David J. Danto
Business travel thoughts in my own, personal opinion
On The Road Again, Part 2 of 2
Last Week I shared my story of flying out of EWR and into LAX, and being on the road again for the first time in fourteen months. This week I’ll fill you in on the rest of the trip.
Obviously, after picking up the rental car, our next stop was the hotel to check-in. Over the course of the past two months I had made five different hotel reservations for two stays over a six night trip. The first set of reservations were the ones I’d always make. I generally found that the more upscale the property the more they charge you for things that would be free at medium to lower end hotels. Wanting to stay in the Hilton family, my first reservations were at a Hilton Garden Inn and a Curio branded hotel. However, a few weeks before any trip I always check on-line to see if any prices have dropped or for any other changes, and these properties were showing extensive COVID19 warnings. Limited parking, no breakfast, no restaurants on property, no exercise room, etc., etc. Yikes! A bit of further research revealed a handful of nasty reviews of these places as well – with the big red flag of “poorly cleaned rooms.” OK, that meant it was time to change my approach – one of many changes that we travelers need to understand in this sunsetting COVID19 world.
After one change that turned out to look just as bad as the original choices I learned my lesson and went right for the high-end Hilton resorts. I figured that the closer they were aligned with corporate, the more likely that they’d be following the governance around cleanliness. Over the course of the week that thinking turned out to be 100% true and the right move.
Our first stay was at the historic Beverly Hilton. The property was far less busy than it should have been, and had no valet service, but it did have a bellman (that helped us with luggage) and a great team. After attending our family party in the area we then drove down to San Diego and stayed at the Hilton Bayfront, another excellent property that was far quieter than I’d have expected in normal times. This property had no bellmen but let guests take the luggage carts as needed. I’ll discuss more specifics about both properties shortly, but first let me explain some of the general changes we came to realize we’re living through.
· Stickers: That is one of the things us travelers are going to have to get used to. Apparently most hotels feel that if they place a sticker across the door and door frame of every hotel room, guests will think the room has been sealed after being fully disinfected. Sadly these are not the kind of stickers that are used on price tags – the ones that fall-apart once removed. Instead they are the flimsiest of stickers, able to be removed and replaced so many times that they are completely meaningless. The hotels are going for the illusion of safety just like the airlines go for the illusion of security. In fact, as you can see in the photo, I’ve started a collection of these stickers on my son’s bedroom door at home. They are so easily removed and replaced that I expect I’ll have his door filled with un-broken stickers by the end of the year. A walk down any hallway at any hotel will show dozens of these unbroken stickers still on the doors. Hotels: Please. Just. Stop.
· Enhanced Cleaning: Each property we stayed at went out of the way to post notes in the rooms about how there was “extra cleaning” done on “high-touch surfaces.” Personally I believe that these surfaces were neglected in the room for far too long, and I’m glad that they now have some focus by the housekeeping staff. However, I honestly trusted none of it. We brought a spray bottle of isopropyl alcohol and misted / wiped every single surface in the room. I suspect that I’ll be doing that in every hotel room for the foreseeable future. Maybe we’ve learned that COVID doesn’t transmit well from surfaces…okay, but we just ended a flu season with 2,038 cases and no deaths, as opposed to the 38 million cases and 22,000 deaths the prior year. Masks and cleaning accomplished a great deal in the long run.
· No Daily Housekeeping: Every property we’ve stayed at since the pandemic and just about every hotel I’ve read about online has eliminated daily housekeeping in guestrooms. Honestly, this is a welcome change. One person I know tweeted “Hooray, now I don’t have to clean my room every day for the cleaners to come in.” The only complaints I’ve seen about it were that it needs to be better communicated. If one wants their room cleaned then it has to be requested. A housekeeper wearing a mask will come in and do it as long as you’re not present. As for us, we never needed it. We asked for extra towels and other supplies as we wanted them from the housekeepers we saw with carts in the hallway every morning, and we brought our garbage bags outside the room to be taken. We felt much safer knowing no one was in our room while we were out.
· Meaningless Partnerships: Expect all travel and hospitality firms to partner-up with cleaning company brands going forward. I don’t know who in their right mind thinks this means a damn thing, but it is what it is. United has partnered with Clorox, Hilton with Lysol. (At least the Hilton / Lysol thing had a wipe dispenser in the lobby.)
Now, specifically onto the properties. Checking-in at both of them was a breeze with friendly and helpful staff. When asking if there was a no-charge Diamond VIP upgrade both properties said yes, and then proceeded to put us in the rooms we had already booked. Apparently that is a new Hilton (and perhaps industry) tactic. Call anything an upgrade – a better view, a newer carpet, a robe in the closet, whatever. It’s kind-of sad, but I bet it prevents arguments at the front desk. Both properties gave us water upon checking-in, the Beverly Hilton in their own branded bottle, and the Bayfront in a can. They both encouraged us to ask for as much as we wanted going forward. That was certainly a welcome change from past experiences. It was also great to see that the idiotic new trend of refillable shared in-room amenities is dead (at least temporarily) as the small bottles and individual soaps are back. However, as daily housekeeping is gone I expect they won’t use as many as they did before.
The Beverly Hilton gave us a newly renovated room with a great view of the hills and an exceptional mattress. The Hilton Bayfront room had a gorgeous view of the bay and downtown San Diego, looking due west into the sunsets. For us as Hilton Honors Diamond VIPs both properties had no executive lounge with breakfast available, so the Beverly gave us each a daily $20 credit for Breakfast by the pool, and the Bayfront $15 each for their lobby restaurant.
We actually booked the Bayfront by mistake. I had remembered a wonderful, upgraded stay with my kids a dozen or so years ago at a resort right on the bay with a beach, and when looking on the Hilton website the Bayfront seemed to be the right property. It was not. I learned after we arrived that the Hilton Mission Bay (which was the one I had in mind) is no longer a Hilton. They apparently want a “different demographic” than Hilton was providing (which Joe Brancatelli translated for me to mean that they weren’t getting enough money from Hilton for the large amount of reward stays.) The Bayfront is actually a tower right next to the San Diego convention center, across the street from Petco Park and the Gaslamp Quarter. If those are the things you want to do then it’s in an awesome location. The reasons we switched to a resort from the Curio property were still valid however, and it all worked out well.
Touring around California at a time nearing the end of the pandemic was weird. The hotels and the restaurants required masks in public spaces, but once you were seated in a restaurant they came right off. Most restaurants were not distancing at their tables – just packing people in as normal. 99% of the people were respecting the wearing of masks where needed. We found about 80% of the restaurants open for business, with about 20% closed (and seemingly permanently closed.)
At the beaches and outdoor scenic areas most people had masks but weren’t wearing them. I always put mine back on as a courtesy when I was speaking with a vendor. The hotel elevators were an interesting experience, as just about everyone was hesitant to get in a car that had other people on it already, masked or otherwise. In each instance I held the door open and told people to come-on as we were masked and vaccinated, and all responded that they were too. It was a conversation starter in most cases, putting everyone at ease.
While we had a great time, after six nights away we were happy to get back home. Upon returning the rental car to National I discovered a mileage charge (those still exist !?!?) which I’m absolutely disputing as they knew it was a one-way rental when they quoted the price. The United 737-700 home from SAN to EWR was a packed flight. It had zero food service (snack boxes in first and the water/pretzel/cookie baggie for everyone else.)
My conclusions from this first trip in fourteen months are that travel is now likely safe, but the airlines and hotels are going to be taking a long ramp back to “normal.” For the airlines that means what it always has for them – keeping capacity artificially low so that all aircraft are packed-in. Expect multiple schedule changes over the next few months as traveling picks-up and they shuffle capacity. Do check any reservations often for changes and curveballs. For hotels that long ramp likely means offering limited services until the capacities return to close to normal, and expect this new version of “housekeeping-light” to stick around for a while.
This article was written by David Danto and contains solely his own, personal opinions.
All image and links provided above as reference under prevailing fair use statutes.
As always, feel free to write and comment, question or disagree. Hearing from the traveling community is always a highlight for me. Thanks!