Hotel employees share what it's really like working during a typical off-season when there are no guests

  • During the off-seasons, hotels still have staff members working hard to prepare for guests.
  • In Death Valley, during the highest temperatures, the general manager stays busy and has fun.
  • In Yosemite and Michigan, staff works hard to update hotel decor and fix everything that breaks.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Hotels and resorts are full of life during busy seasons, but the action doesn’t stop when the guests go home.

Many travel destinations have cycles of busy seasons, with tourists abound and high prices, and off-seasons, where there are few or no guests staying on the property. These typically occur during unfavorable weather or general unpopularity, when not many people are traveling to a certain spot.

During these seasons, innkeepers and general managers work hard to maintain the space and ensure it’s at its best and ready to host visitors when next year’s busy season begins. And sometimes working on an empty resort has its perks.

Three leadership figures at hotels and resorts across the US told Insider what it’s like to experience popular destinations in a whole different way.

Death Valley’s off-season has incredibly high temperatures, but this general manager doesn’t mind

John Kukreja has experience working in luxury hospitality positions throughout India, Saudi Arabia, and the US. When the opportunity arose to work in California’s Death Valley, he jumped at the chance.

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“It was 122 degrees when I came for the interview,” Kukreja, who is now general manager of The Oasis at Death Valley, told Insider.

Death Valley’s off-season is summer when temperatures are at an all-time high and can be unbearable for most visitors.

“Sometimes people come here when it’s hotter, just to experience the heat,” Kukreja said. “I always say to make sure to hydrate yourself.”

But Kukreja said some people don’t realize how beautiful Death Valley is because of the heat. After the four-month off-season, the weather is pretty mild.

“People think, ‘Death Valley, what are you doing there?’ But that’s just for the four months that are hot … June, July, August, and September,” he added. “Then it’s almost like a switch turns off in September, and you have eight months of absolutely gorgeous weather.”

Luckily, the region’s heat is no problem for Kukreja or his family, even though the area just hit 134 degrees Fahrenheit – its hottest temperature on record in more than a century.

His family relocated to Death Valley in 2016, and now they live in the area year-round at The Oasis’ employee housing.

Since the closest town is Pahrump, Nevada, which is an hour away, the resort has an on-site commissary and warehouse for food and supplies.

There’s also a general store that the employees can get discounts at to buy groceries and other necessities so that they won’t have to venture into Nevada for essentials.

But when they do, Kukreja said, his family is somewhat famous.

“It’s funny because they know us now – we’re the ‘Death Valley Family,'” Kukreja told Insider.

During the year, his four kids are homeschooled. While The Inn at Death Valley is closed during the summer, Kukreja and his family keep busy in the community.

“I coach soccer, we practice ballet, Boy Scouts, all sorts of activities,” he said. “People don’t always realize that there’s a lot to explore in Death Valley.”

He said his family is always experiencing something new in the area, like catching a glimpse of a mother owl showing off her babies, watching a tarantula cross the road, or spying a wild coyote stalking golf balls thinking they’re a snack.

Still, a lot of maintenance and construction needs to be completed before the hotel reopens.

When the property is unoccupied, the on-site team focuses on construction and renovation projects to prepare for busy season. Right now, they’re also working on building 80 more cottages on the property.

His family also adjusts their schedule during the intensely hot off-season.

“In the summer, we change the whole family setup – instead of 6:30 we start waking up at 5:30,” said Kukreja. This helps them to take advantage of the day before the temperatures begin to go up.

They don’t seem to mind the temperatures that keep visitors away too much.

“I say to people you can have the extreme of Alaska in winter at -40 degrees, or you could be here. It’s just a temperature, and just for four months – the rest of the year it’s beautiful,” Kukreja told Insider.

During the winter, this Yosemite inn can be like ‘living on a big cruise ship’ where something always needs maintenance

Located in the same state but a different climate, The Blackberry Inn Yosemite traditionally closes in late November.

The chillier late fall and winter temperatures keep guests away until spring, one of the area’s busiest times of year because of the warm weather and prime waterfall access.

When they first arrived at the California inn, married couple Alex North and Steve McCorkle had no hospitality experience – now, the duo is successfully entering their 14th season.

The off-season gives them a chance to rejuvenate and detox, North said, since “it can be draining to be ‘on’ all the time, and we want everyone to be happy.”

But it’s far from a relaxing break. Since it’s just the two of them and they’re “in the middle of nowhere,” they try to do everything themselves.

“My husband is going to be 73 and I’m going to be 60 this year and we work really physically hard during the off-season,” North told Insider.

For the duo, the off-season starts with resetting all of the rooms.

“When we close in November, we strip the beds, strip the curtains, put the mattresses up against the wall to air out, and we’ll crack the windows so that the inside of the rooms also get the chance to rejuvenate and get fresh air to breathe,” she explained.

She said it takes a lot of work to maintain a 36-acre property where something always needs maintenance.

“It’s like living on a big cruise ship – stuff breaks,” she told Insider.

In their line of work, they “pick up a lot of skills along the way,” and if they don’t know how to do something they’ll conduct their own research to teach themselves.

The couple also has a lot of their own on-site equipment, including a tractor and a bulldozer.

“If there’s any takeaway, it’s that we work as a team here on most things, and try to play to the strengths of the individual,” North added.

In between painting, getting the carpets steamed, and splitting wood for fireplaces, the couple also ensures their inn is up to code when they reopen in April.

This includes tasks like replacing batteries in smoke detectors and taking care of the certification for the fire extinguishers.

But it’s all worth it for the couple – the people they meet and great experiences they can give guests when they return are priceless.

“My favorite part of hospitality is getting to meet people from all over the world, and learn from them,” North told Insider. “You find out about other hidden gems that you’d like to go see yourself.”

Island life continues during the frigid temperatures of a Michigan winter

Across the country, Holly Nitzschke, director of convention services at Grand Hotel on Michigan’s Mackinac Island, lives on the island year-round overseeing on-site responsibilities at the hotel.

The hotel’s busy season is from summer to early fall because the weather is warmer and more predictable, plus ferry companies schedule more frequent trips to and from the island.

She said it’s pretty busy but beautiful to be on-site when the property is closed from November through May when the weather is quite unpredictable and not ideal for most guests.

Her team is always prepared for the worst during off-seasons since the northern Michigan island experiences higher-than-average snowfall and the average winter temperatures can fall between 14 to 23 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Being on-site during the off-season is very unique,” Nitzschke told Insider. “It’s very peaceful, very quiet – the island, in general, has an amazing community.”

“When I’m at the hotel in the off-season, I work in my same office but it feels very different to have it be so quiet. It’s fun to walk around and explore all the guest rooms, see the views and take everything in – you kind of have the entire building to yourself,” she said.

But there’s still a lot of work to be done to maintain the 135-year-old building.

To prepare for winter, the maintenance team turns off most of the electricity and the water. They also remove the decorations, like the outside awnings and big porch lights, since it can get very windy on the island in the winter.

“You have a short window in the spring where you can get certain tasks done, such as painting, because you have to have a certain temperature,” Nitzschke told Insider. She said they have to do a lot of planning so they don’t end up displacing guests once they return.

Since the inn is over a century old, the team also paints and redecorates to adapt to the changing design style of each year. In the fall, they go through each room with a professional decorator to see what needs to be changed.

Nitzschke said her job working in events and conventions for the hotel doesn’t calm down during the winter, either, even though there aren’t huge bookings.

“Once the hotel closes in the fall, I get started on assisting with next year’s groups,” she added.

Nitzschke plans ahead for the upcoming spring, summer, and fall months since being on an island adds logistical challenges that can make the process difficult. For example, vendors and clients must ship equipment by boat and horse and carriage since just “pulling your car up” is not an option on Mackinac Island.

Still, she said, Michigan winters can be beautiful, and working at a hotel on a small island year-round can feel like being surrounded by a giant family.

“We’ve always felt accepted, and people very much look out for each other,” she said.

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