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As a lifelong California resident, I’ve accepted a new normal. When summer ends and fall begins, I think about wildfires. Unfortunately, this year, fires have occurred throughout the state, from Los Angeles (where I live) to California wine country, where I recently visited from Oct. 25-30.
As I was packing for Napa Valley, humidity was low, heat was high and wind conditions were expected to worsen. Two days before my trip, the Kincade Fire broke out in Geyserville, Calif., a Sonoma Valley town north of Healdsburg. While Sonoma is a little over an hour away from where I was staying — at Meadowood Napa Valley in St. Helena — conditions would result in a mandatory power outage and possibly the threat of more fires.
Meadowood is one of a few hotels around the world that has received a perfect five stars from Forbes Travel Guide for its hotel, its spa and its restaurant. Forbes’ algorithm for awarding points weighs good service above all else — so, I wondered: How would Meadowood take care of its guests when wildfires and power outages threatened its forested nook of the valley?
Transparent Communication and a Thorough Action PlanCommunication was transparent from the start. Actually, I first found out about the outages and fire threat from a member of Meadowood’s staff. The hotel’s director of public relations, Jennifer Chiesa, reached out to brief me on the situation days before my stay, explaining what she knew and inviting me to reschedule if I’d like.
But I was so impressed with Meadowood’s competent action plan that I didn’t see the need to make a change.
“We try our best to think ahead regarding what our guests will need that they won’t have access to on the estate without electricity,” she said. “For example, we set up a designated, powered area as a ‘beauty bar’ for guests to use to blow dry and style their hair (providing tools such as blow dryers and curling irons), as well as lights and mirrors for putting on make-up.”
Meadowood staff also came up with an excellent plan for my 6 p.m. treatment at Meadowood Spa, scheduled for the day when a mandatory power outage was expected. Chiesa told me that, without electricity or sunlight, the spa would need to close by 4:30 p.m. My 6 p.m. couple’s massage could be rescheduled to earlier in the day, or we could opt for a massage lit by battery-powered candles. (Other alternate treatment locations include guestrooms and the new cabanas at the hotel pool.)
My partner and I opted for a candle-lit spa suite treatment and were charmed by the mood lighting — not to mention what we found to be some of the most skilled masseuses in the industry. After our service, we were given lanterns to make our way through the dark property (as the outage shut down outdoor lights), but we didn’t need to use them because a staffer gave us a ride in one of the property’s cars. This truly made lemonade out of a situation where less prepared hotels might have simply canceled.
Maybe that’s not everyone’s idea of a good time — hence the open-door invite to reschedule — but for those who wanted to proceed due to prior obligations, Meadowood dealt with Mother Nature’s plans as expertly as possible.
I found no problems enjoying my weekend stay. I was able to do everything I wanted to do, such as receiving a tennis lesson with Doug, the resident pro; attending a yoga class in the new fitness center; relaxing on the outdoor deck of my forested suite; and lounging by the new and much-awaited Pool Terrace and Hotel Pool (one of three on-site pools) while enjoying live music.
Also, it’s important to note that fires were not present in Napa, and the valley was open for tourism business.
Over lunch with Chiesa, she said that the team — from the housekeepers to the service staff to the masseuses — has become experienced at dealing with these situations. Indeed, like people, hotels show their stripes when dealing with challenges.
While nearby Napa hotels lacked power and hot water — with staff members who were visibly frazzled due to poor planning and downed reservation systems — business ran as usual at Meadowood.
Chiesa explains how the property kept it cool. Hint: It wasn’t as easy as it looked.
What was the process of preparing for the outages? How did that procedure evolve with each episode?We started preparing and planning for potential Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) by Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) at the beginning of summer for our 250-acre property, which covers a lot of ground. It was more hypothetical at that time, but all departments were asked to put together a sequence of service plan for how each department would run on limited to no power, as well as how we could best help with guests’ immediate needs and comfort. In addition, our executive team and director of engineering secured an additional generator that would be powerful enough to not only run the entire Reception Lodge, but also could also protect our company’s computer servers and phones.
When did the property experience its first PSPS and how did it go?It was not until October that we experienced our first PSPS. We were given 24-48 hours’ notice from PG&E. Understanding that we were going to be extremely busy during the week and into the weekend, our operations team mobilized with their plans and added more contingency plans for several days out, in case the outage lasted longer than expected.
Members of the team also purchased additional essentials such as battery-operated Dyson vacuums for our housekeeping team. Teams began outreach to guests once we were confirmed to lose power; we let them know what our generators would power and what they would not, and we assured them we would keep them as comfortable as possible with the limited power we had. We wanted to remain as transparent as possible. With current generators, we were able to power the Reception Lodge, both restaurants, the pools and Pool Terrace bar and meeting spaces, but the guestrooms would be without power and hot water.
After the first PSPS, we purchased eight additional smaller generators. These extra generators were then strategically placed to allow us to keep hot water in all our guestrooms.
Did the property conduct staff-wide trainings? We do several service and service standards trainings with all teams each year, as well as have a robust estate security team. However, we didn’t do specific training for PG&E outages. Many members of our leadership team worked on the estate during the trying time of the 2017 wildfires that occurred in both the Napa and Sonoma valleys. Although we were closed to the public for about 10 days, we aided first responders where and how we could so they could rest.
Most of that very leadership team is still intact, and when faced with the PSPS, they’ve led with calm leadership through each outage so far, while also helping team members work through any questions or scenarios with which they needed assistance.
What should travel advisors know about sending clients to Meadowood when such a situation is possible? While we are always looking at ways to continue to improve the guest experience, should another PSPS occur in the future, we want travel advisors to feel assured that the Meadowood team has plans in place to keep all guests as comfortable as possible so they can fully enjoy their time and amenities on the estate. We also have a very creative team who can bring unique experiences to clients based on what the guest wishes to experience in Napa Valley, such as curated wine experiences, romantic candlelit massages and more.
As mentioned, our property has enough generator power to be able to power the Reception Lodge; both the three-Michelin-starred The Restaurant at Meadowood and the casual The Grill at Meadowood restaurant; in-room dining; the Business Center; all three pools and the Pool Terrace bar; and meeting spaces. There will also be hot water and Wi-Fi in the guestrooms.
How does staff keep calm when there is a threat of fire or outage, and how does the team stay on top of updates?Our leadership team is still in place from the 2017 fires, all of whom went through the serious threat to the estate two years ago. Their experience through that difficult time helped shape how to lead the Meadowood team, along with a few new, strong team members in key positions such as engineering.
We make sure we remain in very close connection with local authorities, so we stay on top of immediate information. The hotel’s communications team provides updates several times a day to the Meadowood community at large, so everyone remains informed with the latest state of the estate and valley.
Lastly, most of Meadowood’s operational leaders have signed up for Nixle alerts and PG&E alerts and receive them via smartphones; this also helps us provide updates to the staff and community.
The DetailsMeadowood Napa Valleywww.meadowood.com