MAY 02, 2020 11:16 AM, UPDATED MAY 02, 2020 04:43 PM
When hotels reopen, they won’t look or operate the same as they did pre-COVID-19. The virus has led most properties to adopt new practices aimed at reducing touch points and minimizing human contact.
Don’t be surprised if you have to check in behind a plexiglass partition, like the ones being used at supermarkets. The front-desk staff will be wearing face coverings. Some hotels – such as those in the Hilton and Marriott chains – will encourage guests to avoid the front desk altogether and do virtual check-in, which allows them to use their cell phones as room keys.
Forget about breakfast buffets, lobby coffee stations, plates of free cookies, and concierge Happy Hour buffets. Mini-bars may be a luxury of the past. Even pads of paper and pens may be removed from rooms. Pool chairs will be spaced out. Hotel restaurants, bars and meeting rooms will reconfigure their seating charts. Floor decals will remind guests what a 6-foot distance looks like.
“Absolutely, as travel begins to move again, our hotel will look a little different,” said Glenn Sampert, general manager of InterContinental hotel in downtown Miami. “We are working on a landing page for the website, so guests are aware of the steps we’re taking and to let them know things will look different when they come in. Most things that were self-serve will be full serve by our colleagues, and we are creating more space in our lobbies, dining areas, meeting rooms, and elevators.”
Sampert said his hotel had not yet made a decision on plexi-shields, but they removed a few check-in terminals to create more space, and all the staff will wear face coverings. Some will wear face shields.
Chris Rollins, chief operating officer of South Beach Group Hotels, a 17-property group with over 1,500 rooms, recently placed orders for plexiglass partitions, due to be delivered next week. His staff has begun making changes to ensure social distancing when the hotels reopen.
“We had a Zoom call with some of our fellow hoteliers on Thursday with Wendy Kallergis, CEO of the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotels Association…the biggest thing that will be physically noticed is making adequate space for your staff and your guests to feel safe and comfortable,” Rollins said. “You will see some plexiglass on the desks separating the agents from the guests, some markings on the floor the way you see in supermarkets and places that are open now to remind customers to keep a safe distance from those around them.
“The pools will have some distance between the chairs. Each party will be able to sit together, but there will be space between each party’s chairs grouping. Lots of hand sanitizing stations and signage. Face coverings for our staff, definitely.”
As for food, there will be a new normal.
“Buffets are out of the picture, family style dishes are out of the picture,” Rollins said. “Among the things being discussed are disposable menus, single-serve items whenever that is possible. Limited touching. Silverware has to be rolled and wrapped.”
Aiming to be “the cleanest hotel in Miami,” Fontainebleau Miami Beach President and COO Phil Goldfarb said they have greatly expanded efforts on cleaning and sanitizing the iconic resort, adding new equipment like electrostatic sprayers and using EPA-recommended hospital grade cleaners.
“We’re working to reconfigure seating and change how you navigate the resort to enforce social distancing within all the public areas, from the pool to the restaurants, the front desk and beyond,” Goldfarb said. “We want to illustrate to our customers and employees that we are taking this very seriously and they should feel comfortable that we are doing everything possible to ensure their safety.”
The Four Seasons chain has begun removing mini-bars and excess linens and extra pillows from the rooms so there are fewer opportunities for germs to spread. At their New York properties that have been open to medical professionals during the pandemic, guests are given bags for their dirty linens and towels and asked to put the bags near their room doors so housekeeping can pick them up without entering rooms.
Hilton and Marriott will be encouraging guests to take advantage of digital key programs, which include virtual check in with use of cell phones as room keys.
Marriott created a task force of public health and infectious disease experts to develop new protocols and intensify disinfecting measures at its 7,300 properties in 134 countries.
“We are living in a new age, with COVID-19 front and center for our guests and our associates,” Arne Sorenson, president and CEO of Marriott, said in a statement.
Over the next few months, Marriott will begin using hospital-grade disinfectant sprays to sanitize surfaces throughout their hotels. Disinfectant wipes will be placed in each room for guests to use, and there will be sanitation stations in common areas. The company is still working out dining plans and deciding whether to install plexiglass at the front desks.
Hilton this week announced partnerships with RB, maker of Lysol and Dettol, and the Mayo Clinic to help develop new cleaning procedures to be implemented at its 6,100 hotels by the end of May. The North American part of the program is being marketed as “Hilton CleanStay.”
Hilton plans to put a seal on the door of each room that has been disinfected, to let guests know nobody has entered since the cleaning. It is removing pens and paper pads from rooms. Special care will be taken to wipe down light switches, door handles, TV remotes and thermostats. Disinfectant stations will be placed all over their properties.
“Hilton CleanStay builds on the best practices and protocols we’ve developed over the last several months, allowing our guests to rest easy with us and focus on enjoying the unforgettable experiences we have to offer, while protecting our team members on the front lines of hospitality,” Hilton president and CEO Christopher Nassetta said in a statement.
Rollins said he and other South Florida hoteliers have been receiving guidance from the state’s health department and the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA) and the GMBHA.
“I am hopelessly optimistic,” he said. “If it’s done right and the county and cities phase things in the right way, so you’re not biting off too much at once, I think it’s going to be very successful.
“You learn something from each crisis. These are all life-learning lessons. Wash your hands more often. Check your sanitation. Be more cautious to your environment. But Americans want to travel and explore. We want to be out. We’re not homebodies. It’s going to be domestic travel at first. People have been stuck in their house for two months. They really want to go somewhere, and we will make it safe for them to do so.”