Skift Take

This high number of hotel bookings is testament to the work being doing by the State of California via its healthcare worker program, but also reveals the magnitude of the battle it faces.

California’s hotels are still playing a major role in the ongoing fight to contain the spread of the pandemic, but there’s still much more to be done.

The state’s designated corporate travel agency, Travelstore, has seen no let-up in managing accommodation for workers on the frontline since Skift talked to its senior vice-president in April.

As the virus began to spread across in the U.S., Travelstore’s team of 215 staff members, and another of its 100 independent consultants initially worked on safely housing medical staff and care workers.

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But its customers now include thousands of inmates, who need to be quarantined after early releases from infected prisons. Farm workers are also being booked into hotels to reduce their exposure to Covid-19.

More than 5 million people in the U.S. have tested positive for coronavirus and more than 160,000 have died. California, with more than 600,000 confirmed cases, has overtaken New York as the nation’s highest count.

“Quite a bit has changed since April. The program has expanded hugely,” Trudy Flores, TravelStore’s senior vice-president, general manager for northern California, told Skift.

The agency originally worked with hotels in 21 counties, but that has since grown to all 58 counties. Over the past four months alone it has booked 650,000 room nights across the 2,000 hotels that make up the healthcare worker program, equating to a $70 million spend, all paid for by the State of California.

“It’s more than usual for just hotels. If we were booking air and car and hotel with it, that number isn’t so impressive,” Flores said.

Virtual Progress

One of the requirements for hotels to join the program was they had to accept virtual payments.

In the past, Flores said many properties have been “kicking and scratching” against accepting this type of payment.

“They want us to fill out this manual form, and send it in …. you have always had the difficulty of who’s at the front counter, and do they know if this little piece of paper that said it’s pre-paid really means it’s pre-paid,” Flores said. “We’ve made huge strides with this program. If a hotel wants some of the revenue for a booking from all healthcare workers, they need to accept virtual payments.”

Trudy Flores, TravelStore’s senior vice-president, general manager for northern California.

Their acceptance is important because it means crisis workers don’t pay for the accommodation out of their own pocket, and then wait for the state to reimburse them. “And that’s a whole accounting nightmare anyway,” Flores added.

She also pays tribute to the work being done by the Department of General Services’ travel department, and Bill Amaral, business partnership and travel manager, in particular.

“They’re very progressive,” Flores said. “When it comes to travel, they want the state be operated like a private company.”

For her own business, it’s business as usual. The agency did six layoffs, while seven employees took early separation packages. The remaining staff continue to focus on an ever-expanding healthcare program, playing their part in a battle no one would have dared to imagine would last so long.

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Tags: business travel, california, coronavirus, hotels, travelstore

Photo credit: Naval Medical Center, San Diego. Official U.S. Navy Page / Flickr

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