The Hospitality industry has spent the past two months in a state of uncertainty. With travel restrictions and social distancing measures in full force, hotels watched occupancy levels decline – with many hotels closing entirely. Some repurposed their space to house the homeless or frontline workers, and others became quarantine sites.
However, hoteliers now have reason to feel optimistic, as states across the U.S. have begun lifting restrictions. According to STR data, hotels are already beginning to show modest gains in occupancy across the nation.
“The industry reported its fourth consecutive week-to-week increase in demand as the slow and steady ascent in national occupancy continued,” said Jan Freitag, STR’s senior vice president of lodging insights. “More people are flying, as shown in daily checkpoint counts from the TSA, and more people are staying in hotels for a variety of purposes—the weekly number of rooms sold topped 10 million for the first time since the end of March.”
A study from MMGY shows travelers are warming up to the idea of hitting the road again. However, there was an increase in the percentage of travelers that agreed they were more likely to travel by car and to destinations closer to home. Additionally, travelers are expected to value a heightened level of privacy during their stays in the coming months.
It’s safe to say your next hotel stay might look a little different. In order to meet new cleanliness expectations and get travelers comfortable with the idea of staying in hotels again, there has been an abundance of new practices and initiatives launched within the industry.
The American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) announced “Safe Stay” at the end of April, an initiative focused on enhanced hotel cleaning practices, social interactions, and workplace protocols to meet the new health and safety challenges and expectations presented by COVID-19:
- Hand-washing and hand sanitizer use; dispensers, when possible, should be at major employee and guest entrances and contact spots, such as lobby reception and employee entrances
- Signs reminding employees and guests how to wear, handle, and throw away masks
- A major boost in cleaning practices, with places like hotel guest elevators, front desk check-in stations, and public bathrooms cleaned frequently
- A request that housekeepers not enter a guest room during a stay unless asked to by guest, or otherwise adhere to established safety protocols
- For guests: Physical distancing of at least six feet from other groups of travelers
- For employees: Physical distancing in dining rooms, training classrooms, and more; front desk agents should use every other workstation
- Contactless check-in encouraged when possible
Several brands have announced their own individual initiatives with enhanced hygiene standards. Choice Hotels International’s Commitment to Clean initiative includes every Choice-branded hotel designating a “Commitment to Clean Captain” to complete applicable best-in-class cleanliness training and be responsible for incorporating the new protocols into their hotel’s operations. Hilton recently announced their CleanStay program in collaboration with RB, the maker of Lysol. The initiative delivers an industry-defining standard of cleanliness and disinfection to provide an even cleaner and safer stay from check-in to check-out. Marriott launched the Marriott Global Cleanliness Council, and Hyatt announced its Global Care & Cleanliness Commitment.
"Now the challenge for hotels is how you deliver a welcoming service encounter as well as ensure the safety and health of your employees and guests," said Linda Canina, a professor at The Hotel School in Cornell University's SC Johnson College of Business.
The most notable differences will be check-in, the amenities, and dining. Contactless check-in and check-out will be encouraged, and guests can easily do so from their smartphones to avoid the front desk. Masks will likely be offered, and your temperature might be taken. Elevator buttons will be regularly sanitized, as will the fitness equipment. Pools and saunas might not be open – if they are, you’ll see lounge chairs 6 feet apart, and some spa offerings unavailable. Don’t count on the buffet being open, or room service delivered by a staff member on a cart – expect to pick up your meal outside your door.
Guests can rest easy knowing that the majority of brands have plans to go above and beyond the recommended cleaning practices, but many wonder how long these new protocols will be in place. Phil Cordell, Hilton's senior vice president and global head of new brand development said, at least in Hilton's case, its program will likely be around "forever."