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Want to get away for a hotel stay in Southern California? You can’t, says Gov. Newsom

Paradise Point resort.
Paradise Point resort was one of the many San Diego County hotels that reopened in June following a months-long closure during the early days of the pandemic. They will now have to close their doors once again to leisure travelers under a new state stay-at-home order.
(Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Amid continued confusion over the state’s COVID-19 stay-home order, state officials clarify that overnight stays are permitted for essential workers, but not for leisure guests for at least the next three weeks

If there was any confusion as to who can and cannot stay in hotels under the state’s regional stay-at-home order that went into effect Sunday night, California Gov. Gavin Newsom cleared it up Monday morning.

If you want to get away for a leisure stay, forget about it. Overnight lodging is verboten for anyone but essential workers.

In the days since state officials warned last week that much of California was headed for a COVID-19 lockdown reminiscent of the early days of the pandemic, the public, along with the lodging industry, hadn’t been entirely clear on what that meant for those parts of the state where available intensive care unit capacity had fallen below 15 percent. So far, the Southern California region and San Joaquin Valley have hit that threshold, and several San Francisco Bay Area counties have voluntarily chosen to embrace the order as well.

Responding to a question from the Union-Tribune during a Monday morning news conference about what the order means for overnight hotel stays, Newsom answered, “The protocol the state put out maintains that it is essential only, lodging can be open for essential workers only. Not for tourists, not for leisure and only for those areas that have fallen into those (ICU capacity) categories.”

Mark Ghaly, the state secretary of Health and Human Services, echoed Newsom’s remarks, reiterating that the state is asking the public to “not travel for leisure” because the overarching point of the latest order, he said, is to stay at home. He did, however, note a few exceptions.

“If you need to travel and you must stay overnight in a hotel in any of the regions in California as a result of your work, that is still permitted and we know that it needs to continue to keep our infrastructure moving in California,” Ghaly said. “The other area is for quarantine or isolation. Some communities have brought on hotel rooms to allow people who can’t easily isolate in their homes to have the hotel to be able to do that to effectively to reduce transmission.”

The net effect, said one San Diego hotel industry leader, is “devastation” for local hotels and their employees, who had been looking forward to a slight uptick in business during the holiday season.

“Locally in San Diego, hotels have not been a problem for outbreaks, so while everyone can understand wanting to keep people at home, at the end of the day this is an industry that has done everything in its power to operate safely and securely, and it’s just devastating to them,” said Namara Mercer, executive director of the San Diego County Lodging Association."There are hotels that will be closing for months at this juncture until we can get business back. Remember, we are the third largest industry in San Diego.”

Between March and early June, hotels throughout the county either shut down completely or stayed open to accommodate essential workers like medical personnel who needed to quarantine away from their homes. In mid-June, lodging venues started to reopen, accommodating locals and visitors weary of being shut in at home. During the summer months, a number of hotels succeeded in attracting a sizable number of guests, although far short of a normal summer season.

While the winter months are not normally an especially busy time for the lodging industry, the hotel occupancy across the county averaged 63 percent in December of last year, according to the analytics firm STR. The latest month for which hotel performance numbers are available for this year is October, when overall occupancy was just 51 percent. By comparison, the rate for October of 2019 was 74 percent.

Guidance for how to interpret the regional stay-home order as it relates to travel and overnight stays is on the California COVID-19 website. It states the following:

“Hotels and lodging cannot accept or honor out-of-state reservations for non-essential travel, unless the reservation is for at least the minimum time period required for quarantine and the persons identified in the reservation will quarantine in the hotel or lodging entity until after that time period has expired.”

Outside that circumstance, though, the website guidance states unequivocally that “hotels and lodging can only offer accommodation for COVID-19 mitigation and containment measures, treatment measures, accommodation for essential workers, or providing housing solutions, including measures to protect homeless populations.”

When it comes to how the order applies to short-term rentals, the state was initially unclear but has since confirmed that all forms of lodging, including vacation rentals, must comply with the order barring overnight stays for leisure guests.

Representatives with Airbnb did not respond to questions seeking confirmation on whether Airbnb hosts are covered by the state order.

In the meantime, tourism leaders worry about the economic consequences for not just the visitor industry but the tens of thousands of workers who are or will shortly become unemployed.

“We still have close to 40 percent of our industry not working,” said San Diego Tourism Authority CEO Julie Coker. “Close to 77,000 people are not working, so anything that would adversely impact our hotels, whether it’s a day or week or a few weeks, is certainly devastating to our industry. We’ve been operating safely with leisure customers since June so to have that scaled back is concerning.”

Once hotels are able to safely reopen to leisure travelers, the Tourism Authority plans to resume its “Happiness is Calling You Back"marketing campaign, which targets close-in areas within driving distance, Coker added.

“It’s a holiday time, so it’s certainly not one of our stronger months but any business would be good,"she said. “And unfortunately, we’re not able to do that now.”

The newly remodeled Town and Country resort in Mission Valley, like many other hotels this week, was having to notify those with December reservations that they would not be able to come this month as a result of the new state mandate. The hotel had been looking forward to some healthy holiday-related business, said April Shute, managing director of the property.

“Like everyone else, we were expecting the holiday period to be very good, mostly people just getting away,” she said. “Unfortunately, this hits everyone very hard, and the hourly employees are people we’re very concerned about because they’re the ones it affects the most.

“This is not ideal, but we want to make sure we’re being socially responsible, and like everyone else, we just want to get past this.”


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