Freebies, discounts and surprise perks for voters

Hotels offering perks and packages for Election Day

(Our story about Election Day perks first appeared on NBC News in a slightly different version).

Election Day, and perhaps the days and weeks following, may be especially tense this year for a myriad of reasons. To help ease the stress and mark the day, some hotels and restaurants are offering discounts and perks for overnight guests and complimentary cocktails for those who have proof they have voted. 

And some hotels, and at least one museum, are even turning their lobbies and rooftops into polling stations.

A president slept here, now you can visit and vote

The Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site in Indianapolis, Indiana is a museum year-round. But at election time the home of the 23rd U.S. president becomes a voting site.

During an Election Day tour visitors can see historical voting machines and learn about the history of the U.S. voting process in the “Protect the Vote” exhibit. While that’s going on, actors portraying the Harrison family will be on site awaiting results from the 1888 presidential election.

Vote on a hotel rooftop or in a hotel ballroom

Some hotels around the country are turning ballrooms, rooftops, and other large event spaces into polling places where citizens can cast a vote or drop off a mailed ballot with adequate social distance.

In California, the Kimpton Le Peer Hotel in West Hollywood is serving as an early voting and vote-by-mail ballot drop off location from October 30 through November 3. The dining space on the outdoor rooftop is being refitted with voting booths so voters will have fresh air, social distance, and great views.  

Voting booths will be sanitized after each use and guests who vote on-site will receive a 15 percent discount on special menu items, including sliders adorned with American flags and a “Bubbly Pilgrim” cocktail. In the lobby,  the hotel’s resident artist will be working on a new Election Day inspired mural.

The historic Hotel Figueroa in downtown Los Angeles, which was funded and built by women in 1926 and served as a YWCA women’s hostel in its early years, will serve as an official polling place from October 30 through November 3, with voting booths set up in the hotel’s Gran Sala event space.

And although the historic Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C. is closed through early 2021 due to the pandemic, its ballroom joins the Capital One Sports Arena and other area sites as a Super Vote Center to accommodate large numbers of voters from October 27 through November 3.

Vote, then drink or eat free, or for cheap

In Texas, from now through election day, the LINE Austin is offering a $1 cocktail, beer, or wine at their bar P6 for visitors who show proof of voting. (1 drink per vote.) 

In Houston, Texas, three of the restaurants in the H Town Restaurant Group – Hugo’s, Caracol, and Xochi – will be treating voters who wear their “I VOTED!” sticker to the restaurant to a complimentary red, white or blue margarita. (Value $11).

The Kimpton Sawyer Hotel in Sacramento, CA will offer a complimentary glass of wine to guests who show their “I Voted” sticker from October 24 to November 3 on the hotel’s rooftop bar and lounge, Revival. The hotel is near the Golden 1 Center, an arena that will serve as a voting center on those dates.

In Denver, from now through Nov. 3, a red, white, and blue “Rock the Vote” cocktail will be complimentary to guests who sport their “I Voted” sticker and purchase a menu item at Local Jones restaurant at the Halcyon hotel in Cherry Creek.

The Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery, in Arlington, VA, which boasts of serving sweets and sides to Washington insiders, will have two special candidate-themed sandwiches on the menu November 2 and 3: a catfish filet for Trump and a sliced roasted turkey sandwich for Biden. Each sandwich will come with a complimentary “Vote” sugar cookie with red, white, and blue icing.

And starting at 5 pm PST on Election Night, The Hoxton, Portland will be hosting a political trivia night with an evening-long Happy Hour and comfort-food snack fest with corn dogs, chowder, tater tots and apple pie. Tickets start at $4.60 and include a welcome drink. For those anticipating a late night or who just want to stay in bed until the election results are tallied, the hotel is offering 30% off rooms that week with code AUTUMN.

Stay over, sleep it off

The Crossroads Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri is offering a “Not at a Crossroads” package on November 3 to guests who show proof of voting. The $169 room rate includes CBD gummies, Painkiller cocktails and a variety of candies and snacks, including WHOMP popcorn, Hot Tamales and Milk Duds.

Through November 3 Les Cactus Palm Springs is offering a 10% discount, a bottle of wine and a relaxing Mar Mar candle on all reservations of 3 nights or more to guests who show valid proof of voter registration.

In Washington, D.C. guests at the Kimpton George Hotel who show an “I Voted” sticker or an Early Voting equivalent, will receive a ‘surprise & delight’ from the front desk in the form of a small gift, food or beverage amenity, upgrade or late check out. And in addition to the hotel’s normal wine offerings at the complimentary daily wine hour, on Election Day the options will include a glass of bubbly or a glass of whiskey from Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home.

Endless summer: families decamp to resorts for remote work and school

Courtesy Brasada Ranch, Bend OR

Sharing this slightly different version of a story we put together for NBC News about resorts seeing summer seasons extended thanks to families realizing they can do remote work and school anywhere.

Work/school/play away from home

In “normal” times, hotels in summer hot spots go into hibernation once Labor Day rolls around. But thanks to the stresses of remote work and online learning, many summer retreats are having strong fall seasons.

Dana Bates and her husband, both biotech workers, and their 7-year-old daughter were already working and learning remotely from their home in Cloverdale, California. Then, smoke conditions from the California wildfires sent them in search of another venue.

They landed in a two-bedroom cabin at the Brasada Ranch resort near Bend, Oregon. The self-contained units and attention to health and safety were reassuring during an especially stressful time.

“It was one level, with rooms on separate sides of the cabin and a desk in each room. Cleaning staff did not come every day, but you could leave bedding and towels out for pick-up and request fresh linens,” says Bates. “It was comfortable. We made friends. And I felt very safe from COVID-19.”

Remote workers everywhere, with or without children, are facing stress right now, and the uncertainty is trying, says Denise Rousseau, professor of organizational behavior and public policy at Heinz College of Carnegie Mellon University. “Even for families not facing true economic hardship, there’s the challenge of how do I keep my job, keep my kids in school, and stay safe.”

Miami-area hotels are hoping to draw families seeking safe and supportive places to work and deal with remote schooling. More than 30 properties are promoting packages with features such as hair, makeup and lighting help for virtual meetings to tutors, lunches and “after school” programs for kids.

In the Myrtle Beach area of South Carolina, hotels are working out collaborations with educational attractions, meal delivery options, and more.

A new trend?

It is too soon to tell whether remote work and work/school setups at hotels and resorts become a true trend, said Jan Freitag, senior vice president of lodging insights for the analytics provider STR. “We’ll know that for sure in October,” once school is in full swing, Freitag said.

For now, fall bookings are way up at Gurney’s Resorts, which includes properties in Montauk, New York, and Newport, Rhode Island. Gurney’s Star Island Resort and Marina in Montauk said it had three times as many bookings for September compared to 2019.

White Elephant Resorts, which operates four hotels on the island of Nantucket off Massachusetts, said leisure fall bookings are 36 percent higher this year than they were last year.

“With many children starting the year with online learning and the ability for parents to work from wherever, it’s allowing guests to be more flexible with their travel plans,” said Khaled Hashem, White Elephant Resorts’ managing director.

Resorts offer perks for work/school stays

For those who want to double down, some resorts are going the extra mile, offering in-person or virtual tutoring services for children — and their parents. Auberge Resorts Collection, which has 19 properties around the world, just launched a program that includes tutoring for kids, educational seminars for adults and, in some locations, poolside “office cabanas.”

Casa Marina resort in Key West, Florida, is offering a “school-cation” package with tours of the Key West Shipwreck Museum, the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory and the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, as well as an escape room experience — and a bottle of wine so parents can wind down after a long day.

“These work-cation/school-cation concepts are not for everyone,” said Gabe Saglie of Travelzoo. However, for those with flexibility and means, “a clever promotion can be enough to inspire travel that would otherwise not have been planned.”

While some properties are developing new guest experiences, lodging operators will need to get creative if restaurants and activities are still shut down because of the coronavirus, said Robert Cole, senior analyst for the travel market research firm Phocuswright.

“Guests wishing to escape being confined to their homes are unlikely to enjoy being confined to a hotel room,” Cole said.

It wasn’t a clever promotion but “seemingly endless remote work challenges” due to the pandemic and a desire to escape “to a place where everything was thoughtful, safe and inclusive” that got Sarah Goldman and her husband to escape New York City recently for a cottage at the 500-acre Cedar Lakes Estate in the Hudson Valley. The retreat has pivoted from weddings and corporate events to offer all-inclusive stays.

Going back in the off-season is appealing, Goldman said. “I can’t imagine there will be a lot open in Brooklyn — and we’ll be going stir crazy.”

Home office stressing you out? Try working in a hotel.

Sharing a story we put together for NBC News this week about hotels courting stressed out remote workers package for day-use rooms. This version is slightly different from what was published.

Check out of your home office and into a hotel

In an effort to reverse pandemic-induced revenue losses reaching back to April, hotels in the U.S. and beyond are rolling out perk-laden packages for guests who would rather work remotely from a quiet hotel room than from the guest room or den at home.

“I have essentially been unable to escape my family for 5 straight months,” said Sommer Cronck, a real estate managing broker in Bellingham, WA. Since the pandemic started, she’s been working at home with a husband, two dogs, and four kids. “I love them dearly, but I’d love to book a hotel room to get away for a day.”

Cronck is far from alone with that craving. And it is fueling the new trend.

Work from hotel

The fast-growing list of properties offering “work from hotel” options includes the Thompson Nashville, Sacramento’s Kimpton Sawyer HotelThe James New York – NoMad and dozens of others.

Heavily discounted rates and extra perks are appealing, of course. “But having a quiet workspace for the day can be the main draw for workers used to months of sharing space with a spouse, partner, or family,” said Catherine Keywan, an interior designer with the Bergmeyer architectural firm. “The privacy of an enclosed room, as well as private restroom, is ideal for workers with pandemic anxiety regarding sharing space,” she added.

On the hotel side, day-use guests can generate much-needed revenue. But they also represent a desirable market for hoteliers because “these guests place limited demands on hotel staff and maintenance. And many hotel executives believe this is a good approach to long term account loyalty,” said hotel lodging consultant Bjorn Hanson.

The Ritz-Carlton Denver now has a “Your Space” package that includes upgraded Wi-Fi, valet parking, business services, and $20 in-room dining credit. Guests have access to a room for an eight-hour workday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The program “provides the perfect solution for the reality of today,” said Janie Dim, the Los Angeles-based Vice-President of Growth for private aviation company, Wheels Up. Dim has family to stay with in Denver but booked a “Your Space” room to meet with local clients in town.

“With many offices closed due to the virus, it was helpful to have a fully functioning, clean and safe space to work so we could have a socially distant in-person meeting while on the road,” said Dim.

In Chicago, the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel has a “Blu Workspace” package available Mondays through Thursdays and bookable through December 29, 2020. Guests have access to their room from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at rates that start at $99. The Kimpton Hotel Allegro has a “Business without Baggage” day rate for a room that includes a computer monitor with laptop connectors. Bonus perks include a lunchbox filled with snacks and water, a hotel notebook, coffee mug keepsake, face covering and hand sanitizer.

More “work from hotel” options

The Ben, a boutique waterfront property in West Palm Beach, FL that opened in February 2020, just as the pandemic was arriving, offers “Professional Distancing” day use rooms from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. for $125. That is up to 40 percent off the regular rate and includes a balcony room, parking, Wi-Fi, discount on food beverage in the hotel restaurant and a complimentary evening cocktail at the bar

Mandarin Oriental has “Working from M.O.” day-use packages with Wi-Fi, dining credits and fitness center access. The “Work with Us, Stay with Us” day use-package at Nobu Hotel Palo Alto comes with a Bento Box lunch, a caddy stocked with office supplies, printing services, a sanitizing kit and a bottled cocktail to take home at the end of the day.

Since June, Hotel Figueroa in downtown Los Angeles has been checking in guests for the Fig Works Perks program. In addition to day use of a room, guest extras include boxed water, parking, unlimited B&W copy machine privileges and access to the pool deck and fitness room. (Rates start at $129/day. For an extra $20 guests can stay overnight).

“Most Work Perk guests live near the hotel and are looking for a quiet, safe place with very fast Wi-Fi and comfortable air-conditioning, ” said Connie Wang, the hotel’s managing director, “They want a calming and relaxing atmosphere, away from the distractions of working at home.”

Will “Work from Hotel” replace “Work from Home” as new normal?

Molly Fergus, general manager of the TripSavvy travel site, considers “Work from Hotel” programs “a genius move” for both struggling hotels and remote workers seeking a change of scenery, but doubts many employers will get reimbursed for these costs by their employers.

And while offering a nice getaway, “I’m skeptical that work from hotels packages will be something remote workers will or can afford to use on a regular basis,” said Sunkee Lee, Assistant Professor of Organizational Theory and Strategy at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business.

“It would be smarter for people to invest in a better home, with a better home office space, or faster internet,” he said.

Hotels having COVID-19 troubles

Fallout from COVID-19 is happening so fast that moments before our story about hotel occupancy rates posted on CNBC we had to cut a tidbit about a hotel bar offering a creative “squirt and sip” – a squirt of hand sanitizer and a drink – because the bar had been ordered to close.

And since the story posted – on Wednesday – many more hotels around the country have closed because they had few – if any -guests.

Major hotel chains are temporarily closing properties and seeing occupancy rates tumble as travelers stay at home during the coronavirus outbreak.

Global hospitality research company STR said Wednesday that for the week of March 8-14, hotel occupancy was down 24.4% to 53% year-over-year. Meanwhile, revenue per available room, a key industry metric, fell 32.5% to $63.74.   

The numbers echo plunging demand for air travel and cruise ships as travel slows to a trickle. There have been more than 200,000 cases of the coronavirus so far, and governments are imposing restrictions to combat the spread. The United States border with Canada will temporarily close to “non-essential traffic” due to the coronavirus pandemic, the leaders of both countries said Wednesday morning.

“To no surprise, the hurt continued and intensified for hotels around the country,” said Jan Freitag, STR’s senior VP of lodging insights in a statement. “The performance declines were especially pronounced in hotels that cater to meetings and group business, which is a reflection of the latest batch of event cancellations and government guidance to restrict the size of gatherings.”

Even before Nevada ordered the closure of casinos and other businessesMGM Resorts International and Wynn Resorts announced the temporary closure of their properties in Las Vegas. That includes well-known hotels like the Bellagio, MGM Grand Mandalay Bay, The Mirage and others.

Following the closure of its U.S. theme parks, Disney closed all its owned and operated hotel locations at Downtown Disney in Anaheim and Disney Springs in Orlando, beginning Tuesday. The Disney owned and operated hotels at Walt Disney World Resort and Disney’s Vero Beach Resort will close at 5 p.m. on Friday, March 20, the company said in a statement.            

Home share bookings in major cities are also feeling the pinch.

For example, Airbnb bookings for the week of March 1-7 in Rome and Beijing were down 41% and 96%, respectively, compared to bookings made January 5-11, according to AirDNA, which analyzes vacation rental data.

“2020 got off to a fast start with our booking rate quite high in the months of January and February,” said Jon Ingalls, an Airbnb host in Seattle, “We’ve now had cancellations for March and have had virtually no bookings for the spring.”

Checking in? Making sure your room is clean

If you do happen to be checking into a hotel in the near future, global and independent hotel brands such as Red Roof, Marriott International and Hilton are being proactive about sharing specifics about their cleaning efforts.

In addition to the cleaning and disinfecting protocols used in guest rooms, Marriott is reassuring guests that its hotels have increased the frequency of cleaning and disinfecting in public spaces, “with a focus on the counter at the front desk, elevators (and elevator buttons), door handles, public bathrooms and even room keys,” the company said in a statement. 

As clean as hotels say their facilities are, when you check in you may want to do some spot cleaning of your own, especially on the “high touch” spots housekeeping staff may have missed and previous guests are sure to have touched. That includes door handles, TV remote controls, lamp switches, bathroom faucets, shower soap dispensers and the toilet flush handle.

“Hotel housekeeping may be doing a good job,” said Sheryl Kline, a professor of Hospitality Business Management at the University of Delaware who has studied hotel cleanliness, “but if you bring your own wipes you’ll know that those spots have been disinfected.”

Kline also suggests taking bed scarves and bedspreads off hotel room beds, “because those may not be cleaned every day.”

Spot cleaning your hotel room is fine, but Paul Pottinger, an infectious disease specialist at UW Medicine, the health-care system at the University of Washington in Seattle, says the first thing to clean when you enter a hotel room is your hands, “which may have picked up germs on your journey to the hotel, from surfaces in the lobby and in the elevator ride up to the room.”

Need to cancel?

In general, hotels and home share companies are being flexible with cancellations.

On Sunday, Airbnb updated its extenuating circumstances policy regarding cancellation in response to COVID-19 to include a full refund for guests with reservations for stays (and Airbnb Experiences) made on or before March 14, 2020, with check-in dates between March 14 and April 14, 2020.

IHG, which includes brands like Holiday Inn, Intercontinental, and Kimpton, is waiving cancellation fees for existing and new bookings at all its properties globally for stays through April 30, 2020.

Marriott updated its policy on March 13 to allow guests with existing reservations to cancel or make changes without charges up to 24 hours before arrival, until April 30, 2020. And on March 16, Hilton updated its policy and is now waiving fees for changes or cancellations made up to 24 hours before a scheduled arrival until April 30, 2020 as well. That includes “Advance Purchase” rates described as non-cancellable when first booked.  

Given the fast-changing nature of COVID-19 and community responses, many hotels are following the lead of airlines and regularly updating their cancelation and refund policies, in many cases extending the applicable dates.

Hotels get creative with concierge services

Marriott Park Lane Hotel

The hotel concierge has been getting a makeover. Here’s our latest column for CNBC about hotels with staff on duty who will do everything from peeling your crawfish to delivering an adoptable teddy bear.

Your next hotel stay may come with a creative concierge service

Pantelis Evangelou is a guest services manager at the London Marriott Park Lane, but to young guests, he may be better known as the hotel’s teddy bear butler.

The hotel offers a teddy-bear themed concierge service to children that is included with suite bookings or available as an add-on for a fee of roughly $50. After a child chooses an option from the hotel’s menu of 11 themed bears, Evangelou arrives at the door with a stuffed animal ready for adoption.

“It’s up to me to make the introductions, which means that I need to know the names and stories behind each and every bear, as well as their unique characteristics,” he said, noting that the available bears range from airline pilots to traditional London Beefeaters, the ceremonial guardians at the Tower of London.

A concierge for every need

The hotel concierge has traditionally been the all-knowing go-to for guests seeking insider knowledge of a city and access to coveted theater tickets or dinner reservations. But now, travelers get can tips and recommendations for restaurants and attractions in a new city from their smartphones.

So rather than ditch the concierge desk completely, “hotels are now training their concierges to offer novel, customized, high value and proprietary services to delight their guests and keep them coming back,” said Chekitan Dev, a professor at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration.

The trend comes at a time when hotels are faced with growing competition from the home-sharing industry with the likes of Airbnb and Expedia Group’s Vrbo. Offering niche services is a low-cost way to stand out to the customer and also drive additional revenue. The services can be free or cost guests up to a few hundred dollars.

Travelers booking hotel stays will now find concierge and butler services available for everything from caring for pets and choosing a cannabis experience to making a fire in the in-room fireplace.

As an example, Dev cites his stay at The Benjamin in New York City, where the sleep concierge helped him get a good night’s sleep by providing special pillows to help with back pain, a humidifier to counter dry air and a white sound machine to offset street noise.

Many other hotels are offering curated services that are equally hyper-focused and offbeat. The surf concierge at the Westin Los Angeles Airport gives surfing lessons, while a crawfish concierge offers peeling assistance during events at the Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans.

In Canada, the skate concierge at the Westin Ottawa leads free guided scenic skate tours along sections of the Rideau Canal Skateway, while the Fairmont Vancouver Airport’s fish valet makes sure prized catches are properly stored in a special on-site freezer during layovers.

“Specialty concierge services aren’t new,” says hotel industry analyst Bjorn Hanson, “But in the last three or four years the trend has been an increased number of categories, an increased number of hotels and resorts offering these services and an increased sophistication in how the services are delivered.”

Who is called a concierge?

The trend is also for these services to be labeled as “concierge” even though they may not be delivered by a certified concierge.

“I have no idea what a cannabis concierge or a fish concierge might be doing because we don’t see that in our organization, said Sara-ann Kasner, CEO and founder of the National Concierge Association, an industry trade group. “But I can tell you that using the title of concierge is a smart business move because people really do believe concierges have the inside scoop on everything.”

Hotels in the Raffles Hotels & Resorts chain, including locations in Paris, Istanbul, Warsaw and Jakarta, have art concierges on staff who conduct free tours of the hotels’ museum-quality art collections.

And as the curator of curiosity at Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa in Colorado, Zebulon Miracle gives history and geology tours, including dinosaur track excursions, for $35 to $250 per person.

“There are so many great stories and fascinating science found in the canyon country,” said Miracle. “If my team does their job right, guests will leave not only knowing more about the area but will also be inspired to become curious about their own homes.”

Partnerships for personalization

In some cases, hotels are partnering with other businesses to offer personalized servicesIn Portland, Ore., the Provenance Hotels partners with a florist to curate a menu of in-room loaner plants at its Woodlark hotel. At its Dossier property, a partnership with a local retailer allows an adventure valet to outfit guests with free loaner backpacks containing trekking poles, headlamps, waterproof phone cases and other useful hiking items.

“Naturally, with all the new hotels out there, we want to offer something new to capture guests’ attention,” said Kate Buska, Provenance Hotels vice president of brand development and communications, “But we’re not chasing the shock and awe of things like the ‘walk of shame’ kit in the honor bar. This is about service, experiences, and giving guests things they can actually use.”

Whether they hire or partner with a specialty concierge, a butler or on-site curator, “more hoteliers are finally understanding that they’re able to create exceptional unique experiences tailored to their guests’ specific interests,” said Robert Cole of global travel research company Phocuswright. “And those experiences are what drive guest satisfaction, return stays, referrals to friends and long-term loyalty.”

Bonus dividends from the concierge

At the five-star Tribe hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, the running concierge is a former world record holder in the marathon and the boxing butler is an independent coach who occasionally still competes internationally.

While the services give the hotel’s guests access to people and experiences that are representative of Kenya, “There aren’t many opportunities for retired elite athletes in Kenya,” said Shamim Ehsani, Tribe hotel co-founder, “Our concierge program respects the dignity and dedication of the athletes while giving them an opportunity to continue doing what they love well into retirement.”

“One of my favorite memories is of a young guest that was so over the moon with her new princess bear that she ran back to give me a big hug before I left,” said Evangelou, the teddy bear butler at the London Marriott. “We can only imagine what great adventures young guests will go on to experience together” with their bears.