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Traveling During a Pandemic – Part II

In the second of a three-part series, our Business Traveler observer finds the LA state of mind a little altered by the virus

Ed. Note: Everybody is curious about what it’s like to be traveling in the midst of the pandemic. Jerry Ruud is the Managing Director of Business Traveler and no stranger to life on the road. In this, the first of a three part story, Jerry shares his first-hand observations of recent trip he and his family took.

Our family trip was originally to have been a vacation to St. Thomas in early June, but that got scrubbed because of COVID-19. So instead my wife and I, and one of our college-age daughters, headed out to California to spend 10 days at the Marriott Newport Coast Villas, a place where we’ve spent a few weeks every year for the past 15-plus years.

National Car Rental – LAX

After we landed at Los Angeles International and got our bags, we headed out to the National Car Rental bus stop. On the bus National had every other seat blocked off to encourage social distancing. Our bus – which is normally packed – was a little less than half full.

When we got to the off-airport location, I was surprised to find a very small selection of cars available. When I asked the employees about it, they explained that when the pandemic hit, they had everyone returning cars and no one renting any. This location ended up moving most of their cars off-site in order to have room to operate. The selection was less than I was used to, but the employees said they bring back ample cars for their current business – so customers need not be alarmed).

The only ‘complaint’ I might have had is that our car smelled like Lysol or whatever cleaning products they used. It was fairly strong but hyper-clean rental cars are part of the “new normal” we’re going to be living in – at least for a while.

My drop-off experience was exactly the same as usual, with the exception there were a lot fewer people around and the shuttle bus that normally drops me off at my hotel was not operational (I did catch a ride on the airport return bus that dropped me close to my hotel).

Marriott Newport Coast Time Share – Newport Coast, CA

As the pandemic rules kick in for those in the “timeshare network,” so things will vary from location to location depending on local regulations, but our experience for this part of the trip was pretty much as we’re used to.

Some differences were that only one person from your traveling party was allowed into the main office for check-in. Also the property did not have concierge services available. Furthermore, at this location you were not allowed to change out your room if there was an issue or problem (whether they had another option available or not). This has to do with Marriott’s “cleaning protocol” and a smaller staff than usual on property.

Our room was clean and like the rental car, had a strong scent of cleaning products. This particular resort doesn’t have an indoor restaurant but the restaurant at the main pool was open with a limited menu.

All of the Jacuzzi’s were closed on the property, as well as the workout facilities, day spa, rec room, kids play areas and there were no activities during our stay, a departure from more normal times for this resort (we’ve stayed here every year for almost two decades).

We did get a few text messages during the week to share that certain pools were “full” when they hit their 50 percent capacity limit but otherwise the trip seemed fairly normal. I would say a difference was that almost all of other guests were Americans while typically this resort would see many guests from other countries staying here for multiple weeks (or even months) during the summer.

LAX Renaissance Hotel

Since I’m a creature of habit, this has been my “go to” place for 20-plus years of traveling to LA. It is very convenient for getting in late and/or leaving early. For my own part, I don’t like to change hotels often if it is avoidable so this has been my launching pad, and for many other colleagues and competitors over the years as it is walking distance to a key client.

Right away I noted one concession to the COVID crisis – the usual valet service was not an option. I did use the attached garage next to the property and was surprised to find it mostly full. However, as I drove up the various levels, I realized most of the cars had been there a long time (they were really dusty). My guess is that the garage has a deal with either one of the nearby rental car companies or someone else to store cars while they are not in use.

This hotel did not have their concierge lounge open so I received a free breakfast certificate at the bar which offered some breakfast options. The main restaurant was closed but the breakfast selection was sufficient for a quick meal prior to starting my workday.

Another interesting point was at check-in, this property was not cleaning the room daily unless you made an appointment to do so. They asked what time I wanted the service performed, and someone took care of it then. I did request new towels and they ended up replacing them as well as tiding up my room while I was gone.

Except for being relatively vacant, there were no other big differences than my normal stay (again, I did get upgraded to a suite which is not always possible but one of the few perks to traveling in these very strange times).

Tomorrow: Denver, Then Homeward Bound