Now that summer is over and the school year has begun, local hotels want to encourage working-from-home adults and students who are distance learning to mix a little business with pleasure.

Through unique packages that include logistical amenities like fully equipped work spaces and connecting rooms for families, a number of San Diego-based hospitality companies are hoping to entice locals and those within the drive-in market to trade in their home offices and/or virtual learning set-ups for their luxury digs.

With business travel still down, the hope is that hotels, which are now just seeing an uptick in leisure weekend reservations, can increase traffic during the week by incorporating desirable options for today’s COVID-19 climate.

Good Option

“Since there is no group business right now, we are trying to find ways to cater to the leisure traveler and for people to come stay with us through the week,” said George Allen, area director of sales and marketing for San Diego Mission Bay Resort. “It feels like a good option for someone stuck in a house in Los Angeles and trying to teach a 10-year-old how to do Common Core to come to Mission Bay, do distance learning from the hotel room, then jump on bikes and ride for 2 miles on Mission Bay, get lunch and then go for a dip in the pool.”

Dubbed the “Work by the Bay” and the “Distance Learning” packages, the 18-acre resort’s offerings begin at $185 per night and include guest room accommodations, $25 daily food and beverage credit and complimentary parking.

Fill a Need

Andrew Ladd, director of sales and marketing at the Kona Kai Resort & Spa, said the property decided to launch its “Work from Hotel” and “School at the Pool” programs to fill a need considering the coronavirus crisis.

“We simply found an opportunity for folks to get out of their environment, stay for one night and work from the hotel,” he said. “This gives folks the opportunity to come to the resort, be outside working on the courtyard, at our pool, and when the children get a break, swim for a while and then go for an ice cream cone.”

Starting at $374, “Work from Hotel” includes a $75 food and beverage credit, complimentary coffee all day, Wi-Fi, parking and priority poolside lounge reservations with Sun Care Kits. “School at the Pool” starts at $469 and includes a two-hour cabana rental with fruit, snacks and bottled water, two complimentary ice cream cones for kids, two kids’ lunches and a s’mores kit.

Mike Staples, general manager at the Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa, located by Mission Bay, said his venue’s “Work, Stay, Play” package allows guests to enjoy all the resort amenities and activities without having to take a day off of work.

“Many companies now operate remotely and some may decide to continue to do so even after restrictions are eased,” he said. “The change of environment also has shown greater health benefits, which leads to improved productivity and work/life balance during these times.”

“Work, Stay, Play” starts at $212 and can be booked Monday through Thursday. It includes 7 a.m. check-in, to get an early start on the workday, and a late 12 p.m. check-out the following day. Guest rooms will include Surf Seat desks that are portable and can be moved poolside or beachside. With parents in mind, kids eat free under this promotion.

Catamaran is also offering “Play a Little Longer,” which starts at $179 and is available seven days a week with a two-night minimum and a 24-hour cancellation policy, for last minute changes. It includes a two-hour bike, surrey, paddleboard or surfboard rental. Kids also eat free on this plan.

“We are here to serve our guests and our offerings are designed to reflect their needs,” said Jim Chester, general manager at Bahia Resort Hotel, also on Mission Bay, which is offering the same two programs. “New packages like ‘Play a Little Longer’ cater to the working parent or student who are now remote and deserve a Mission Bay adventure.”

For those who want to get some golf in between work or studies, The Lodge at Torrey Pines has the “Business to a Tee” campaign. It starts at $730, can be booked from Monday to Thursday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., and includes a preferred tee time, guest rooms overlooking the Torrey Pines Golf Course and the use of the business center.

“Business from the Balcony,” another Lodge offering, starts at $195, can be booked the same days and same times as “Tee,” and includes all of the same accommodations minus the tee time.

“The Business from the Balcony idea was first introduced in June as a program we developed for our group sales team to stay connected with our meetings and conference planners during a time when we are unable to do any kind of entertaining or on-property site inspections,” said Ilsa Butler, chief marketing officer at Evans Hotels, which owns The Lodge. “The package was so well-received by media and meeting planners, we opened it up to the public and invited our connections to share the package with the community.”

Reimagining the Guest Experience

Caryn Laveman, director of marketing at the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego, said with convention business at a halt due to the pandemic, the hotel knew it had to reimagine its guest experience.

“One of the things we immediately saw was our premium place on the 33rd floor, the highest floor in our hotel, the tallest waterfront building in the city, which has office spaces that seat up to 10 with beautiful views,” she said. “This is a phenomenal space for someone working from home to come work at a hotel. Similarly, for students that are not able to go away for college but don’t want to be home, it’s a great place to come and study and get space for themselves while enjoying the amenities.”

Manchester’s “Work from Hotel” is broken into two categories, Laveman said: a day-use room from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for $99 and a 33rd floor space rental for $125 for four hours or $200 for a full day. The latter includes the use of technology and audiovisual equipment, she said, and both include Wi-Fi and food and beverage credits.

La Valencia Hotel in La Jolla is offering day-use “offices” via a program called “Offices by the Ocean.” According to the hotel, guests can set up their work spaces at La Valencia for the day in newly renovated vintage king guest rooms for $75 plus taxes. The plan is single occupancy only and is available Monday through Thursday.

A Change of Scenery

The Sheraton Carlsbad Resort and The Cassara, also in Carlsbad, recently announced their “Work, Learn and Play” packages, specifically encouraging guests with children who have been cooped up at home to change scenery.

The “Studio Package” includes a king bedroom studio with a separate connecting room with two twin beds, a shared bathroom and three TVs. There’s also a workstation for mom and/or dad and a mobile workstation for kids for portability.

“We have all been faced with so much change that when the team brainstormed on our staycation package offerings, we all contributed a bit of our own story to fully encompass what the leisure traveler is looking for after quarantine,” said Julie Zahner, corporate director of area sales at the Sheraton Carlsbad Resort. What they came up with is “cleanliness, safety, spacious accommodations, coastal views and the pristine Carlsbad beach, with championship golf, hiking, (and) water sports just to name a few, combined in an approach with our new norm of remote work, learn and time for play.”

Charity Deschaine, corporate director of revenue and marketing at The Cassara, said the hotel is targeting guests within the drive market like Los Angeles, Orange County and, of course, San Diego, but also Nevada and Arizona residents who are looking to get away locally without traveling too far from home due to travel concerns and restrictions.

As a result of the pivot, marketing efforts have shifted as well, she said.

“Guests feel safer and more comfortable traveling within their own transportation, to a safe destination near home and within their budgets,” Deschaine said.

“Marketing spend has slightly increased as demand to be competitive and top of mind is extremely high. (This includes) paid search, digital marketing, social, influence and print.”

Vacation Time

Harold Rapoza, general manager of the Hotel del Coronado, said the iconic resort is offering two packages promoting staycations and targeting travelers from neighboring cities and states.

Geared toward guests who are driving to the resort, “The SoCal Escape” includes complimentary parking and resort fee and is valid through Dec. 22. There’s also the “Week in Paradise.” This is an extended stay offer that targets those who are working from home and need a change of pace; or families who are distance learning and want to add some vacation time between Zoom classes.

So far, the response from the public has been encouraging, Rapoza said, with the drive-in market being responsible for nearly all of Hotel del Coronado’s business these days.

“As we started learning about school plans for fall and the likelihood that distance learning would continue, we started thinking that this could be a way that people might extend the summer vacation that either got cut short or as a way to give people a much-needed escape from being at home all the time,” he said. “The ‘Week in Paradise’ package was created with the idea that these audiences would get a great value for a full week, so they don’t have to travel on a day when they also are trying to do work/school. And it would also give them ample time to play after their work is done.”

Overworked, Under-Socialized Adults

Tribal resorts are also getting creative with their offerings in response to COVID.

Harrah’s Resort Southern California, located in Valley Center, recently launched the “Weekday Work-Cation,” which is valid from Monday through Thursday and is available via two tiers. The “Executive Class” comes with choice of Resort King or Oh So Suite room, $20 in food and beverage credits, free cabana rental, and complimentary mini pool for foot soaking while web surfing. The “Business Class” is a more basic option, with Wi-Fi and choice of Resort King or Oh So Suite room.

Amber Lussier, director of resort marketing, said the programs were created with the overworked, under-socialized adult in mind.

“So many are finding themselves at home, working harder than ever, and not having a normal social life,” she said. “These packages allow for work to be done but in a fun way, which is something we all need more of.”

In-Room Fitness

Pendry San Diego, a boutique hotel located in the Gaslamp Quarter, is also getting in on the fun.

Its “Spa, Relax & Revive” package is a quick staycation option, according to Victorio Gonzalez, general manager. A getaway for one night will include a $60 daily breakfast credit to use in-room or at Provisional Kitchen, Café & Mercantile; a $160 spa credit to Spa Pendry, offering both indoor and outdoor treatments; and complimentary parking. Additionally, thanks to the in-room fitness bonus, Pendry Suites will now include fitness equipment, like indoor rowing machines or ellipticals.

Partially due to the additions, Pendry has been able to bring a considerable amount of its associates back to work since reopening in mid-June, said Gonzalez.

“It is very important for the public to know that we love and need their support for our hotels and restaurants,” he said. “Their patronage keeps our associates employed and businesses open.”

Residents Want to Vacation

Kierstin Rielly, Innovate78 program manager at the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp., said the region has been lucky in that San Diegans want to take time off in their hometown.

“Though hospitality employment has taken the brunt of COVID-19 economic impacts, we’re fortunate to live in a region where even the residents want to ‘vacation’ and help bootstrap the tourism industry,” she said.

To Rielly’s point, Nate Kelley, research manager at the San Diego Regional EDC, said San Diego’s accommodation sector is holding its own despite another spike in cases. Hotels in particular are closing out the summer on a “high note,” he said, with the supply of rooms within striking distance of pre-COVID levels as of mid-August. The average daily rate for rooms is climbing back somewhat, Kelley added, at about $150 per night. That’s up 67.4% from COVID lows in early May, he said.

“As of the July employment report, accommodation employment rested at 17,800, up 43.4% from May’s low of 12,400,” said Kelley. “Given that expected hotel revenues, measured by the room supply multiplied by average daily rates, are just 16.5% below pre-COVID levels, employment should quickly follow.”

Stay Diego

To aid with the local hotels’ efforts, Julie Coker, president and CEO at the San Diego Tourism Authority, said SDTA launched “Stay Diego,” which calls on locals to staycation and enjoy all that San Diego has to offer, all the while supporting the region’s tourism and hospitality businesses.

With the missing critical component of business travel, which the San Diego Convention Center and group meetings provide, especially as it pertains to weekday occupancy and room rates, the city is banking on locals and those within driving distance to step up and support the local tourism economy.

“We want San Diegans to support our local tourism economy by safely spending a night or a weekend in our hotels,” she said, “by dining in our restaurants, by shopping at our stores, and by having fun at our beaches and bays and other attractions like Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo. We are asking locals to make new memories here while providing an economic boost to our hospitality business and our economy.”

Betsy Brennan, president and CEO at the Downtown San Diego Partnership, concurs.

“Tourism is an incredible driver for revenue for many of our primary industries,” she said. “At the same time, many of those potential customers are actively seeking novel experiences they can access without having to travel too far and opportunities for their tourism dollars to support their own communities. These packages are a creative way to meet the needs of customers, fill some of the gap created in tourism revenue, and continue to position … San Diego as the attractive, fun place to visit, dine and stay that we know it to be.