The recent economic downturn nearly destroyed the travel industry. And the government has rejected its repeated requests for help. So how are hotels, restaurants and other hospitality businesses responding to the election?
They’re supporting it, of course.
“Our goal is to try and make the process a bit easier,” says Sarosh Mistry, chair of Sodexo North America, a food service company. “We’re doing it in the ways that we know how and encourage everyone to do their part and make their voices heard in this election.”
It’s a man-bites-dog story during the final days of the most contentious election campaign in recent memory. An industry spurned by government is handing out free coffee, masks, meals, and opening its doors to citizens who want to vote. But like everyone else in this bitter election cycle, it also has an agenda.
How the travel industry is supporting the election
What makes efforts like these so improbable? The government hasn’t exactly supported the travel industry lately. Whether it’s airlines, travel agents or hotels, the industry has asked for — but not received — adequate help during the pandemic. Among the hardest-hit sectors are hotels, which face devastating job losses without federal assistance.
“Millions of jobs and the livelihoods of people who have built their small business for decades are just withering away because our leaders in Washington are prioritizing politics over people,” Chip Rogers, president of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, said after negotiations stalled for aid to help the hotel industry.
Still, the hospitality industry is stepping up. It’s responding to the election in ways that might surprise you.
Free masks at the polls
Some of the hospitality industry’s support efforts are small but operating on a massive scale. For example, Sodexo’s Centerplate team, which handles catering at large sporting event, is supporting voting at facilities in Louisville, Ky., Indianapolis, New Orleans and San Diego. If you happen to be casting ballots at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville or the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, you’ll find Centerplate employees running the facilities. Sodexo is also donating 50,000 masks to volunteers in Arizona.
Sodexo plans to get behind election efforts in other cities with initiatives that will serve free food and beverages to poll workers and voters. Details are still under wraps.
Why is Sodexo responding to the election by supporting it? Because the outcome will affect the company and its workers — and because it’s the right thing to do.
“Sodexo has more than 160,000 people at 13,000 sites in all 50 U.S. states,” says Mistry. “The outcome of this election will affect our workforce, clients and communities where we serve and operate.”
Free rental cars
The travel industry is pitching in, too. For voters who are having trouble getting to the polls to cast their ballots, Hertz is offering to help this year. Free Day On Election Day is a promotion to help citizens in communities across the nation get to the polls. If you reserve a car for at least two days and pick up on Nov. 2 or 3, you get one day free.
“We want to make it easier for people to exercise their right to vote,” says Laura Smith, executive vice president of global marketing and customer experience at Hertz. “Especially those who need safe and reliable transportation. We’re happy to provide local and convenient mobility options to the communities we serve on Election Day.”
For Hertz, this is a pretty big deal. It’s operating under bankruptcy protection. Giving away rental cars is a sacrifice —although it’s getting some revenue from it.
Hotels are turning into polling stations
Hotels are also helping during the election. For example, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants has teamed up with the Civic Alliance, a nonpartisan network of more than 400 member companies that are championing civic engagement with their employees. IIt’s offering flexible “civic hours” and back-up child and elder care to make it easier for employees to vote. Kimpton properties in Denver and Nashville will be serving free meals to poll workers. Also, the rooftop at Kimpton La Peer Hotel in West Hollywood will be a polling station for early voting and Election Day.
In Los Angeles, the historic Hotel Figueroa will also serve as an official polling place from Oct. 30 to Nov. 3. It’s a civic-minded property with deep roots in the community as a hotel originally founded, financed and operated entirely by women, for women.
Some hotels that have been closed during the pandemic are reopening to help on Nov. 3. The Omni Shoreham in Washington D.C.’s third ward will open as an early voting location. The hotel has a rich political history, and a spokesperson said it’s happy to support Washingtonians as they fulfill their civic duty.
Restaurants are serving up election-themed meals
In Washington, two restaurants run by Amy Brandwein — Centrolina and Piccolina — are closing on Election Day to let employees vote. But before they do, Brandwein is also offering guests an Election Night Kit for Two ($150) with all proceeds dedicated to staff members’ paid leave on Election Day. The five-course meal includes Brandwein’s signature spinach and fontina lasagne and wood-roasted branzino. It comes with instructions to easily heat and assemble at home.
Supporting the election by getting into the spirit
Some companies in the travel industry are going all-out to support the election. Bunkhouse Hotels, which owns several hotels and motels in Texas, has introduced a number of voting resources in the hopes of encouraging its guests to vote. Bluehouse has launched an election-themed website with information about checking your voter registration status, information about candidates, and how to vote.
Bunkhouse set up voter registration booths in September and October at its Austin coffee shops and at its recently reopened Hotel Havana in San Antonio. It even introduced special retail items at the Austin Motel, including what it calls the Election Collection of yard signs, bumper stickers, and tote bags that benefit the League of Women Voters.
But will this make a difference?
It remains unclear how the travel industry’s efforts to get out the vote will help. Hope for more federal aid is fading as Election Day approaches. Many of these efforts target urban areas and voters, offering free meals, reduced-rate transportation, or conveniently located polling places. That could attract more voters — and in a close election, it could make a difference in the outcome.
Will civic participation by travel companies directly benefit hotels or car rental companies? In my conversations with these companies, none of the executives said they hoped for an immediate dividend. Offering free rides to the polling booth won’t rescue a car rental company from bankruptcy.
But if there’s a new administration after Election Day, then the travel industry’s efforts to get out the vote could reap some dividends in the long term. Democrats may offer a more generous aid package to airlines or hotels, rewarding them for their civic-mindedness.