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Hotels want remote workers, parents to pack their bags

Tired of that alluring but stale Zoom background that takes you absolutely nowhere during your workday?

Hotel operators in the North Bay sure hope so.

Andaz Napa, a 141-room boutique hotel in downtown Napa operated by Hyatt, last month launched its own version of the “Work from Hyatt” marketing campaign, targeting industries within its drive market.

“We’ve heard a lot about the dot-com companies that really have suspended travel until the summer of next year,” said Patrick Miller, general manager of Andaz Napa. “We’re looking for opportunities for trying to get some of that business still, through travel to destinations like Napa, where they could combine the working atmosphere (with) enjoying all that Napa has to offer: restaurants, tasting rooms, wineries and everything else.”

“Work from Andaz” promotes outdoor spaces, spacious guestrooms, private work areas, high-speed internet and all the creature comforts of working from home, with the added assurance of the cleanliness and safety protocols the hotel has in place. The package starts at $139 per night for stays of at least seven nights.

So far, the hotel has indeed booked workers from tech companies in the San Francisco Bay Area, plus a teacher who made Andaz her virtual classroom.

Hotels in the North Bay area have suffered significant financial losses from the pandemic which, at its height, put them in lockdown for nearly four months. Year-over-year hotel occupancy rates in the region fell by as much 90% in early April, according to STR, a hospitality industry data and analytics firm.

When restrictions were eased over the summer and hotels could reopen, the properties began to see return business on weekends. But they still face the loss of large gatherings that help fill rooms during the week.

“Group business, it’s really nothing at this point,” Miller said. “It represented just under 30% of our business, so it’s hard to know what (this marketing campaign) will be able to replace, but it’s certainly going to help and it’s a step in the right direction.”

Miller said he’s encouraged by what he’s seen so far.

“We actually have bookings as far as three months out for this offering, which is contrary to what we’ve seen since COVID-19 hit,” he said. “We’re really excited to see how the interest level has peaked with something different and outside of the norm.”

Punching in from Healdsburg

The 39-room Harmon Guest House, which includes six suites with a separate sitting room, has been seeing an increasing number of people from the San Francisco market, according to Circe Sher, partner of Piazza Hospitality, which owns the hotel.

She said these guests want to stay for more than a day and work from their room.

“We thought we should try to create something to accommodate that,” Sher said.

Piazza Hospitality partnered with Altwork, a Sonoma County-based startup that sells self-contained workstations with a 32-inch screen that allows the user to sit, stand, or even work upside down. The starting price for the units is $5,000, she said.

“We did have one gentleman come whose wife is also working from home,” Sher said. “They have three kids and he’s working on launching a product. He just needed some time to get things done and he used Altwork and it was very helpful for him.”

The Altwork station allows for a comfortable, productive workspace, which can be brought into a room as needed, she said.

“When people are working, they can be really productive and when they aren’t, they can go out and enjoy themselves — go on a bike ride, have lunch on the plaza and just be part of our wine country town.”

Rates for the deal start at $425 per night for a suite; and the Altwork station can be reserved for an additional $200 or $300, depending on length of use.

The fires in August and recently have delayed Piazza from officially promoting working from Harmon Guest House, but that remains the plan.

“We’re continuing to offer it and are actually going to market it to people who have previously booked corporate groups with us who are now working from home,” she said. “They may remember us and want to come back to wine country and work remotely.”

A working field trip to Sonoma

Parents teaching their children from home has spawned another marketing opportunity, one that’s in play at Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, in the town of Sonoma.

The Fairmont’s “School & Pool” offer, launched Sept. 2, invites parents to “move the classroom from the kitchen table to a dedicated guest room, while providing families an opportunity to immerse students of all ages in a dedicated learning environment.”

The package includes on-property tech support, discounts on all food and beverages, and complimentary use of bikes and gym clothes. Rates start from $199 with 50% off a second room, and the offer is good through Dec. 23.

The Fairmont’s offer, which also includes a late “after-school” checkout at 4 p.m., suggests local field trips, including a visit to Jack London State Park, Sonoma’s Bear Flag Monument, or a zoology lesson at Safari West, the 400-acre private wildlife preserve.

“What we’re trying to do is appeal to several different audiences,” said Michelle Heston, executive regional director of public relations at the Fairmont. “Corporate meetings, corporate travel is all but gone for the time being, so we’re refocusing a lot of our marketing efforts toward that leisure, transient, family travel.”

Heston declined to provide revenue numbers, but shared an inside view about how the pandemic has affected hotel sales.

“Hotel inventories are very interesting in that it’s not like a chair, where if I don’t sell a chair today, I can sell two tomorrow. Once I’ve lost that sale, I can’t make it up,” she said. “I only have 226 guest rooms to sell, so the revenues that were lost during SIP closures can’t necessarily be recouped. What we can do is a better job at refocusing our efforts at different markets to try to grab our fair share or, what we’re hoping for, greater than our fair share of the market.”

Cheryl Sarfaty covers tourism, hospitality, health care and education. She previously worked for a Gannett daily newspaper in New Jersey and NJBIZ, the state’s business journal. Cheryl has freelanced for business journals in Sacramento, Silicon Valley, San Francisco and Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from California State University, Northridge. Reach her at cheryl.sarfaty@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4259.

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