My family took a road trip this week to Virginia Beach. We were surprised by what we found.
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Hotels Are Full
Rates were high in Virginia Beach – sky-high, in fact – but with good reason. Hotel occupancies at properties for which I was able to ascertain such knowledge were 70%, 71%, and sold out. Some were oversold, though properties indicated that reservations are very much fluid and they change from day-to-day more so than ever before, a logical if not obvious conclusion. Nonetheless, that suggests to me that a higher number of rooms will be oversold as last-second cancellations rise.
For the time being, however, hotels in Virginia Beach, VA – and I suspect all drivable beach destinations near major population centers – are packed. Other popular destinations along the Atlantic coast like Outer Banks, North Carolina, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Ocean City, Maryland also had minimal availability from my anecdotal research, corroborated by rates.
It was one of the better per-point valuations we were able to achieve by spending points instead of cash on our hotel stay. You may find a credit card that helps you with your getaway as we were able to use points from ours to stay for nearly free.
Protocols in Place
We visited a few restaurants, shops, and hotels – fear not, protocols are in place and are enforced. Masks are to be worn in the public areas of hotels and restaurants. Perhaps one of the smartest ways to reduce customer touchpoints was to eliminate menus. Instead of plastic-encased menus re-used from customer to customer, many restaurants used QR codes so guests could access them from their smartphones.
Many of the protocols were self-imposed and self-regulated but this manifested better than one might imagine. Guests in the hotel would wait for an open lift with either just one family or just one other person inside. If a lift was full, guests would wait for the next one, most without complaint. Those who had forgotten their mask would quickly apply it in public spaces. Those who were more standoffish around others would generally allow a person to go ahead in front of them rather than crowd an area if they didn’t feel comfortable.
Even the beach chairs were socially-distanced, a protocol that can stay as long as it likes.
Some Restrictions Are Meaningless
Public areas as indicated by Virginia Governor Northam can’t be as easily defined. A beach ambassador, outside on the beach in the swirling, sandy, salty wind is wearing a mask. There’s little to no sense in wearing a mask outside, but I understand it’s for posterity.
Guests are required to wear masks in public spaces in hotels and restaurants but not when outside, in personal areas or eating. Wearing a mask for the 14 steps from the front door to your table and then leaving it off for an hour to eat and drink is illogical.
One restaurant honored the 50% capacity but had a crowded bar that seemed to defeat the purpose. All guests were unmasked regardless of where they were in the restaurant, even in close proximity to strangers unless they were walking to the restroom.
Reservations for seemingly everywhere are recommended, but walk-up business is still welcome. One restaurant warned us they wouldn’t have tables until 9 PM for dinner (we called at 5 PM) but were able to seat us right away when we arrived at about 7 PM to try our luck. Another advised us of a 30-minute wait though it was just 10 minutes. Still another said 35 minutes for it to be just a five-minute wait.
I’ll never get over the common touchpoints that get neglected while masks are fully enforced. I never once saw someone cleaning a door handle, a bathroom faucet, a countertop where we picked up our coffees after others had recently leaned on the counter before us, nor an elevator panel. The mask has a level of effectiveness, but when people touch everything else that others have just touched and then take off their mask to eat or drink they likely touch their face rendering the mask useless.
And everywhere I go, I see the ubiquitous pen used to sign credit card receipts that has not been washed, replaced or swapped. Taking my credit card from my hand and walking to the credit card machine to charge it (most of the rest of the world brings the terminal to the table, but in the US this is still uncommon) then walking it back to me has a similar though more limited effect. Have you ever seen anyone sanitize their credit card?
What We Learned About Travel During COVID-19
People will still travel, and despite usual seasonal slowdowns, this year domestic visitor seasons may extend. Why? Visitors can work from home/hotels and students can learn from the road. I continue to believe that demand for a break from the monotony is long overdue for most, and it was certainly the case for us.
We already know hotels are recovering faster than air travel (despite chances of contracting the virus on a plane being next to nothing.) Hotels are promoting staycations and that may work for some markets but not for all. Virginia Beach made some strides but some policies are thoughtless and it devalues the real efforts with true efficacy measures when asinine policies are also enforced.
America is travelling and despite what you’ve heard, some areas are as busy as they have ever been. Virginia Beach offered us a real-time view of the state of travel right now. In many ways, it reinforced what we believed and in other ways, it turned us about-face especially on how others would react. There were two encouraging takeaways from our trip, 1) People will surprise you if you let them, and 2) A little three-day break, even via road trip, can make all the difference in the world.
What do you think? Have you travelled to a beach destination domestically? How was your experience?