A week ago, the team at Accent Inns, a family-owned hotel chain, was wondering how they were going to keep the doors open at their five southern B.C. properties in the face of a collapsing tourism industry and province-wide shutdown to slow the spread of COVID-19. Then came the phone call that changed everything.
On Monday, March 23, the general manager at the chain’s Victoria property received a tearful call from a nurse who was looking for a safe place for her colleagues to spend the night between shifts. She had called around to other hotels, but although the province has deemed hotels an essential service and allowed them to remain open, many were opting to close as bookings dried up. Exhausted after extra-long shifts but fearing to take the virus home to their children and elderly relatives, some nurses were sleeping in their cars.
“That was just heartbreaking for us to hear,” says Trina Notman, VP of Marketing and Communication for Accent Inns. “It’s a difficult time; [hotels] are facing next to no occupancy. But because of this call we decided we had to stay open.”
The chain quickly developed a special “Self-Isolate Rate” for healthcare and essential service workers and disseminated it to as many public service unions as they could. The nightly room rate is less than half the normal rate for this time of year, and includes a free bagged breakfast to go at Accent’s Victoria, Kelowna and Kamloops locations.
With their motel-style design, the Accent Inns are ideal for self-isolation, says Notman. Exterior staircases and corridors mean guests can go straight from their car to their room and arrange for safe direct-to-door delivery of meals and other supplies. Each room has its own air conditioning and heating unit so air isn’t circulated throughout the building, and guests staying longer than one night are given two sets of clean linens upon check-in to minimize contact with housekeeping staff. To ensure vacated rooms and public spaces are safe for the next guest, the hotels have also adopted a rigorous disinfection protocol for high-touch areas.
As of Friday, the hotels had received 119 bookings. “Clearly there’s a need,” says Notman.
But even more exciting has been the response from the community at large. After local media reported on the special rate last week, the Victoria property began receiving calls from other businesses and individuals interested in covering the cost of a stay for a frontline worker in need.
“People are donating as much as $1,000 and I think we’re on the verge of something that’s going to be a movement here in B.C.,” Notman says. “Everybody wants to thank the essential service workers at this time and what a great opportunity to do so.”