Travel during this pandemic is really touch-and-go. It’s doable, but not at the level we enjoyed before mid-March.
I keep hearing from those who had to travel for essential purposes. Flights are up to half capacity, now that no one can sit in the middle seat of each row. Masks are being worn – except for a few instances caught on social media. Hotels are mostly open. Rental car agencies are still providing vehicles to the few travelers out there.
Sadly, we just learned that Hertz had filed for bankruptcy. It appears that they are operating, but to see a rental car company that I had done business with for 35 years facing a tough economic period is a humbling thing to witness.
However, I have been curious how travel has evolved while the world is on lockdown. If people cannot travel internationally because of border controls and outright bans, how are hotels, airlines, and other travel-related businesses manage through all of this?
I did not intend to put this to the test. But, I ended up doing so.
During Memorial Day weekend, I needed some space to regain some equilibrium in my life. The house I live in are going through some renovations. It felt chaotic. I did my own renovations, but things were simply incomplete – in my space and elsewhere.
A look at a few apps pointed to a bunch of hotels within budget. Some places were charging discounted rates. There were some deep discounts to take advantage of. It was really interesting to see hotels with plenty of rooms available on one of the biggest travel weekends of the year.
Through one of those apps, a hotel room was booked near the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. It was a property I never heard of. Yet, it had a familiar name attached to it – Hilton.
Throughout the years, I enjoyed my stays at the properties that were part of Hilton’s family of brands. There was always a sense of quality at every level – from the grounds to every part of thee room itself. They always felt at home – comfortable and contemplative.
The hotel I booked had two of Hilton’s brands attached to it – Home2 and Tru by Hilton. Home2 is a suite hotel that is competing against the mid-priced properties that could do long-term accommodations with plenty of amenities for a functional apartment/suite. Tru is a new low-to-mid-price chain with colorful, modern rooms designed for both work and relaxation.
My booking was with the Tru side of the property. I was up for an adventure.
Pulling up in the 2020 Genesis G90, I already found the property tucked away in a wooded area. The parking was easy and the entry just right. Or, so it seemed…
Then came some very interesting moments. When you check into a hotel, you expect all the doors to open. Even though I checked in around 3:30PM, I had to be let into the inner doors of the lobby. Walking into a colorful lobby, the clear barriers were in place between the desk person and I. The credit card machine was position on my side of the barrier.
Off to the side of the check-in desk was a pantry shared by Home2 and Tru. It had a few things inside the refrigerator units, but the shelves were empty. I asked the desk clerk about the pantry. She stated that I could get an Uber to the Walmart down on American Boulevard on the other side of Cedar Avenue. I had other ideas.
My room was on the small side, but actually well spaced and proportioned. One good thing about a new hotel is the freshness of everything. Having a television that worked easily, a shower that is refreshing, and a nice wood-like floor that was nice to my feet. Luckily, there was a small refrigerator for the items I had to get from the nearby Target that could have been acquired from the pantry.
Because of the pandemic, there was no coffee maker, no cups for water, nor any other amenities you might have expected from a lesser hotel property. These items were removed from all rooms because of the pandemic. Not to mention, the pool and gym were closed. However, you can use their coin-op laundry.
In a recent episode of "CBS Sunday Morning," Hilton CEO Chris Nassetta explained that the rooms at his company’s properties would be cleaned and sealed upon my arrival. Sadly, I did not see such a seal at the door. Perhaps they do not use that at Tru or Home2 properties. But, if that was an expectation across all Hilton brands, I certainly did not see it.
Speaking of cleaning, the bathroom experience was a bit interesting. In my Tru room, I had to squeeze the dispensers of soap, shampoo, conditioner, and lotion from these tubes. It was a bit awkward, but somehow I managed. Some chains have a similar system with a dispenser actuator at the bottom. I would have preferred the latter.
How did I sleep? Not bad, really. Probably better than some stays I had in other chains over the past 12-18 months.
It was unsettling waking up and checking out into what is a ghost town right now. The Mall of America – one of Minnesota’s top tourism destinations – is closed. The only movement in and out of the big shopping and entertainment destination was of the buses and light rail trains operating from its transit station. It’s sad when the mall sits across the street from this hotel and no one is flopping the streets around it.
In all, the hotel stay was fine. Some of the changes made due to the COVID-19 pandemic were somewhat jarring. I do miss some amenities, like a coffee maker, some small bars of soap, or using the pool.
The reality of travel at the onset of the summer is not going to be "the usual." We can still fly, take the train, get in our vehicles and drive, stay at hotels, and so forth. Things that will be closed or missing from our usual expectations we are going to miss. It takes some adjustment for us to deal with what we or cannot do while we travel.
In the end, we will get used to it.
DISCLAIMER: Travel expenses paid for by Victory & Reseda. Vehicle mentioned in this story was provided by Hyundai Motor America
All photos by Randy Stern