As the world slowly opens up again in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, our hotel stays are set to be organised differently. Some beloved practices have to be shelved - goodbye buffet breakfasts - and new protocols introduced to ensure that travellers and staff feel safe and protected. Here are some of the ways in which hotel stays will adapt from now on.
Travellers have always rated hotel cleanliness highly, but will be hyper-conscious and vigilant around it going forward. Hotels will need to demonstrate that they have implemented enhanced health and safety protocols for cleaning guest rooms, meeting spaces and common spaces in their properties, as well as back-of-house areas. It is expected that auditing initiatives will ultimately be implemented to measure hotel compliance with a stated criteria for cleanliness.
"Travellers are yearning for enhanced transparency around cleaning, hygiene and sanitisation measures at a property," says Pepijn Rijvers, senior vice president of accommodation at Booking.com. "It will be key for accommodation providers to openly display this information to help set accurate expectations and bring travellers additional reassurance as they search, book and begin to experience the world once again."
To help hotels meet these expectations, the American Hotel & Lodging Association has launched a program called Safe Stay to develop a series of best practices for the industry. “While hotels have always employed demanding cleaning standards, this new initiative will ensure greater transparency and confidence throughout the entire hotel experience,” says its president and CEO, Chip Rogers.
Another protocol will be the deep-cleaning of bedrooms and bathrooms after guests check out. Under the new Hilton CleanStay program, a room seal will add an extra measure of assurance by indicating to incoming guests that their room has not been accessed since being thoroughly cleaned. There will also be extra disinfection of the most frequently touched guests room areas, including light switches, door handles, TV remotes and thermostats.
Who doesn't love starting the day off with a plate of muesli, scrambled eggs, sliced cheeses and meats, toast, strawberry yoghurt and a pain au chocolat? Alas, while we all adore the breakfast buffet, it may become a thing of the past. The problem is that social distancing will be impossible to maintain as we all crowd around various food and beverage stations, and the communal handling of jugs and tongs is just too risky going forward. It looks like individually plated and served meals will become the norm, or “grab-and-go” options, like the one offered by Drury Hotels in hotels where team-service models are not available.
Bowls of peanuts on bars and complimentary plates of cake in the afternoon are nice little touches previously offered by many hotels, but these will have to be eliminated for the moment to avoid people handling the plates and bowls. The idea will be to prevent cross-contamination by minimising guest contact with food and surfaces, and for this reason, Drury is also not currently offering its lobby afternoon popcorn. Sadly, it could also mean the end of beloved amenities like in-room minibars. Room service on a cart may be a thing of the past too, as you can expect to pick up your meal outside your door instead.
We all enjoy being welcomed at reception by smiling hotel staff, but some hotels will now implement automated self check-in procedures. Virtual check-ins and digital keys using your phone will be used at some hotels like Hilton. “Once registered, guests have the ability to check-in, select their room and use their phone as their room key, without ever having to interact with the front desk,” says Phil Cordell, its global head of new brand development.
Viceroy Hotels & Resorts is now using Amazon Alexa in some properties to control the technology in guest rooms, and contactless or low-touch solutions around check-in and payment for goods and services is one of the recommendations of the U.S. Travel Association. "Travel businesses should consider implementing touchless solutions, where practical, to limit the opportunity for virus transmission while also enabling a positive travel experience," it says.
Indeed, humans may not even be involved in cleaning at some hotels. The Westin Houston Medical Center is utilising "LightStrike Germ-Zapping Robots" to sanitise and disinfect its guest rooms and common areas, as they destroy viruses, bacteria and fungi using intense pulsed xenon UV light. "Wellness is at the core of our business and with the LightStrike technology, we saw a distinct and innovative opportunity to create a well-prepared environment for travelers within our hotel," says Archit Sanghvi, vice president of operations for Pearl Hospitality.
Chilling out in hotel pools and getting active in their gyms are great perks to staying at hotels, but new protocols will have to be followed when they re-open. It is likely that scheduled gym time-slots wil be introduced, for example, so we won't be able to just rock up when we feel like it. Ukactive, the fitness industry’s trade body in the UK, says that a gym’s maximum capacity should be based on three square metres per person. It advises spacing exercise equipment two metres apart to facilitate social distancing, and cleaning touch points of equipment after each person, in addition to the regular cleaning schedule.
Guests can expect at least six feet of distance between lounge chairs at the pool. According to the Pool Water Treatment Advisory Group, swimming pools should be safe against microbiological hazards as long as they’re chlorinated properly and operated according to its standards. It recommends following government advice on social distancing in the pool and changing rooms, and warns that enhanced disinfection procedures should pay particular attention to door handles and surfaces.
Where they are not executed on a self-service basis, changes to check-in procedures may include the installation of social distancing floor decals, front desk partitions and hand sanitising stations. Some hotels will require guests to take temperature checks before entering the hotel or while staying there. "Our measures include infrared thermometers available at front desk to conduct temperature checks of our guests and employees upon request," says Millennium Hotels.
At Wynn Las Vegas, points of entry are limited to allow the security team to conduct non-invasive temperature checks on incoming with thermal cameras. "Anyone displaying a temperature over 100.4°F will be taken to a private area for a secondary screening, including a health declaration and a temporal temperature reading," says Matt Maddox, CEO of Wynn Resorts.
“More than ever before, communication with guests will be crucial for the hotel industry's rebound,” says travel expert, Gabe Saglie. “Social media channels will become an even more effective way for brands to inform travellers about COVID-inspired updates and upgrades, and to illustrate how new protocols are part of creating an appealing, special hotel experience.”
“Hotel brands that can effectively showcase new consumer-focused protocols while still prioritising the things we seek in hotel stays - personalisation, attentiveness, comfort, as well as unique experiences - will fare best immediately post-COVID and will be better placed to ride the recovery wave long-term."
In an effort to encourage guests to stay, some hotels are also extending their loyalty programs. This includes Marriott Bonvoy, which is extending the status earned in 2019 to February 2022, and Accor, whose members will be credited with 50% of the status nights and points required to requalify for their current status level next year. Ace Hotel has launched a gift card programme that encourages people to invest in future stays – with the benefit of 20% off room rates.
Millennium Hotels and Resorts in Singapore is including a complimentary care package filled with a selection of games with its food and beverage takeaway and delivery service. These include chess sets and the traditional Asian game chapteh to encourage families to take a break from their digital devices and spend quality time with each other.
While we all love the luxury touches in hotel rooms, it looks like minimalism will be the way forward in reducing the number of items that need to be disinfected. This means possibly waving goodbye to complimentary pens, paper, magazines and guest directories, and other items that we love but are not crucial to the room.
While opulent hotel rooms add the touch of glamour that makes our stay extra-special, we may have to get used to more minimal lodgings in future. The Amari Watergate in Bangkok has decided to eliminate bed runners and decorative cushions, for example, and the Four Seasons Hotel in New York City has shed excess hangers, linens and pillows from its rooms.
10. Staying local
With travel restrictions in place at present and the world at different stages of dealing with the coronavirus, staycations are looking to be the main way people will travel this year. "We’re seeing that more local travel - including to familiar and less crowded, rural or coastal destinations - is top of traveller's minds," Pepijn Rijvers, senior vice president of accommodation at Booking.com tells Lonely Planet.
"Over half (51%) of all properties wish-listed on Booking.com during March and April were located within a traveller’s own borders. This is a marked jump from 33% during the same time last year. And amid continually evolving global uncertainty, whether local or further afield, travellers will be looking to make bookings with flexible policies for additional peace of mind."