On the brink of one of the most important and historic elections in U.S. history, voter education and empowerment is coming from perhaps an unlikely source: hotels. In an unprecedented move, hotels across the U.S. are stepping up to help citizens exercise their democratic right to vote and to squelch voter suppression and misinformation in some delightfully clever ways.
Leading the charge is Austin-based Bunkhouse Group, the hospitality group behind some of Austin’s most celebrated boutique hotels such as Hotel San Jose and Hotel Saint Cecilia and properties in San Francisco, San Antonio, and Baja, Mexico. “For obvious reasons this year is insane, and we want to make sure we do our part in getting the message out to vote since we do have a platform to do so,” explained Alison Marlborough, Bunkhouse’s marketing manager.
For starters, they’ve created a dedicated landing page on their site loaded with easy-to-read and easy-to-navigate voter resources that cover everything from checking your voter registration status to ballot and candidate research to how to vote early, in person, by mail, or with disabilities. The voter resource site also has information on Bunkhouse’s joint initiative with The Standard dubbed Ring Your Rep, which provides information and scripts that callers can use to demand action from the local governments on specific issues.
Bunkhouse also owns Austin’s Fair Market event space and two Jo’s Coffee locations in town—the South Congress location is famous for the “I love you so much” graffiti spray-painted on one of its exterior walls. Currently, the much-Instagrammed wall has been temporarily changed in partnership with the League of Women Voters to read, “I love voting so much”—just one of many things the hospitality group is doing to encourage people to vote this year. While the deadline for Texas voter registration has passed (it was Oct. 5), Jo’s Coffee also set up voter registration booths for locals.
Even once they're registered, people who work in the service industry often find it challenging to make it to the poll, often because they can’t afford to give up a shift or risk losing their job to cast a ballot. Legacy Vacations Resorts, headquartered in Orlando, is tackling the issue from the inside. In addition to partnering with the Time to Vote initiative, a nonpartisan movement tasked with removing barriers for voter participation, the Certified B Corp has held motivational contests to encourage employees to register to vote as well as educational programs to help inform employees on why voting is an essential right and action that helps shape the world they wish to see. They’ll also assist with mail-in ballots on request and will be giving their employees paid time off to vote early or on election day.
Likewise, Detroit’s Shinola Hotel has declared Nov. 3 a paid holiday for its employees. Any employees on the schedule for that Tuesday will get paid time-and-a-half and be given ample time to vote before or after their shift. "Since opening our doors, we have always set out to be a meaningful part of the Detroit community, and that starts first and foremost with our staff," said Sergio Maclean, of Mac & Lo, Shinola Hotel's operator. "Voting provides a huge opportunity for people to use their voice, to be represented, and to take action, and we encourage our staff to feel empowered to do so. We hope that by observing Election Day as a paid company holiday, it will further emphasize the day's significance."
Shinola has also added a glass display case in the entrance showcasing Shinola’s own (and quite snazzy) ‘I Voted Detrola’ watch created in partnership with I am a voter. “VOTE” flags and signage will guide guests straight to the vitrine, which also conveniently contains a large QR code that directs guests to the resources they’ll need to get registered, informed, and prepped for the polls.
West Hollywood's Kimpton La Peer Hotel is working to balance out the ugliness of 2020 by offering a little voting with a view. The luxury hotel will open up its fifth-floor rooftop pavilion as a polling place from Oct. 30 to Nov. 3. “Our voters will have the best view this side of the Mississippi,” general manager Nick Rimedio told TripSavvy. “I could not think of a better way to support [the communities that we serve] than by providing our stunning rooftop pavilion as both a beautiful and safe venue to exercise our right to vote.”
Also in Los Angeles, the historic Hotel Figueroa in downtown will transform its stunning 2,100-square-foot Gran Sala meeting room into an official polling place—complete with social distancing, plenty of hand-sanitizer, and volunteer staff from LA County to make sure everything runs smoothly and eschew any voter intimidation. Local voters can walk through the gorgeous 15-foot French glass doors and cast their ballot between designated hours from Oct. 30 to Nov. 3.
“We were inspired by our hotel founders, a group of trailblazing women who intended these walls to be a haven for free political discourse and artistic expression,” Hotel Figueroa managing director Connie Wang shared with TripSavvy. "Opening our doors to the public as a polling location will be a natural extension of our community engagement, and we are proud to partner with LA County for the 2020 election. On the 100th anniversary of women achieving the right to vote, we are reminded that we cannot take that voice for granted.”