After the coronavirus hit the Bay Area, the halt of the local economy was swift and unprecedented. Over the past eight months, Midpeninsula businesses have had no idea how long or how extreme the impacts of COVID-19 might be. They've faced an unpredictable cycle of forced closures and partial reopenings — that at times have pivoted back and forth and back again within days amid changing health mandates, which have indefinitely extended shelter-in-place orders from weeks into months.
To salute their efforts, we are sharing the stories of how some businesses have responded to the coronavirus and taking a look at how our 2019 Best Of winners are doing a year later.
At a time when most business and leisure travel have been put on hold, forcing many in the hard-hit hotel industry to shut down or scale back operations, Nobu Hotel Palo Alto has moved forward with a multimillion-dollar renovation that includes independent HVAC units in each room, a host of contactless amenities and other built-in safety measures intended to attract guests back.
"Everyone is looking at what everyone else is doing," Chris Suarez, director of sales and marketing of Nobu Hotel Palo Alto, said. "But at our hotel, we went above and beyond in a lot of ways. There's no more shared air between rooms. ... That's something unique to this hotel."
Nobu also invested in new technology to encourage contactless amenities. Alexa, Amazon's virtual assistant, is installed in each room, pre-programmed with voice commands that gives guests the ability to control the lighting and window shades without having to physically touch a switch or a cord.
There's also the new Ryokan guest rooms on the seventh and eighth floors — Nobu's minimalist and modern approach to the traditional Japanese inn featuring in-room televisions that can be controlled through guests' own phones.
Cleaning methods also have been revamped. After every guest, electrostatic and ultraviolet-light treatments are used to fully sanitize the room, Suarez said. And air filters in each guest room are changed everyday. After guests check out, their room is kept empty for 48 hours, and housekeeping must wait 24 hours before entering and cleaning the room.
With fewer business travelers, the luxury hotel has shifted its focus on the "drive market," or business guests and travelers within driving distance of the hotel at 180 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto, who don't necessarily need a place to spend the night but might enjoy some of the hotel's amenities.
Nobu recently launched several promotional packages like "Work With Us. Stay With Us" that provides guests a "luxury day pass" where they can stay at the hotel, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and enjoy a lunch from Nobu restaurant as well as several office amenities.
There's also the "Cycling Nobu Style" package, created in partnership with Palo Alto Bicycles, to target local cycling enthusiasts. The offer includes breakfast inside their room or at Nobu restaurant, cycling equipment, such as a GPS bike computer, a cycling jersey and bike routes for cyclists of all levels and preferences.
"It's (about) creating attractive options for those leisure travelers to come during the week," Suarez said. "We're really seeing a sort of flattening of our pattern during the week and our weekends got busier compared to the mid-week."
View the rest of this year's Best Of listings here.