KOLOA — Richard Albrecht’s staff at Kukui‘ula has overcome the challenges of his company having to furlough over 120 employees throughout the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Albrecht, the president of The Kukui‘ula, a 1,010-acre exclusive club and resort community located on the south shore, continued to carry on through the crisis, and the remaining employees learned to juggle multiple responsibilities fighting the fact they were short-staffed.
Albrecht admitted it was a confusing time for both his staff and management, but the team did the best they could to adapt to the changing climate. Now, they are welcoming back guests and their furloughed employees at a gradual pace with reopening Oct. 15.
“I think we’ve seen a lot of people use this time to reevaluate their priorities and have used this opportunity during the pandemic to address that,” Albrecht said. “The Kukui‘ula had to do that too with what we offer because our club is based on social interaction.”
The social interactivity of the club still exists, according to Albrecht. It’s just changed.
“Friends and acquaintances are now looking to do things in smaller groups,” Albrecht said. “Folks have been painting, wine tasting and generating on working in smaller groups, which have grown rather than demanding a large social gathering programming around health, fitness and yoga offerings. We expect people are seeking those kinds of experiences more than ever to help their healthy lifestyles.”
The new normal
One area Kukui‘ula prides itself in is trying to perpetuate the Aloha spirit to their guests.
With all of the social distancing protocols in place, guests aren’t able to be embraced with a hug as they used to during the pre-pandemic era.
“We’ve had to change our mindset when we are welcoming people, and adjust to the new normal such as wearing masks and distancing, which will be all new for people coming back,” Albrecht said. “The staff knows everyone by name, and the way we used to greet our guests can’t work anymore. We can’t connect with people the same way and give a sense of that arrival or recognition without giving them the Kaua‘i hug.”
For the management team at Kukui‘ula, trying to recreate that experience is still a work in progress.
“We are all still trying to understand how we can manage such a welcoming and open culture,” Albrecht said. “We need to make people feel welcome, and that has all been challenging for us all.”
Because of the completely revamped atmosphere of the Kaua‘i economy and the landscape of tourism, Albrecht said he anticipates a gradual return of people coming back to the islands.
At the same time, Albrecht understands the anticipation for people wanting to visit Kaua‘i and the neighboring islands will also be pent up demand for the clientele he caters to.
Most of their customer base includes people from urban areas on the West Coast such as San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles. He feels for people that come to Kaua’i to make this their permanent home is the market that will continue to thrive.
The average vacationer who comes to Hawai‘i, once every three to four years, they will return at a slower pace, Albrecht anticipates.
“I think the big part of our challenge is certainly how long the pandemic has gone on, and how long we will be shut down,” Albrecht said. “Because of the partial shutdown, a source of our revenue has been gone. We have to operate carefully to be able to keep our operations going at the most basic levels.”
Albrecht said he and his company have worked tirelessly to retain the furloughed workers and kept them in the loop throughout the duration of the first wave of the pandemic.
“So many businesses closed their doors and we are concerned they may never reopen,” Albrecht said. “Their livelihood has been put on hold. A number of friends own small businesses and they are excited to reopen. That means there will customers for their businesses. They can open up safely. There is a lot riding on this, and many businesses are dependent on the tour of our island. Hopefully, we will see retail shops and all of their employees impacted by the pandemic come back, but it’s going to take some time.”
A changing climate
The Kukui‘ula has had to continue to make more adaptions to maintain their business, according to Albrecht.
“Our main business has become selling real estate and we’ve been able to make some sales over the last few months at much reduced levels from normal,” Albrecht said. “Hopefully, we will bring back our market once we welcome back our customers and we have a strong winter season.”
With homes, guest accommodations and activities spread out across the vast property and the wide-open space of the island beyond, Kukui’ula remains a safe haven for exploration, restoration and relaxation – for a short visit or as a home-away-from-home. Now, more than ever, travelers are valuing the outdoors, and Kukui‘ula’s expansiveness and naturally, socially distanced environment allows members and guests to experience the best of Kaua‘i in a safe setting, the release stated.
“We are ready to welcome back members and guests to their island home on the South Shore of Kaua‘i,” says Albrecht in a written statement. “We will continue to provide the ultimate family retreat while offering a safe and enjoyable experience utilizing the luxury of our 1,010-acre property for unforgettable adventures, breathtaking beaches and an abundance of private resort amenities to help guests unwind, rejuvenate and explore our outdoor playground.”