California was ahead of the curve when it consolidated its travel program in 2010. That decision is paying off during the pandemic as it quickly reacted to housing at-risk healthcare workers, and its effectiveness may prompt other states to follow suit once the crisis passes.
It’s been a busy fortnight for corporate travel agency TravelStore.
Between April 10 and 27, it sold 74,245 room nights.
And for its 215 staff members, there’s been no furloughing, salary cuts, or layoffs, while another of its 100 independent consultants are being kept busy.
Los Angeles-headquartered TravelStore, which has eight stores, is the only authorized travel management service provider for all of the state of California’s government travel — and the bookings are coming from healthcare workers.
“When the governor announced an initiative to help healthcare workers, and get them hotel lodgings so they’re not having to go home, it was a natural fit for them to reach out to TravelStore. We got things going quickly,” Trudy Flores, its senior vice-president, general manager for northern California, told Skift.
“It’s been very rewarding for us. We’ve had people on the phone in tears, telling us they’ve done double or triple shifts, that they’ve been sleeping in their car.”
It’s a similar story to the UK’s Click Travel, which pivoted to managing travel for crisis workers last month.
The state is picking up the tab for the rooms and tax. To be eligible for the Non-Congregate Sheltering for California Healthcare Workers Program, participants must work at a health care facility in California; have possible exposure to patients or individuals who may have Covid-19 documented by a state or county public health official or medical professional; and not have the ability to self-isolate or quarantine at home.
There are some 300 hotels in California involved in the program. When it began, just seven counties took part, but today all 58 counties are participating.
The fact TravelStore was able to house so many workers so quickly is due to a decision the state took in 2010 to consolidate its travel management program. Before that, California used almost a hundred travel providers, Flores recalls.
“I have to give the state of California a lot of credit. They try to work similar to any corporation, in terms of dollar saving and technology, in how they buy travel. And it’s definitely benefited them over the years,” she said.
“The relationship’s already there, we knew what they needed in terms of reporting and recorded. You can work very fast when someone’s already working with you.”
Flores, whose travel career spans 40 years, believes there are only a few other states — Georgia, Colorado and Texas — that have consolidated in such a way.
Unfortunately, business is still good. “We’re booking everyday still,” she added. “So far, we haven’t really noticed a slowdown. Hopefully we’ll come up with a cure or something, and we can all move on with our lives.”
California continues to record increases in cases, and as of April 29 there were 46,500 cases, and1,887 fatalities.
However, the state’s consolidated approach to health workers and accommodation can only help in the battle against the pandemic.
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Photo credit: Members of the Los Angele Fire Department wear protective equipment as they conduct a new coronavirus test on a woman, left, in the Skid Row district in Los Angeles. Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press