Earlier this year, pandemic shutdowns brought California’s travel industry to a standstill. But with autumn in full swing and restrictions easing, a comeback is on the horizon. As travelers begin to move around the Golden State in increasing numbers, many hotels, airports, and dining venues are finding creative ways to welcome guests safely while providing incredible experiences.
New Ways to Stay
As the executive vice president of operations at Montage Hotels & Resorts, James Bermingham oversees some of California’s top luxury properties, including Montage Laguna Beach, Pendry San Diego, and forthcoming hotels in West Hollywood and Healdsburg. When the hotel group’s properties began to resume operations after pandemic closures, the concept of guest comfort took on a whole new meaning.
“On one hand, people are excited that they can travel again and spend quality time with family and friends away from home,” says Bermingham. “But folks are also careful about where they’re deciding to travel and where they’re going to stay. There’s an equal measure of excitement and caution.”
To best address the situation, Montage International has developed innovative programs to give travelers peace of mind during the pandemic. With the health of guests as a priority, hotel stays now include a month-long membership to One Medical, a digital health care service that offers 24/7 virtual primary care visits.
Another groundbreaking benefit is Montage Academy, an onsite virtual learning center for kids age 6 to 17. With many people working and attending school remotely, families now have the flexibility to arrange their schedules around travel. Through the program, students participate in their remote school sessions in a safe, distanced environment, with supervised study halls, access to virtual tutoring, and supplemental programming such as hiking, art classes, and yoga.
“It's been really well received,” Bermingham notes, pointing out that many families have fewer constraints tied to physical location. “It has increased the opportunity for folks to travel outside of the traditional summer season.”
There have also been big changes at California airports, including San Francisco International (SFO).
“Being a Bay Area airport we think that the use of innovation, technology, and creative ideas kind of comes with the territory,” says Doug Yakel, SFO’s public information officer. “We live and serve in a region that is open to trying new things.”
One major advance—part of the airport’s recent renovation project—is the installation of state-of-the-art heating and air-conditioning systems that kill germs passing through the air. “This was a nice feature to have with the new facilities,” Yakel says, “but with the onset of the pandemic it took on new importance.”
Thanks to the expansion of the airport’s terminals over the last decade, reconfiguring spaces such as ticket counters, security checkpoints, and baggage claim areas for social distancing was fairly easy.
Prominent jetway and concourse signage ensures that those arriving from other regions are aware of California’s safety protocols, and to make sure folks are following the rules, airport ambassadors patrol terminals to provide gentle reminders when needed.
SFO is also testing a program with United Airlines to provide virus testing for passengers flying to Hawaii, either with an at-home kit or onsite testing at the airport.
“There's interest and desire to travel, says Yakel, “we just need to make it easier for people to feel confident about it.”
‘Almost’ Live Music
Like its hotels and airports, California’s eating and drinking venues have risen to the pandemic challenge. Because COVID restrictions don’t currently allow SLO Brew to host live music events at its San Luis Obispo County brewpub, the venue found a clever work-around—livestreaming with local bands. “What we've been doing is getting the bands in, keeping the garage doors open, and then streaming it through the brewery and distillery,” says Hamish Marshall, who owns SLO Brew as well as the craft distillery SLO Stills. “It’s almost like a live concert, yet it's not. People have been loving it.”
SLO Brew is also fortunate to have expansive spaces for outdoor dining, including a deck overlooking the creek that runs through downtown San Luis Obispo. Now that the city is starting to reopen for indoor dining, and parklets along Higuera Street have created new al fresco options, Marshall says, “It’s bringing back that vibrancy that we had prior to the pandemic.”