Staff at the Bakersfield Marriott at the Convention Center needed hope just like everyone else during the coronavirus pandemic.
Nearly 300 U.S. hotels had already closed across the Marriott chain. Although a decision was made to stay open locally, many among the hotel's full-time staff of more than 170 people had to be furloughed as its room occupancy rate dropped to about 5 percent.
With rooms and hallways dark from disuse, General Manager Tony Zilobaf considered how he might brighten things up, so to speak.
He came across an idea on the internet: A hotel overseas had strategically left on lights in certain empty rooms to create an image of a heart.
Instead of creating a symbol in lights at the Marriott, he thought it might be better to spell out a single word. Because of the hotel's size, he figured there was room for just four letters. But which four?
He sent out an email to his staff asking for suggestions. One particular response, from Executive Housekeeper Melissa Hernandez, stood out from the rest: "HOPE."
On Monday Zilobaf asked his staff not to book certain rooms in order to spell out the word in lights. Orders were to keep those lights on day and night as a message of encouragement to the community.
The result is a towering beacon of hope itself, one he expects will endure for as long as the pandemic continues.
"We are planning to stay strong and share that message: that we are going to survive it and we’re going to thrive,” the hotel industry veteran said.
Since Monday, several people — not a lot of them because of reduced downtown traffic during the pandemic, he said — have noticed the south-facing message at 801 Truxtun Ave. and expressed their appreciation for it.
He sees that as a hopeful sign and wants others to experience it, too.
"I would love for the community to see it," he said, "so they can be encouraged in their own lives, too.”