Returning To The Road: My First Travel Experiences
I’ve recently returned from two trips, my first following the COVID-19 quarantine. One was a 2 day business trip, the other a week long stay at an AirBnb to visit my folks and provide some summer vacation for my family.
I’m going to recap my experiences, specifically focusing on how travel to these two types of lodging were in the COVID era. What they did and didn’t do, what was different and how it impacted my travels.
Sadly for this trip I did not need to rent a car or fly. Whenever I have travels that require either I’ll get another post up about that experience.
My business trip wasn’t far. It was to meet with some manufacturing experts. It was also a great opportunity to work in some live, in hotel testing for Go Connect as part of the Alpha testing.
My visit included a stay at a Marriott Resort. I’ll admit I only did basic research before choosing the hotel. I looked to make sure there was some food available, since the hotel was not in a big city. I also wanted to be sure enough amenities were available to entertain my family. I brought them along because it was summer and the opportunity presented itself. In fact, as a way to strike a better balance between work and personal life if there is ever an opportunity to bring my family on a trip, I do it.
I have stayed at this particular Marriott before, so I had some level of expectation. However, it was clear things were different. It was peak season yet the place felt oddly sparse. Also, as I pulled up I noticed no valet.
Checking in employees were all wearing masks, but few guests were. As part of the check-in we got asked the standard elite status questions. Do you want breakfast or points? We took the points, with no breakfast buffet and not a big breakfast eater we determined it wasn’t worth it. I was also asked about the welcome gift, which was additional points.
They advised me that the restaurant was open, but only for breakfast. Food was otherwise available for To-Go at the bar. I also later discovered that there was no room service. While not a huge burden, I was surprised I was not advised this when checking in.
When entering the room it was clearly well cleaned. However, there were no visible signs that room was sanitized. No notes or stickies anywhere regarding this. Given Marriott and other hotel chains emphasis on extra sanitation steps this was a bit of a surprise.
Another obvious difference was there were no table books or other potentially high touch items. I didn’t go digging in the drawers for a bible, but have heard they are generally here. The remote did have a rubber cover on it, one of the few things different as opposed to absent.
Our room was a suite, because I was traveling with my family. It included a kitchen area with fridge, microwave and stove top. However, there were no dishes, silverware or serving utensils. Our trip was short enough it didn’t matter to us, but had we been there purely as a personal trip it would have been disappointing not to be able to take advantage of those facilities. It may have been possible that they were available with a call to the front desk.
Otherwise the room was typical. It was an updated room with Marriott Internet TVs. One surprise from my previous visit here is the Internet TV now has an Amazon Prime app. I always bring my own streaming sticks so I’m not limited to what the Internet TV offers, but it was nice to see them adding new streaming channels.
The primary draw at this hotel for the family was the pool. There were a handful of signs encouraging people to socially distance, but otherwise relatively few other reminders of anything going on.
The entire main pool, kiddie splash park and slide were open. There was an additional adults only pool which was not obviously closed but I saw nobody in it. The pool was relatively uncrowded most of the time. It was easy to maintain distance. However, with my trip wrapping up on a Friday we visited the pool just before leaving. Around noon as the weekend crowd came in the pool got pretty crowded.
We spoke to a number of people around the pool briefly. There were few masks (other than swimming googles). It was crowded for my expectations, but not crowded for how I’ve seen this hotel pool in the summer before when there was hardly room to move.
The hotel also offers tennis courts and golf. Since this was a business trip I didn’t have time. The golf course was very active. Tennis courts appeared open but I did not see anyone there the entire time.
As I mentioned in the beginning there was only a single restaurant open at a time. The hotel restaurant inside was only open for breakfast. This appeared to be as much a cost saving move given the low occupancy rate.
In the afternoon the outdoor pool bar would open. They sold food, though with a limited menu of primarily bar fare like burgers, wings, and sandwiches. There were a number of well spaced outside tables outside if you wanted to eat there. There was no table service. Everything was ordered at the bar and given as “To-Go”.
All of the employees at the bar and restaurant wore masks religiously. There were markings in the queue at the bar noting 6 foot spacing to help people keep their distance. As we’ve noted few people wore masks, but I did not see anyone who didn’t at least maintain the 6 foot spacing.
Most employees wore masks but there were a few who did not. THis surprised me a little. One of the lifeguards who was responsible for the waterslide did not wear a mask at all. Most others did.
My overall impression is that people were aware and respectful of the COVID outbreak, but not consumed by it. There are lots of opportunity to debate the right and wrongs of not following policy. While I have my own, strong feelings, I felt the important thing was to provide the information and let anyone reading decide how the hotel met their own personal standards. Knowing Marriott has specific standards they are promoting, my impression was that execution was not consistent at this property. I suspect it does vary owner to owner, property by property, market by market.
Family Summer Trip
The second trip I took was to Western North Carolina to let my kids spend a week at a place with a pool. We live in the city so these are always great opportunities for the kids to have some fun. Given the challenges with traveling right now this was an easy way to get away without complication.
The first difference that immediately stuck out is how many people wore masks. We stopped for lunch, sitting at a patio and yet most restaurant patrons wore masks until they were seated at the table. This included people sitting inside and out. Employees all wore masks.
While I didn’t have big expectations of a lot of COVID acknowledgement in the Airbnb it was interesting to note there was zero mention. Neither our host prior to checking in, nor any notes or comments left in the house indicated anything different was done to prepare for our visit.
The house we rented had a number of books, DVDs, remotes and other high touch elements still in place. Unlike the Marriott we stayed just few days before there was no obvious effort to limit the number of high touch surfaces.
As we noted in our June Development Blog we have been doing live testing of our Go Connect device. We had a chance to use it during our stay. While we certainly found a few bugs that we reported back to the team, this stay was a great example of why a product like ours exists. While the kids were here for the pool, my wife and I both had significant work to do.
The WiFi was TERRIBLE and I mean T-E-R-R-I-B-L-E. While the internet was good enough to stream, it was inconsistent and painful for working. When Working From Anywhere its really grinds after a while when the WiFi is bad. Simple things work, but when you can’t regularly do what you need to do it is hard to keep productivity up.
While the Go Connect did great at helping to make things easier and smoothing things out, there is still more we can and should do to smooth out the experience. I can only imagine how many other people suffer and struggle trying to do the same thing.
Overall AirBnb Experience
Of course, this isn’t to say they didn’t sanitize the place prior to our arrival. There simply was no mention of it and there did not appear to be any special effort made to remove items that could be high transmission items.
Ultimately we did some sanitizing ourselves to ensure we were comfortable. This takes on some new importance in a COVID world, but its something we often do when using AirBnb’s. In our experience the cleaning is hit or miss.
In the end on both trips we enjoyed ourselves while doing what we needed to do to ensure we were safe. We also want to be sure we are not contributing to the spread. While most of us are healthy, we have high risk members in our household. I also think it shows respect for other people who may not be as immune or tolerant if there is a problem.