Hoteliers Share Dispatches from California Wildfires: “This Is Not Over”

Editor’s Note: This story will be updated as the news progresses.

NAPA VALLEY, CA—The wildfires are still raging in the region, causing the death toll to climb, evacuations of homes and businesses, as well as the shut down of hotels and resorts in Napa and Sonoma Valleys.

Impact on Hotels

For many businesses in the area, the situation is constantly changing. In some cases, it’s hour by hour due to the direction of the winds. At this moment, it’s about keeping people safe and out of harm’s way.

“We know of three properties that have had damage or been destroyed and anticipate that there could be more. Hilton Sonoma and Fountaingrove Inn have been destroyed and Olea Hotel has lost several cabins,” said Lynn Mohrfeld, president and CEO of California Hotel & Lodging Association. “If hotels are open, they are helping out as best as possible. However, evacuations and staffing are also causing issues for hotels. Those employees in the immediate vicinity are in the midst of the fires and those from outside the areas are having challenges getting to their properties. The fires grew overnight and weather is expected to get windy and dry again, after a reprieve of a couple of days. This is not over.”

In addition, there are other closures: Hilton Garden Inn Napa, Hilton Garden Inn Santa Rosa, Napa Airport, Calistoga Spa Hot Springs, Carneros Resort & Spa, Poetry Inn and Silverado Resort & Spa.

Meadowood Napa Valley in St. Helena is also closed and currently isn’t in immediate danger. Jennifer Chiesa, media relations director for the luxury resort, shared this update with Hotel Business:

“Our main concern is always, first and foremost, the safety and security of our staff, members and guests. This morning it was all about making sure our team and remaining guests departed safely,” said Chiesa. “Our hearts and prayers continue to go out to all of our neighbors, friends and colleagues who have been affected and those currently in harm’s way, as well as the very brave firefighters and first responders who are battling all of the fires right now. Thank you to the local authorities.”

Visit Napa Valley’s website (https://www.visitnapavalley.com/emergency/) is continuously being updated with information on the region, including closures and reopenings.

Room Pricing

The California Hotel & Lodging Association issued a proactive reminder to its members about room pricing, stating: For 30 days after a disaster emergency is declared, it is unlawful for a person to sell or offer a hotel room for a price more than 10% above the price charged immediately prior to the declaration, according to California Penal Code 396. Mohrfeld encouraged hoteliers to reach out with any questions or concerns.

“I’ve seen zero evidence of anything like this. In fact, I’ve seen exactly the opposite with hotels going the extra mile. We’re all trying to do the right thing here and this is something important for the industry to be reminded,” said Mohrfeld.

The Meritage Resort and Spa isn’t currently in an evacuation zone. The resort’s team is in constant communication with fire and local officials and is providing support to those who are displaced.

“The Meritage Resort and Spa isn’t an official evacuation center; however, we’re offering a reduced rate of $99 to area residents displaced by the fires and to first responders,” said Andrew Bradley, marketing and communications manager for the resort. “We are providing a lounge for area residents who have been displaced by the fires—they do not have to be staying with us. The lounge includes WiFi, charging stations, coffee, water, light snacks/meals and TVs showing news coverage.”

Communication & Relief Efforts

According to Caroline Beteta, president/CEO of Visit California, a nonprofit based in Sacramento that develops and maintains marketing programs in partnership with the state’s travel industry, the organization has activated its crisis communications plan.

“Our website, call center and social media channels are communicating accurate and up-to-date information to potential visitors around the world. Our network of international offices is analyzing media coverage to inform ongoing response efforts. All 13 international offices are working with travel trade partners in each market, providing the latest information on areas impacted by the fires. We remain in close contact with the governor’s office and the Office of Emergency Services (OES), among others,” she said.

Beteta stated the OES has recommended only financial donations at this stage of the crisis, noting there are limited locations to warehouse supplies or other items. For those looking to donate items, she said OES recommends making donations to Goodwill, Salvation Army or a similar organization that can stockpile goods.

“As with any crisis, our thoughts are with residents in the affected areas and the first responders who bravely rush into danger to protect life and property. We are incredibly grateful for their work,” Beteta added.

The team at Visit California has compiled a partial list of organizations that are working to help the affected communities recover. Some of the groups also are looking for volunteer help. These include California Volunteers United Way of the Wine Country, Community Foundation of Sonoma County, Napa Valley Community Foundation, American Red Cross, The Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership, Napa and Sonoma County Fire Relief Go Fund Me, Redwood Empire Food Bank and Redwood Credit Union.

“Unfortunately, it’s too early to tell what the impact on tourism will be from these terrible fires in our state,” said Jennifer Sweeney, Visit California’s director of public relations, in an email.

“Our thoughts are with everyone affected by the fires, and we’ll continue to help offer updates on any changes that may impact the visitor experience,” said Beteta.

Stefani C. O’Connor, Corris Little and CJ Arlotta contributed to this article.

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