During the coronavirus pandemic, hotels have been forced to adapt in order to make stays safer for staff and guests, with new social distancing and enhanced cleaning measures.
Whether it’s an all-inclusive resort or a boutique hotel, there are some big changes being made due to the impact of the pandemic and they affect everything from the check-in process to the breakfast buffet.
Currently Brits are facing travel restrictions and national lockdowns – but what will hotel stays look like for holidaymakers when we’re able to start travelling again, be that staycations or abroad?
We spoke to a number of hotel insiders – some of whom have been in the industry for over 20 years – and asked hotel brands for insights onto the biggest changes for post-Covid hotels stays.
Check out what they had to say below…
1. Enhanced cleaning
When the pandemic broke, hotels around the world swiftly upped the ante when it came to cleaning both rooms and communal areas.
Brands such as Hilton, Travelodge, Premier Inn and InterContinental (IHG) have all introduced enhanced cleaning measures which include deep cleaning of rooms between guest visits, hand sanitiser stations throughout the hotels, and extra cleaning for high touch points in communal areas such as lobbies.
Some hotels have also introduced policies which mean that your room won’t be cleaned during your stay unless you specifically request it, to minimise the number of times staff enter the room.
Expedia says that over 339,000 providers across the platform have reported enhanced cleaning facilities, which include the likes of contactless check-in, professional cleaning regimes, hand sanitiser stations for staff and customers, cashless payment systems or washing sheets at a minimum of 60 degrees.
Meanwhile, some hotels have been looking into deep cleaning the air itself in a bid to filter out virus particles.
2. Contactless check-in and more digital services
With the aim of reducing contact between staff and guests, hotels have already begun to bring in new features such as contactless check-in and check-out, which can be done online or through an app when required.
Other digital services may include ordering food and drink on the go, or using digital menus in restaurants by scanning QR codes rather than being handed physical copies.
“While it is paramount that hotels rethink and address the realities of travel post-COVID-19, it is also a time to address and bring to the forefront the digital transformation that was underway before the pandemic,” says James Wheatcroft, Accor’s Marketing for Northern Europe. “From contactless check in/out to the personalisation of the hotel experience – the use of technology in the guest journey will become more prominent, just as it is in our day to day lives, so it will be more so in our travels.”
Hotel giant Hilton has seen an “increased demand for contactless technology” according to Gordon Coles, its Senior Vice President for Architecture, Design & Construction in EMEA.
Since 2015, the company has already been offering Digital Key for its Hilton Honors members so they can check-in, choose their room and unlock their door using their phone. Mr Coles says that, with the pandemic, “roll-out of the technology has accelerated, and it has now been implemented at more than 5,000 hotels worldwide.”
3. General changes
Hugh Taylor OBE, Chief Executive at hotel consultancy firm Michels & Taylor, thinks that short-term measures will see interaction between staff and guests reduced such as digital check-in, and the removal of services such as luggage storage and porter service.
He adds: “Changes to housekeeping and in-room dining may also continue where hotel staff will be unable to enter guest rooms; any requested items are likely to be left outside the rooms.
“Contents of the mini bars are likely to be removed from the rooms, but drinks and snacks available through room service and single use items such as disposable cups and miniature toiletries will replace multi-use products.
“Menus will likely be available digitally, often through apps, rather than hard copies.
“Changes to spa facilities and treatments will be apparent; with timed slots for the pool and health club facilities to allow cleaning in between sessions.”
However, he doesn’t think that these changes will be long-term and that, as it becomes safer over time, staff and guests will one day be able to interact the way they did pre-pandemic.
He adds: “It is fundamentally important for the hotel industry to deliver great service and live up to the title of ‘hospitality’ and look after their customers.”
4. Changes to the hotel buffet experience
The beloved breakfast buffet is a classic part of a hotel stay, but it’s going to look very different for a while, with most places scrapping the self-service aspect in favour of table service.
For example, Club Med says it has adapted its buffets so that guests are now served single plate dishes by staff, although the menu will remain as extensive as it was pre-pandemic. The all-inclusive holiday firm has also introduced a one-way system in its restaurants and requires guests to wear face masks when they’re not at their table.
But while changes are likely to be ongoing for a while, one travel insider doesn’t think it marks the end of the buffet altogether.
“Covid absolutely does not mark the death of the beloved breakfast buffet!! The breakfast buffet continually rates as one of the most important aspects of a hotel stay and this service is a mainstay,” says Hugh Taylor OBE.
“There are different ways the breakfast service may run in the short term, dependent on the hotel which could include room service, breakfast pre-ordered and delivered to the room, ‘grab bags’ pre-packed bags containing pastries, fruit, yoghurt, juice etc for breakfast on the run, a la carte breakfast menu in the restaurant. But as soon as is possible, I believe buffets will be back!”
5. Impact of social distancing
With social distancing measures in place, hotels will need to reduce capacity in some areas such as restaurants, bars and even poolside, which could mean holidaymakers need to make reservations rather than just turning up.
In some instances, you may even need to pre-book a sunlounger at the pool or beach, although most hotels have found ways to spread out the existing number of loungers so that they are two metres apart.
Estelle Giraudeau, Club Med’s Managing Director for the UK & Northern Europe, says that the company’s resorts are operating at reduced capacity to ensure that social distancing is adhered to.
As for activities, she says that resorts “have reopened many which lend themselves to being outdoors, with activity managers filing daily hygiene reports”.
However, she notes that “sadly this does mean we have suspended any sports and activities which cannot operate under social distancing or under local government restrictions”.
She adds: “For swimming pools, we are implementing PH water testing twice a day as well as increased cleaning. In some cases, we have also set up swimming lanes to encourage distancing with lifeguards watching over the pools at all times. For guests by the pool, all sun loungers will be separated by a two metre distance.”
6. More flexibility when booking
With ever-changing local restrictions, it’s no surprise that some holidaymakers are reluctant to book a stay too far ahead. In response, a number of brands have introduced flexible booking policies which include free amendments, or the ability to cancel up to 24 hours of the planned travel date.
While there continues to be uncertainty both with local and international restrictions, it’s likely that hotels will continue to offer these as a way of enticing holidaymakers.
For example, Travelodge allows those with Flexible Rate Bookings to cancel up to midday on their scheduled arrival date and get a full refund, while those with a Saver Rate can move their booking date for an admin fee of £5.
With a high demand from customers for flexible bookings, Expedia has introduced new search filters that highlight hotels with free cancellation rates and ‘book now, pay later’ options.