Unplugging During an Unprecedented Year in Travel

By Jon Martin, General Manager at The Ranch at Rock Creek

Thanksgiving is not a day of rest in the hospitality industry. This is when we work harder; it’s when we shine. This year we’re hoping to shine a little brighter because just a little over a week ago, our staff took a four-day vacation, including a blackout of all electronic communications. (Don’t worry, the herds were still fed and the pipes didn’t freeze, and we are grateful for the staff that ensured that).

Ranchers take a trip to the Washington Coast. Photo by Allison Beggs

The Spark

The blackout was like a long, deep breath of fresh air after one of the most challenging years in hospitality. Some might wonder if that is an exaggeration after 2020, and we can understand why. Closing during lockdown and reopening was challenging, to be sure. But we slowed our pace, focused on the physical health of our patrons above all else in the face of a new hazard.

In early 2021, after our we became Sharecare Health Security Verified with Forbes Travel Guide and knew we could successfully operate with our safety measures. Our confidence was met by the confidence of travelers. We welcomed many new and return guests that were craving the kind of respite we can offer in our pristine wide-open spaces in Western Montana.

We heard time and again that people appreciated being able to travel here and disconnect. Meanwhile, the experiences we had with our travelers were deeper and more meaningful for us as well. People seemed to soak up the beauty of nature; the one-on-one-time spent by our guides and servers; the meticulousness of our housekeeping team; and the creativity of our chefs on a new level, and that helped us feel like a very valued part of our industry.

During this extraordinary time, precautions required us to double our efforts to protect our staff and guests. Working harder, covering shifts when people were exposed to Covid, and other knock-on effects of the pandemic required more from our staff. We could not be more grateful and impressed by how our staff executed their jobs, including receiving our eighth Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star award.

The Plan

Despite challenges, our entire team here at The Ranch at Rock Creek, ensured our success. They collectively worked harder than ever to maintain the reputation we have built for 11 years as a premier luxury guest ranch and provided each guest with a heartfelt, memorable experience. As we all know, our success as hospitality professionals is reliant on our ability to empathize with and put our guests’ enjoyment at the forefront of our minds. In order for our team to stay energized for the remainder of the year, I realized they would be well-served by some time off.

We have often taken a short planning break before or after Thanksgiving in preparation of the holiday season. However, I felt a true blackout closure, which not only required everyone to be physically off, but I also forbade anyone from sending emails or having work related calls between employees (with emergencies being the only exception,) would provide more value to our employees. In today’s world even the dinging of our phones on our days off can weigh on our heads – as the perfectionists we all are.

The Adventure

Our staff was not just asked to stay off electronic communication, they were also asked to do something that they are passionate about or wanted to do and haven’t had a chance. For our Reservations and Revenue Manager and Marketing Manager (husband and wife) Josh and Tricia Erickson, this meant taking a long-overdue trip together.

This 4-day opportunity to disconnect completely from our work allowed my wife and I the time to go explore the Oregon Coast together. This is something we had wanted to do for five years, and we were finally able to do it because of this. We came back more focused and energized and loved the chance to enjoy the part of the world we call home.

~ Josh Erickson

The 900 Forbes Travel Guide service standards require us to be interconnected in all we do. While the closure removed some of the workplace communication, many deepened their connections with each other on a personal level by adventuring in the West.

This blackout was a blessing in disguise. I’ve made great friends I know I’ll still be in contact with after our time here is over together. A group of us went to Idaho. It was so much fun, just a great group of people, all with the same mindset of just enjoying life!

~ Blaine Perez, Line Cook

It is heartening to see our employees from the past 10 years at each other’s weddings, taking vacations, visiting each other across the world and still sharing photos of their time as Ranchers. There are few employees that work here who have not made a lifelong friend.

With everyone having different work schedules at The Ranch, it can sometimes be difficult to find time to do things together. The blackout allowed us the opportunity to go on trips together and without having to worry about things going on at work in our absence. One of the reasons I came to The Ranch was to be able to explore new places, and during the blackout I was able to visit Washington for the first time with friends that I have made at The Ranch.

~ Allison Beggs, Marketing Coordinator

The Reflection

This time gave me a chance to reflect on what I learned as General Manager in 2020 and 2021. It made me think of the incredible difference it makes to be able to choose four consecutive days to close based on our mental health, rather than close for our safety during a lockdown in a pandemic. The importance of mental health in the service and hospitality industries is often overlooked. Since August 2020, a few months after reopening, we have provided free therapy sessions with a local therapist to those employees who wanted the option. While I realize that these measures are first steps to solving a much larger issue, this year has also served to reaffirm my staunch belief that our employees are our most valuable asset and we will continue to invest in them.

Thank you to our return and future guests for responding to those emails and messages about our blackout with kindness and patience. Thank you for allowing our team to have those four days to rest and recharge. Our staff fished, traveled, hiked, spent time with loved ones, cracked open books and binged watched TV shows. This team that gives their all so that guests can leave their cares behind, got to savor the same feeling together.

We are recharged, reinvigorated and ready to deliver an amazing holiday season to each and every one of our guests who chose The Ranch at Rock Creek. Thank you to all our guests who put their trust in us. If you’re not here with us this weekend, we hope you have a recuperative rest over the long weekend and give yourself a chance to disconnect, like we did.