The Covid pandemic presented major challenges for Hotel Union Geiranger. Its guests vanished overnight, and bookings halted completely. With funding from Innovation Norway, this family company utilised this time of crisis to equip itself for the future.
Hotel Union Geiranger was built in 1891, and it has long, strong traditions within Norwegian tourism. Sindre and Monja Mjelva are fourth generation hosts at the historic hotel, which currently has 197 rooms for visitors from all over the world.
The company normally attracts around 70 per cent of its guests from the international holiday/leisure market. When the Covid pandemic struck, it struck hard.
The company had to develop new products and adapt to new target groups in local markets within a short space of time. The buffet for which the hotel is so well known also had to be suspended for infection control reasons. Course and conference organisers set new requirements. They also started work in earnest on adapting their product to a market that was even more willing to pay.
“Grants from Innovation Norway were crucial for us choosing to start up such an important, challenging, and extensive project," says Sindre Mjelva.
Operations had to be restructured and many of the staff were assigned completely different duties.
“We were very keen to retain employees and their expertise throughout the pandemic. A more flexible organisation was required to achieve this,” says Sindre Mjelva, who is very committed to his employees and the local community of which they are part.
Special adviser Marit Giske-Nilsen at Innovation Norway Møre og Romsdal praises its willingness and ability to retain staff, even when there were no or very few guests at the hotel:
“Year-round jobs at the hotel are important for ensuring Geiranger is a vibrant and sustainable local community, and a good place both for those who visit this World Heritage community and for those who live here. Geiranger Fjord is part of the Sustainable Destination programme and systematically works on the development of sustainable destinations.”
She points out that the hotel is a good example of a company that has been able to adapt to a new market situation and develop sustainable solutions for the future.
The use of digital tools has been very important for Norwegian tourism companies and the industry as a whole. Hotel Union Geiranger is focusing on a new digital solutions, both for more efficient and profitable operations, but also so they can also take a more targeted approach to the markets. In the winter season, with its varied occupancy, digitalisation is crucial with respect to making the best use of the workforce.
“They have taken important steps within digitalisation, and it was a pleasure to work with a company that worked extremely hard every single day to increase the pace of learning and change among its employees,” stresses Giske-Nilsen.
In subsequent years, the company could gain more and more from digitalisation, in operations and for further development.
“Our location is a bit off the beaten track, although with digital tools, we are much more accessible to partners, guests, and our markets,” says Sindre Mjelva, who hopes that Innovation Norway will continue to be a good driver for innovative restructuring in tourism.