The pandemic affected all of the Algarve’s hotels, and most closed during lockdown. Vila Vita Parc, however, kept its doors open and its staff busy, according to managing director Kurt Gillig.
The latest lockdown almost paralysed the hotel business in the Algarve, which is always partially dormant during the low season. Although there was at least one exception, according to Kurt Gillig, managing director at the Vila Vita Parc resort, in Porches. “We had had the experience last year, when we closed down for almost three months between the end of March and mid-June, during the first lockdown. It was the first time we closed for such a long period in our 28 years of history. Closing was relatively easy but reopening and getting the ‘machine’ going again was a challenge,” he recalls. “There was no guidebook to tell us how to do it. We had to train all the staff with the new safety measures to put in place as determined by health authorities, readapt our working methods, rethink our entire marketing strategy to attract primarily the domestic market and launch a targeted communications campaign, but it worked well despite the circumstances.”
This time, when the government announced the second lockdown at the end of January, Kurt Gillig says the team felt that remaining open to guests, albeit with limited services, would be better than entirely closing down again. “We felt that there would be clients still looking to get away for the winter in the colder parts of Europe. We hadn’t anticipated it would last over two months but, given the low occupancies, we pushed on with the maintenance works and renovations. We closed down certain accommodation areas of the resort mainly to save costs but left our smaller oceanfront Residence building open for guests,” he states. “Aside from two or three days during the 2021 winter lockdown, when we didn’t have any guests at all, which was very strange, we always had rooms occupied.” But those who came knew what they wanted: the landscapes, the gardens, the beach and the tranquillity of a safe environment.
True to their form, Vila Vita Parc never closes for the low season. “In that sense, nothing really changed, except for the fact that in winter we would have regular guests, as well as golfers and some groups. The staff that was retained included the executive team, some key operational members to serve guests’ needs, the entire maintenance staff including gardeners, accounting and human resources,” the managing director explains. Still, it took some flexibility. “We served in-room dining, by offering a selection of dishes from our various restaurants, that were able to continue operating this way. Sometimes we even delivered cocktails. Our guests appreciated the attentive service despite the circumstances.”
Some other creative solutions were actually quite the hit. The Biergarten stayed open for take-away and, last December, Vila Vita Parc marked the launch of the Home & Away service, which brings the best of the resort’s gastronomy to your home. “It truly was a great success for the resident market in the Algarve. I believe we filled a niche market that was not being addressed with a differentiated quality and service. It was very welcomed by our clients, so we plan to continue with it,” Kurt Gillig assures.
In fact, there is news regarding this service: “Since the launch, we have already expanded the selection of dishes and added a hand-picked wine list and even cigars. We are delivering experiences on special occasions, such as anniversaries, or our B2 Brunch. We are also complementing the experience with select gift options from our V-Life Shops,” he says.
As for the future, the pandemic has not stopped any plans. “To be honest, it actually allowed us to dedicate more time and resources to press on with ongoing projects, as well as develop and improve others, such as the new V-Club disco, two new luxury villas, a new loyalty programme”, to name just a few.
In conclusion, the managing director points out the lessons he has learned during this storm that is still rocking the world. “If there is one thing we have all learned, it is that nothing is guaranteed and it can be hard to make any predictions. As for 2021, we are seeing demand slowly start creeping up, particularly for the summer and early autumn, from our key markets, such as the UK and Germany.”
By BRUNO FILIPE PIRES