By this point in the coronavirus lockdown, the thought of getting out of your house for longer than the time it takes to go to the socially distanced supermarket probably sounds like pure heaven. But the prospect of checking into a hotel may not be exactly the Eden you’re dreaming of. The good news is that all over the world, hotels, resorts, and vacation rentals are starting to roll out concrete plans and procedures for making their properties as safe as possible, and we expect these efforts to set a new standard for the industry…eventually.
In the meantime, if you are starting to think about a future trip, whether it’s for this summer or next year, there are questions you’ll want to ask the hotels you’re considering so that you can make an informed decision about how comfortable you’ll feel during a stay. Here are five areas to investigate before making any hotel plans:
Rooms that open to fresh air
When Wendy had to take an essential road trip from New Jersey to Georgia (as detailed in “What a Road Trip During Coronavirus Is Really Like”), she looked for hotels where fresh air could flow freely through the rooms. “Your best bet may be older hotels that have either freestanding cottages or rooms with balconies where you can leave the balcony door open, letting in fresh air throughout the night,” she wrote. “Look in areas where you might find historic inns or sprawling old-fashioned resorts with individual bungalows.”
Contactless guest services
Check-in. Room service. Requests for more towels. During any hotel stay, there are so many points of interaction between guests and staff—so make sure the hotel you’re choosing has options for avoiding or limiting these. Some, like Marriott, are going so far as to enable all of these services via your own phone. Others, like MGM Resorts and Accor hotels, are installing partitions at the front desk.
Masks, gloves, wipes, and sanitizer
Not only should you check if the hotel staff are required to wear masks and gloves (and whether they are provided with that equipment), but also check if these items are available to guests too. Four Seasons is introducing in-room amenities kits with masks, sanitizer and wipes. Wyndham hotels are handing out wipes at check-in with your key and stashing complimentary travel-size hand sanitizers in each room. Still others will make masks available for free when guests ask for them; so find out the policy and whether that equipment is actually in stock before you arrive.
You’re likely to see more hand sanitizer and wipe-dispensing stations in hotels’ public areas (MGM Resorts properties are even adding hand-washing stations)—and that’s what you want. It not only shows that the company is making an effort and following established public-health recommendations, but it makes it easy for guests and staff to comply—and that keeps everyone healthier. You’ll also want to find out how your hotel is handling potentially crowded areas, such as the front desk (Are there partitions? Social-distancing signs and marks on the floor?), fitness centers or spas (Are they open? If so, are guests being temperature-checked before entering? What is the disinfecting process between users?), and elevators and public washrooms (How frequently are they being cleaned, and with what materials?). Don’t forget to ask about shared cars that are being set out for airport transfers and other guest chauffeur services. Shangri-La hotels disinfects limos between each use and limits the guests who can share a ride. What is your hotel (or the third-party service they use) doing in that regard?
Your hotel room will truly become your sanctuary in a group environment like a hotel, so find out how it’s being safeguarded for you. How often will it be cleaned? With what type of materials and technology? Hilton has started using a CleanStay Room Seal on room doors, to reassure guests that no one has entered the room since it was cleaned. In many hotels, the whole cleaning process has been upgraded too, with a focus on sanitizing high-touch areas and items (remote controls, handles, light switches etc.); the removal of amenities like pens, paper, and guest directories; full changes of linens every day; the testing of UV sterilization wands; and possibly even electrostatic sprayers to disperse disinfectant. Ask for details about what your hotel’s cleaning staff will do in your room.
Restaurants and bars
Depending on the country and state, a hotel’s restaurants and bars may or may not be open—so that’s your first question. If they are open, how is the hotel handling food safety? Four Seasons, MGM, and many other hotels now have digital menus accessible from your own phone. If a restaurant is open, it will likely have capacity limits, and you’ll want to ask how that will work and whether they’ve rearranged furniture to keep people apart. Ask about the kitchen staff too: What protective gear are they required to wear, and what new safety procedures have been implemented to keep food safe? We’ve heard of properties offering plated meals in sealed packaging, more packaged to-go options, and expanded room service menus and timing. Keep in mind that not all hotels are closing their buffets and breakfast rooms, and that while they are likely reconfiguring how those communal dining areas work, the decisions will vary by location because of local, state, and country regulations.
Pools and beaches
Pools and beaches are two of the biggest draws for a warm-weather getaway, especially if you’re traveling with kids. And the good news is that the current CDC advice says, “There is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread to people through the water in pools, hot tubs, spas, or water play areas. Proper operation and maintenance (including disinfection with chlorine and bromine) of these facilities should inactivate the virus in the water.”
So first things first: Find out if they’re even open, because some hotels are keeping those public areas off limits. If the water areas are open to guests, inquire about the safety precautions being taken. For instance, at Sandals resorts, beach and pool chairs are being placed six feet apart and sanitized every morning, and again after guest changeovers. Will the hotel you’re considering do something similar? Ask them about their plans to handle social distancing, the sanitization of chairs, and interactions with pool/beach attendants. Are they limiting the number of guests who can use pool or beach areas at one time? And if so, how will reservations work for those slots? Keep in mind that access to public beaches, and whether you can actually sunbathe or linger on them, is dictated by state, county, and local directives, so research the latest info on state and locality websites.
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