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With summer quickly approaching, Americans are starting to reconsider their vacation plans. However, the continued threat of the coronavirus pandemic makes it difficult to determine whether it’s safe to travel. Restrictions are slowly being amended, making summer vacations a possibility, but the pandemic also brings up the question: What will be the new normal in travel?
CompareCards turned to Tamara Mims, president of Four Sisters Inns, to see how she is preparing her properties for a safe guest experience.
“More intimately sized boutique properties like the Four Sisters Inns are able to change and adapt very quickly to fit guests’ needs, as well as the needs of our team members,” she said. The ability of boutique hotels to adapt quickly is particularly helpful in this pandemic, where new protocols for cleanliness, contactless payments and social distancing need to be implemented immediately.
Q: Upon re-opening, how will you give guests peace of mind that your accommodations uphold a high level of safety and cleanliness?
Tamara Mims: All of the 16 Four Sisters Inns are in California, and all are now certified by the California Hotel & Lodging Association (CHLA) under their new Clean + Safe standards. Incorporating recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the California Department of Public Health and county health departments throughout the state, CHLA has established new standards for changing guest experiences, as well as for safety and cleanliness for both guests and team members.
Q: How do the Four Sisters Inns plan to increase contactless policies regarding the check-in process, payment methods and room service upon re-opening?
Tamara Mims: We’ve completely reinvented – and elevated – the complimentary amenities included. For example, breakfast at most of the inns has always been presented as a buffet, where guests serve themselves. Now, we’ll be delivering breakfast directly to guest rooms, or inviting guests to make table reservations in advance for the inns’ sitting rooms, outdoor patios, etc., with breakfast plated and served.
Our long-time traditions have included help-yourself cookie jars in the lobbies of each inn, kept full of freshly baked treats, and wine and cheese buffets offered every evening. Going forward, guests will receive wine and cheese mini-picnics, each including a split of their choice of red or white wine, a cheese plate for two and our freshly baked cookies. Guests can take this with them as they explore the destination, or savor the picnic in their private guestrooms.
Our team members will be telephoning our guests three days prior to their arrival, to have a more thorough conversation regarding changes and expectations. This is also when we will collect payment, so there is no passing credit cards back and forth upon arrival. We will be implementing Express Pre-Arrival check-in, and a new texting service with guests. These three action items – phone call, pre-arrival check-in and texting capability – will enable us to limit the time we need to physically interact while social distancing is required.
Q: In the aftermath of the pandemic, what are the long-term advantages or challenges that boutique hotels have compared to large chains? What might be the “new normal” of travel and vacation?
Tamara Mims: It’s much faster to turn a sailboat than a battleship. The same principle is at play with lodging options; a 12-room boutique inn can adapt relatively quickly. None of us has a crystal ball right now, but at Four Sisters Inns, we do have confidence that we will be able to adjust and adapt as the situation changes in the months ahead. Personal service has always been our hallmark, an asset that will matter more than ever now.
Q: What tips would you have for future guests to navigate a “new normal” in travel?
Tamara Mims: I would suggest that when they are ready to travel again, guests start with drive-only destinations, concentrating on shorter-distance getaways. For example, guests who live in Los Angeles can be nestled in an ocean-view room at our Blue Lantern Inn in Dana Point in a little over an hour, but the environment is completely different. Or do a true “staycation” and head to the Inn at Playa Del Rey; it’s just four miles from LAX. They can walk to the beach, sip wine on their private balcony…it will feel like a true vacation because it is, but without the long haul to get there, nor the need to enter an airport and sit on a plane. Similarly, San Francisco Bay Area guests can get to our properties in the Monterey Bay or Wine Country regions within just a couple hours.
Guests should also do their research before picking a destination or specific accommodations. Call the inn directly – our team members at each inn can tell you exactly which room is best for you, because they are on site, not in some distant call center.
Many of our inns have rooms with private, outside entrances, such as our Kenwood Inn & Spa in Sonoma Valley, Milliken Creek Inn in Napa or the Sailor Suite rooms at our Newport Beach Hotel; there is no need to enter the hotel lobby before checking in to these rooms. This makes them especially ideal lodging choices now. Guests will also get the best deal when booking directly with the inns, and will find it much easier to make changes to the reservation should that become necessary.
Four Sisters Inns is a collection of 16 boutique hotels located in California and include the following:
- Healdsburg Inn on the Plaza, Healdsburg
- Kenwood Inn & Spa, Kenwood
- Gaige House + Ryokan, Glen Ellen
- Inn at Sonoma, Sonoma
- Lavender, Yountville
- Maison Fleurie, Yountville
- Milliken Creek Inn, Napa
- West Cliff Inn, Santa Cruz
- Green Gables Inn, Pacific Grove
- Gosby House Inn, Pacific Grove
- Coachman’s Inn, Carmel-by-the-Sea
- Channel Road Inn, Santa Monica
- Inn at Playa del Rey, Playa Del Rey
- Hotel Casa 425, Claremont
- Newport Beach Hotel, Newport Beach
- Blue Lantern Inn, Dana Point