Hotels Mostly Unscathed by Latest California Wildfires
The ongoing wildfires in Southern California are some of the worst in the state’s history, but few hotels are closing because of the fires; however, hoteliers are concerned about the potential loss of business from canceled and postponed bookings.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Another round of wildfires, this time in Southern California, has displaced thousands of people and burned acres of land, destroying hundreds of buildings. One of the wildfires, the Thomas fire, is said to be the fifth worst in the state’s history of wildfires.
But unlike the wildfires in the Napa Valley and Sonoma areas of the state just months ago, so far this latest round seems to have left most hotels in the region relatively unscathed.
Bobbie Singh-Allen, EVP of the California Lodging Industry Association, said fires in the Santa Barbara and Ventura areas are not fully contained yet, and some hotels there have been evacuated. She’s not aware of any hotels that have sustained damage from the fires, even in the evacuation areas, she said.
“The main concern is the air quality,” she said, as some hotel employees working close to areas with active fires are wearing masks because of the thick smoke.
Hoteliers in the region are worried the news coverage and images on social media give people the impression area is too dangerous to visit, she said, despite the fact that many of the fires are now contained. The roads remain open, most hotels are operational and the Los Angeles International Airport is still open, she said. Visit California is coordinating with other markets to make sure people know the region is still open for business, she said.
Looking at the impact of the fires in Napa and Sonoma, revenue per available room in October was down almost 40% year over year, said Alan Reay, president of Atlas Hospitality Group.
“I think we could see a similar decline in the Santa Barbara/Ojai area,” he said.
Many people who were thinking of traveling or had already booked their trips are likely going to postpone or cancel after watching the news of the fires, he said. The wildfires will definitely affect hotels in the Santa Barbara and Ventura areas for at least the near future, he said.
As with previous natural disasters, hoteliers will see some business from housing displaced locals as well as emergency crews and later insurance claims adjusters and contractors. The Porter Ranch gas leak gave hotels in Southern California a sizeable bump in revenue for as much as six months as residents were displaced, Reay said.
However, with the wildfires in Napa and Sonoma, the business from evacuees and emergency crews did not fully compensate for the loss of tourism in the market, he said.
At this point, it’s too early to tell how much the wildfires will affect hotels in the region, said Jan Freitag, SVP of lodging insights at STR, parent company of Hotel News Now. Hotels will benefit some from taking in evacuees and the crews coming in to help, but the problem is getting guests to come after everything has cleared up, he said.
After the hurricanes in late August and September, the Caribbean had hotels that were open, but they had trouble booking guests because people didn’t realize they were operating. It’s a question of whether or not the hotels and regional marketing associations have money set aside to inform potential guests they are open for business.
Hotel News Now reached out to hotel companies with properties in the Los Angeles area to gauge the impact from the wildfires. Following are statements from companies that responded to this outreach:
Editor’s note: This information will be continually updated as new information and statements are made available.
Updated 1:45 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, 13 December 2017 with statements from Choice Hotels.
Choice Hotels International
As of Wednesday afternoon, Choice Hotels International reported that none of its properties in the affected areas have experienced building damage, injuries or evacuations as a result of the wildfires, but one hotel stopped taking reservations to host displaced residents.
Choice also said via statement that the company is “monitoring the situation closely and customer service representatives are responding to guest inquiries in real time. For more information, guests can call Choice Hotels Customer Relations at 800-300-8800.”
Following a mandatory closure as a result of the wildfires that ravaged Southern California in recent days, Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel, in the Bel-Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, has re-opened. The property is offering substantial rate reductions to evacuees and complimentary shelter to first responders.
“Many of these fires are still blazing and our first responders need a place to rest and regroup as they fight to keep our neighborhood safe,” said Adam Sydenham, regional GM of Luxe Hotels. “As a community-minded property, Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel is open and standing ready with an outstretched hand for our local Southern California residents that need a place to stay.”
With the red-flag warning expected to last through the weekend, the property is providing masks and water bottles to all guests. As a pet-friendly hotel, the Luxe will also accommodate evacuees’ dogs and cats.
Pebblebrook Hotel Trust
“The fires were surprisingly close to the urban areas,” said Raymond Martz, EVP and CFO at Pebblebrook Hotel Trust. “Many hotels in the area, including our W Beverly Hills and Palomar Beverly Hills, were receiving residents who were displaced from their homes due to the fires. Many of the displaced residents left with what they could fit in their cars, including their pets, and whatever they could grab from their homes with little warning.”
He called the situation “very heartbreaking, especially during the holiday season. We hope that the fires are quickly contained and any loss of life and homes is limited. This has been quite a year for natural disasters, between the three hurricanes, fires in Washington state and northern California, and now this.
“One of our managers at the W noted during his drive to work that he could feel the heat from the fires through his car windows on I-405. And he still came to work, not knowing how his house would be there when he came back. That’s the hospitality industry at its best and why the people working in hotels are a different breed.”
Hilton reported no impact from the wildfires to its hotels in the Los Angeles area as of Monday afternoon. The company stated: “We continue to closely monitor the spread of wildfires in Southern California. Our immediate priority remains the safety and security of our guests and team members, and our thoughts are with all those who have been and continue to be affected by these wildfires. All Hilton properties in the area have implemented their emergency preparedness plans, and remain in close contact with local authorities. We continue to monitor the wildfires and will provide updates as more information becomes available. We encourage travelers to visit Hilton.com or contact 1-800-HILTONS for the most up-to-date information regarding reservations and availability.”
Wyndham Hotel Group
Wyndham Hotel Group reported that all of its hotels in the Los Angeles and surrounding area remained open as of Monday afternoon. The company released a statement: “Our hearts go out to all those who have been impacted by the devastating California wildfires. While it remains a fluid situation, we are in close contact with all of our approximately 150 hotels in the surrounding areas and are thankful that, at this time, the vast majority remain unaffected and operational, with no reported closures. We continue to monitor new developments closely and, in the meantime, ask any travelers with questions about existing reservations or in need of additional assistance to contact our Customer Care team at 1-800-407-9832. The safety of guests and staff remains our top priority.”