area market. While it’s exciting to know that Mt. Washington Valley continues to be loved by visitors new and old, the question being asked for the last few years remains - “how are businesses supposed to serve these visitors with limited staff?”
Lauren Hawkins, of Story Land, shared that the park had to adjust its hours in response to this question. While leaders at Story Land originally hoped to return to a 2019 operating schedule it did need to pull back on July and August hours. The park closed at 5:00pm instead of 6:00pm, and trimmed August 30th and 31st from its calendar due to staffing. The adjustment was positive in helping to prevent burnout for the team. Guests were not affected by the new hours, as Story Land still maintained a seven day operating schedule all summer.
Jen Kovach, owner of Snowvillage Inn, echoes the concept of creating a culture of appreciation by creating predictable scheduling, flexible time off, and celebrating staff with a day-long staff excursion that featured a day-cruise, limo chauffeur and lunch.
Kate Fournier, owner of Thompson House Eatery, shared that as a restaurant it focuses on providing a four-day full-time work week, which means the restaurant can provide benefits, and three days off, which allows its staff to enjoy the lifestyle the Mt. Washington Valley provides.
Scott Moulton, owner of Frost Mountain Yurts, hired a new full-time employee and offered a 401k plan, and charted out the next few years of pay raises for his staff.
Austin Oarth, co-owner of Frontside Coffee Roasters, approaches caring for his staff through two waves of shorter shifts - one in the morning, and one in the afternoon. This helps to avoid burn-out by allowing staff the opportunity to enjoy a full morning or afternoon for personal time, before having to clock-in. Frontside also has two apartments it rents to staff members who need it, at a rent that is below market.
Becca Deschenes also shared that Cranmore did audit and adjusted its summer benefits package this season. It also offered referral incentives to existing employees, offered a winter season pass incentive, scheduled free weekly lunches for employees, and weekly après events.
This concept, of providing an opportunity for housing for one’s employees is not new. Many business owners are also purchasing apartments to provide housing for employees.The MWVCC recognizes that staffing challenges and affordable housing are a linked issue, and it’s working with representatives from the Office of Workforce Opportunities with the Department of Business and Economic Affairs, representation from the local high school and collegiate level, NH Employment Services, human resources recruitment and outdoor recreation industry to discuss ways to create a sustainable workforce in the Valley.
If you have suggestions, concerns, or would like to share your own story as a business owner or employee in Mt. Washington Valley, please stop by the MWVCC office or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
While many bottom lines of local businesses report a successful summer, it’s important to note that tourism as an industry, and as a leading economy in Mt. Washington Valley is still facing an uphill battle. Rising food costs, staffing shortages, and supply chain issues are still putting pressure on lodging and dining, and attractions. Many outdoor outfitters are reporting that their phones are ringing off the hook for winter excursions, which means the valley must find respite where it can in order to meet a busy winter. The incentives business owners have already implemented to support staff are paramount when it comes to providing not only a positive guest experience, but a one for the staff as well.
For more information on the Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce or to become a member, visit www.visitmwv.com or www.mwvcc.org. You can also call Lisa Eastman, in membership at 603-356-5701 ext 300. To learn more about visiting New Hampshire go to www.VisitNH.gov.