The Future of Hotels: COVID-19 Rewrites the Rules of Hospitality

August 7, 2020

Over the last few months, we have watched the pandemic completely reshape the hotel industry. Whereas free breakfast, fitness classes and velvet-roped rooftop bars were once sought-after amenities, guests have a new number-one priority: safety and cleanliness. 

The industry has quickly pivoted to create new protocols and operating procedures based on CDC recommendations, guests’ concerns, travel restrictions, union demands and more to ensure hotels do not become epicenters of COVID-19 outbreaks. What has emerged is an entirely different, low-touch hotel experience where technology, ingenuity and creativity are driving change.

Hotels have always looked out for the health and safety of guests, but the length to which they must now go to maintain an environment free of COVID-19 is extraordinary. Whereas hospitality has always been about creating an inviting atmosphere with warmth and personalized attention, hotels are now adopting stringent hygiene protocols that may feel cold and clinical. Some of the measures we’re seeing hotels put in place include providing guests with masks and hand sanitizer  at check-in, checking employees’ and guests’ temperatures upon arrival, using electrostatic sprayers with hospital-grade disinfectant, eliminating daily housekeeping, and placing seals on the doors of cleaned rooms. Global chains, including Hyatt and Marriott, also recently updated their policies to require all quests to wear masks in common spaces. 

In the absence of a global standard for how hotels must respond to COVID-19, global brands are creating their own clean initiatives and shifting marketing dollars to promote them. For example, Four Seasons has created Lead With Care, while Marriott introduced the Marriott Cleanliness Council and IHG created the IHG Way of Clean Promise. 

COVID-19 is also changing the design of hotels. Beautifully decorated lobby areas once touted as communal spaces for guests to work and socialize are being roped off and seating is being taken away. We’re also seeing the removal of plush furnishings, knickknacks, extraneous bedding and other decorative items that make cleaning and disinfecting more difficult.

The rest of the hotel experience is also evolving. Conveniences such as valet parking, mini-bars and free coffee in the lobby have been suspended in many cases, and food and beverage is being limited and/or reimagined so that proper social distancing and hygiene protocols can be maintained. Boxed to-go meals have replaced the breakfast buffet and, when possible, fine dining has moved alfresco to patios and rooftops. Amenities like the hotel gym, pool and fitness classes are also being limited to reserved time slots to avoid crowding and allow for proper cleaning. All of these changes signal that guests have to be much more deliberate in planning how they go about their days with new restrictions and limited services.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and our industry will continue to devise solutions to the challenges social distancing presents, as well as figure out how to create conviviality and deliver personalized attention to guests. Technology and good old ingenuity are playing a big role here. 

On the technology front, brands like Hilton, Marriott and MGM already offer touchless services via their loyalty apps, such as digital room keys and mobile check-in/checkout. Mobile food ordering and mobile payments via apps and Apple Pay are also helping to eliminate the need for other in-person interactions. And, smart rooms using technology such as SONIFI allow for voice command control of television, lighting, music and more. 

There are plenty of low-tech ways that hotels are adapting to that we are able to leverage for positive media exposure. Amongst our clients, Paséa Hotel & Spa in Huntington Beach, CA, has arranged for guests to watch local live bands from the comfort of their guest room balconies while sipping champagne. Its sister property, Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa, is taking advantage of its spacious grounds and beautiful garden by providing a Games & Garden Butler to put together outdoor picnics. Some hotels are even repositioning themselves as temporary workplaces, like The Asbury on the Jersey Shore. Anticipating guests needing more space to work remotely, we helped the hotel launch a “WFH: Work From Hotel” package, offering complimentary coworking space and beach passes. 

Whatever the future brings, we know that travel and tourism will need to be more nimble and more innovative than ever before. It’s a challenge we’re prepared for and eager to help our clients rise to meet.