Amid new protocols, Lake Tahoe’s lodging industry slowly recovering
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — When the shelter-in-place orders were in effect and the lodging industry was halted, the Lake Tahoe Basin was noticeably quieter. In an area where the economy is driven by tourism, there was debate on remaining shutdown for health and safety or reopening for economic survival.
With that in mind, the lodging industry looks a little different now than pre-COVID-19.
The hotel/casinos on the Nevada side were among the first to open.
Prior to reopening, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Lake Tahoe in Stateline had all public and back-of-house areas deep cleaned by environmental services, which are healthcare grade cleaning standards.
After opening, they increased the frequency of cleaning of public areas and every day the property is sprayed with a no-touch disinfectant spray. Back-of-house areas must do hourly cleaning checks.
In the rooms, coffee makers, drinking glasses, magazines and collateral materials, extra pillows and blankets and amenities for sale were removed from the rooms, and room service menus were digitized. In addition, occupied rooms will not be cleaned by housekeeping.
“In advance of reopening, Hard Rock released an outline of comprehensive health and safety protocols,” said Eric Barbaro, executive director of casino marketing. “These protocols continue to be implemented to ensure the health and safety of all guests and team members. The outline details enhancements to our already rigorous sanitation practices along with new social distance considerations.”
In Incline Village, the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa & Casino has also changed their cleaning protocol and increased the frequency of cleaning.
“We’ve also updated our colleague policies and have implemented training and recertification processes in line with Hyatt’s Global Care & Cleanliness Commitment,” said General Manager Michael Murphy. “We’ve also added hygiene and wellbeing leaders to our team to ensure all new protocols are being met.”
Prior to opening, they took time with each staff member to walk them through the entire guest experience from check-in to check-out, so that they were comfortable and could speak about the changes to guests. They also decreased the number of rooms each housekeeper is expected to clean so that they can spend more time in each room.
All Hyatt locations, including Incline Village, are working to become Global Biorisk Advisory Council Star accreditation. GBAC is a gold standard for cleanliness and training for a possible outbreak of COVID-19.
“In some instances, the changes may seem significant but they have been received incredibly well by our guests who appreciate the additional steps we are taking to operate the hotel with the wellbeing of our guests and colleagues in mind,” Murphy said. “Although the experience may look a little different for now, our resort continues to provide a premier waterfront mountain getaway in beautiful North Lake Tahoe.”
There has been some concern that vacation homes do not have the same standards as hotels and casinos and are not being regulated.
South Lake Tahoe City Councilmember Brooke Laine broached the topic during the council’s July 14 meeting.
“It has been noted by many that we’re seeing a flipping of VHRs that I personally have never seen in my 20 years of living next door to a VHR,” Laine said. “In the last three or four weeks, its been a revolving door. One group leaves at 10 o’clock in the morning, the cleaners come at 11:30 and there’s a new group in by 3.”
She continued to say she’s concerned about the cleaners who come in just hours after a group has left to clean and for the next group that comes in just hours after another group has left.
A cleaning company business owner who cleans VHRs and wished to remain anonymous out of fear of losing clients, said they don’t feel safe cleaning the homes.
“There is not enough time between guests to get the house clean,” they said. “The owners or property managers don’t want to spend the extra money to have the house deep cleaned.”
The cleaner said they’ve made multiple complaints to the health department. El Dorado County did not return calls or emails from the Tribune.
However, even if there may be some bad apples, there are some following guidelines.
RnR Vacation Rentals manages 67 properties in the South Lake Tahoe region. According to their marketing manager Molly Richards, who is also a member of their clean task force, they have paid for their cleaners to receive extra training.
“All of our housekeepers are now vacation rental housekeeping professionals certified,” Richards said.
A VRHP certification ensures housekeepers remain up-to-date on best cleaning and management practices.
Richards said they leave a 24 hour buffer between guests leaving and housekeepers going in, even though that is a financial hit for them. After they’ve cleaned, the last person to leave places a seal on the door so the guest knows no one has been in the house since it’s been cleaned.
The lodging industry is getting in the swing of the new protocols and the travel industry is starting to see a slow recovery.
“We continue to see nice demand from patrons looking to escape to the lake, which offers the benefit of nearby outdoor activities and a safe resort experience with heightened sanitation policies,” Barbaro said. “We are pleased with the return to business we are experiencing and expect demand to likely fluctuate over the course of the next few months as everyone continues to adjust to our new normal.”
According to Visit California, the weekly travel spending for California was down 87% in May from last year. In June, there was a 20% increase, which still leaves the weekly spending down 67% from last year.
“While I cannot share proprietary information or specific performance data related to our hotel’s business, we can share that COVID-19 is taking an unforeseeable toll on global travel and impacting the business of many companies around the world,” Murphy said.
Visit California forecasts that by September, travel will still be down 48% from last year.
While these numbers aren’t great, they are an improvement from the hit the travel industry took in March.
Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority and Tahoe Douglas Visitors Authority saw a drop in revenue. The California side was down 51% and Nevada was down 32%. These numbers reflect the fact that the shelter-in-place orders came down in mid-March, so travel was still relatively stable in the beginning of the month.
“As for summer, anecdotal information from our lodging properties would include these comments: optimistic and robust occupancy (remember many properties are building occupancy from about 50% gradually),” said LTVA and LDVA President/CEO Carol Chaplin in an email. “Short booking window, solid mid-week stays, strong weekend business, fall bookings are also strong. This speaks to pent up demand, flexible remote work schedules and a larger range drive market up to 800 miles in radius.”
A survey by Visit California showed that travelers are more comfortable with staycations, road trips and regional travel rather than air travel.
Richards said they are seeing the same thing at their VHRs.
“We’ve seen an increase in people coming from somewhere within driving distance,” Richards said. She also said that with more people able to work remotely, people are staying longer.
While the future is still uncertain, Murphy is confident things will continue to improve.
“I am encouraged by what the future looks like,” Murphy said. “I believe our resort is located in the ideal location for people looking to retreat from the city. The easy drive market makes us very accessible.”
This story first published July 31 by the Tahoe Daily Tribune and is republished here with permission.
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