Already-busy hotels scrambling to help
Michael Pace woke up Monday morning and quickly grasped the scope of the disaster that had set Wine Country ablaze.
“I could see the fires burning,” said Pace, who lives in Novato and works in San Francisco as the West Coast area general manager for the company that owns the Clift hotel.
He decided to hold available rooms at the Clift for people affected by the fires, and offered a $99 rate — including free breakfast and parking — to evacuees. Those who lost their homes could stay free for a few weeks. Running out of space, he converted meeting rooms into bedrooms and even added some rollaways to the boardroom.
“We just wanted to do whatever we could,” said Pace.
Throughout the Bay Area, hotel managers are rapidly shifting their plans. Some hotels are already full, because fall is a popular time for conventions. But many in the East Bay and San Francisco are receiving a flood of inquiries from people fleeing the fires, or hoping to relocate events. Some North Bay hotels that remain open are packed with firefighters, evacuees and journalists; others are seeing cancellations.
“It’s been very hectic and quite crazy,” said Stefan Mühle, area managing director for Noble House Hotels & Resorts, which runs the Argonaut and Hotel Zoe in San Francis-
co. In addition to evacuees, the hotel has been hearing from stranded tourists who had planned to go to Wine Country and people whose flights to or from San Francisco International Airport were canceled because of the smoke. It’s also housing some displaced staff members and offering help to friends and families of affected employees.
Noble House has already relocated a corporate meeting, scheduled to be held at the company’s River Terrace Inn in Napa, to the Argonaut and Hotel Zoe next week.
For many event planners, finding a new venue may not be easy.
“It’s a very busy time right now anyway,” said Kevin Carroll, executive director of the Hotel Council of San Francisco. Conventions are in full swing, with Oracle’s OpenWorld just over and Salesforce’s Dreamforce scheduled for early November in San Francisco.
Madison August, events and marketing manager at the Berkeley City Club, said the hotel was in talks to host some relocated weddings (in addition to taking in several families who escaped the fires). It is working with other venues in the area to compile a list of places available on particular days — so “if we’re not available, we can refer them to someone,” August said.
Like the Clift and the Noble hotels, the Berkeley City Club is offering special rates to evacuees. (The Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau has a list on its website of hotels with discounted rates: www.sonomavalley.com/ fire.) Airbnb, the shortterm lodging service, is encouraging hosts in parts of the Bay area to offer space in their homes to those affected.
McCalls Catering and Events in San Francisco has had a few calls from people trying to relocate their weddings, some “in a panic state,” said Lucas Schoemaker, the company’s president.
He’s also scrambling to get enough wine for his events. “Where we usually get 20 cases from some distributors, we are now only getting five cases,” he said. Deliveries from American Canyon now need a 10-day window instead of one, he said.
The challenges for event planners will continue in the weeks and months ahead.
Ben Maul plans to get married in Santa Rosa on Nov. 18. The 124-room Fountaingrove Inn, where the couple had intended to house 20 to 30 wedding guests, burned.
“We still have our house, you know, and that’s better than I can say for a lot of people,” Maul said. Even so, “This is a lot of excitement we did not need to have happen.” He lives with his fiancee in Santa Rosa, so the solution, he said, may include having more people stay at his home and friends’ homes. “We’re going to have to be more inventive.”
The Vintners Inn, where the couple plans to hold their ceremony, has so far escaped the fires. So the wedding is still on.
“If the Vintners doesn’t make it, we’ll just have to go get Elvis to marry us in Vegas,” Maul said wryly.
Wine Country evacuees Luciano Tristan (center) and Julia Harkins watch Facebook Live video updates from the Sonoma County Sheriff ’s Office in a meeting room where the family is staying at the Clift hotel in S.F.
Tristan plays with his 1-year-old son, Luca Tristan, at the Clift, which is offering special or free rates to evacuees and those who lost homes.
Julia Harkins holds son Luca as his dad, Luciano Tristan, enters their temporary lodging at the Clift.