As we get back to traveling, it's important to know what to expect during the hotel visit. Some hotels are crushing it and thriving during Covid. Some hotels are not. Staying at a hotel can be a bit surprising--shocking--and delightful. Although hotels are open and operating, some services are still not available. Some of these services may also cost more than they have in the past. It's understandable that there may be some growing pains as hotels are regrouping after being closed or at low occupancy for many months. The growing pains are easy to work through if you know what to expect in advance.
Although I am a big hotel groupie and love booking hotels for conferences, I am also a realist when it comes to staying in hotels, especially now. In a 24 hour operation, there is bound to be a ball dropped or some level of miscommunication. It's just the nature of the beast. Add in a hotel that has been operating at half capacity or even closed the last 12 months, and the growing pains are compounded. Below are tips that will help make your Re-Entry to hotels better.
Before I forewarn you of the pitfalls of re-entry, I do want to share the ways Hotels have done it well for my recent hotel stays and conferences.
Most hotels are doing an excellent job with communicating:
*QR codes for menus and operating hours posted in public areas.
*Informing guests of service modifications during the reservation process.
*Updating the hotel website of service changes and using social media.
*Signage throughout the hotel informing guests of changes.
*Proper documentation in proposals & contracts for groups of changes to services.
Pay attention to these details. Most hotels are communicating them but it's on us to read the fine print before and during our hotel stays.
Positive Hotel Changes Resulting From Covid 19:
More people are cleaning the hotel than ever before. I love it when the door is sealed and I am the first person to break through it guaranteeing it's clean. A clean hotel always feels nice.
Use your phone as the remote control, What the what?
In some hotels you can enter a code on your phone and control the TV with your phone. This prevents you from having to touch that yucky in-room remote control.
For the hotels that are doing room service, many have stepped up their game:
I dig this one. I've never been a fan of the bulky room service cart experience. It's always seemed like a waste to me. Just give me my food in a safe wrapped package please. I don't need an orchid or the room service person to take all the loud clunky medal lids off the food for me. Hotels have been getting very creative with the drop off experience and packaging. I've been so impressed with the clever bento boxes, to go bags and disposable upscale utensils. It doesn't always have to feel like a picnic. It can still feel like luxury. Some hotels are nailing it from a creative perspective.
Mobile Check In and Keyless Entry: This is not new technology. Many hotels have already had this in place. Hotels that haven't had it in place had it on the back burner and are just activating it now. More and more hotels are allowing you to check in online, use your phone as your room key and request services from your phone using the hotel mobile app. This helps avoid a line at check in and eliminates one more contact point to keep guests safer.
Many Hotels Are Thriving and Creating Fun, Unique, Physically Distanced Experiences: Some hotels have been conscious of the inconvenience and uncertainty people experience by leaving their house to stay at a hotel. I've seen hotels pop up food trucks in their parking lots, create a coffee bar out of an air stream and have acoustic guitarists play in the courtyard around dinner time so guests can sit on their balconies and enjoy during dinner. Hotels are getting creative and doing their best to create a vibe for you when you do, dare to travel.
With as much greatness that is happening, below are things to be aware of when traveling and booking hotels to avoid an uncomfortable re-entry:
Know Before You Go: It's On You. Prior to staying a hotel, give them a call the day before and ask what is open and what is closed. (spa, fitness center, restaurants, bar, valet, room service, concierge lounge, etc) Hotels are changing operations on the daily, and the closer you call to your arrival, the more accurate the information. Follow the hotel you plan to stay at on Instagram and/or Facebook. Hotels have been doing a decent job at updating their social media. I have also discovered some new services being offered through social media that can be helpful for your arrival and make your stay more
pleasant like: unique dining packages, in-room fitness on demand or public physically distanced outdoor entertainment..
Restaurants/Lobby bars: Don't be surprised if you arrive to the hotel and it feels like an empty house. Many hotels have cleared the lobby of furniture to prevent people from sitting and mingling. The vibe feels weird because it's a pass through check in point. No one is in the lobby because the bar is closed. Some hotels have closed their restaurants completely. If the restaurant is open, hours may be shortened and menu items might be limited. I stayed at a hotel recently where they had 4 restaurants on property. The only dining option from Monday to Thursday was a grab and go market that opened at 7:30 am and closed at 2:30 pm. Even though they were open, the menu items were very scarce. What if I wanted dinner?? They did a great job at communicating this in advance in the reservation process, at the front desk and in the guest room. Around 4:00 PM I got a call in my room reminding me that there would be no food and beverage option available for dinner. The hotel agent volunteered names of restaurants within walking distance to the hotel. This hotel did it right, but, you can't rely on all properties to do this. This hotel also had an empty mini refrigerator in the guest room. This was perfect for me to bring my own food, order in, and store leftovers.
Worst case scenario you can always order Uber Eats, Postmates or Door Dash in a pinch. However, if you plan on just showing up, grabbing a cocktail at the lobby bar and having an appetizer in a pinch, you might be disappointed.
Pro Tip for meeting and conference planners: If having availability to dining options is important to your group, see if the hotel will insert a clause in your event contract. Below is an example a couple of my clients have used in the past. This is not official legal advice as I don't know how it would hold up if challenged in arbitration or mediation. However, it is language I have seen clients ask for and hotels agree too. It solves the last minute no services quandary.
Optional Clause: "Within 30 days prior to Group arrival, the Hotel will provide a list of changes, to the Hotel's services (i.e. special set ups to accommodate social distancing, operational hours of spa, restaurants, golf course, room service, business center, but not limited to these examples) If the Hotel alters operations, the Hotel will promptly notify the Group. If the Group determines the modifications will impact the success of the Group's program, the Hotel will help Group, at the Hotel's expense, to make alternate operational arrangements."
Perks & Lounges: If you have status with a hotel chain and love those points, this one's for you. For Covid safety and/or staffing reasons, many hotels have closed their concierge/club lounges or modified services for Elite, Platinum, Five Star guests, etc. If your favorite thing to do is to saunter up to the club lounge in the morning for a quick espresso and an eggs benedict while you read your WSJ, be sure your hotel is offering this service before you go. I had one client go to a hotel in December for personal travel. She is a senior member of a loyalty program for a large hotel chain. She was shocked when she got to the hotel to learn that the club lounge on the high floor with the view was closed. They were inviting all loyalty program guests to have breakfast in the main restaurant on the lobby level with the other guests. Good for them, but not for her. The other guests at this time happened to be a youth soccer team. The menu was very limited and there was general confusion around her paying for breakfast at the end of the meal. One of the perks of her status is that she didn't have to dine with the soccer team. She could see them in the lobby and be happy for their athleticism but having a quiet breakfast, alone with the other club members is what made it special for her. She understood the hotel was at low occupancy and it didn't make sense for the lounge to be open. She just wished someone would have told her in advance. She likely would have stayed at another hotel within that brand that was cheaper and had more limited services since the services at the full services hotel were so limited on this occasion.
Pro Tip: On the flip side, your award points will take you further now. for a little bit longer, at least I have noticed that hotels that are offering less services due to Covid safety are giving sweet deals on points usage. I recently booked a hotel that would normally cost me 25,000 points. Since there was no room service, no valet, no restaurant, no gym, I got it for 12,000 points. The type of stay I was having was to lock myself in a hotel room for two days to focus on a project. Restaurants, room service and valet weren't as important to me. I gladly booked that hotel for 12,000 points and saved the other points for another day. You can get some good deals on hotel rooms and value with your points if you are staying at a hotel with limited services.
Surprise Charges On Your Bill The hotels have lost an entire year of revenue. I understand. I've lost an entire year of revenue too. They have to make it up somewhere. Personal Protective Equipment and more labor to protect guests from Covid have caused hotels to re-look at their entire revenue model. It generally costs more money to operate the hotel because more staffing is required and more equipment/labor is used to keep staff and guests safe. I've seen so many unique charges pop up such as: a 4% service tax, $5.00 per room night Covid fee, $3.50 staffing charge, PPE charges, etc. These charges are in addition to the occupancy taxes and other city taxes that are already assessed. I am not here to dispute or advocate whether this is the right or wrong approach. I'll leave that up to you to interpret and discuss. However, you can have some control over this if you know about it in advance. At the time of making your reservation, read the fine print. The hotel normally discloses these fees. When you check out, read your bill. If the fine print in your confirmation, didn't disclose the charge, dispute it with the front desk--in a kind and productive way. I am not suggesting to go full-fledged bulldog Karen at the front desk agent. That's not cool. However, if the fee wasn't disclosed at the time of making the reservation, and the fine print doesn't indicate that "other charges" might be assessed, then you can kindly ask to have it removed by showing your confirmation page via paper or screen shot. Most times the hotel will remove it if you didn't use the service or it's a legit complaint. If a hotel is charging a resort fee, determine the inclusions of that resort fee and if all the services are still available. If not, ask for it to be waived or reduced.
Pro Tip For Meeting Planners: The last thing we want are last minute fees to be added onto each room and tax for our conference attendees. That is something small that adds up and can take you way over budget. To avoid these surprises, some of my clients have been using some form of the clause below. Again, I am not a lawyer, and don't know the validity of this clause in a legal setting, but, if it's important to you and if the hotel will accept it, why not add an extra protection for extra fees.
Optional Clause: From the time of signing this agreement to Group departure, The Hotel will not add new Covid 19 related or operational charges to the bills of the individual attendee or Group master account that have not been previously disclosed in this agreement.
Resort Fee Optional Clause: The resort fee is $30.00 per room per night. The resort fee currently includes (insert inclusions here). If the Hotel reduces inclusions from the time of contract signing to arrival, the Group will still retain the resort fee inclusions above at the price above.
Other Service & Operational Modifications: Depending on the state or city of the hotel, many of the services are not up to the hotel operator. Many current guidelines prevent hotels from allowing things like room service, daily housekeeping refresh and valet parking. Some hotels have made the choice to eliminate these services to keep guests and staff safe. Some hotels just don't have the operating capital to keep these services active due to occupancy levels. Whichever the case, know before you go. I had a client stay at a hotel recently where there was no valet service available and the self parking was very far away. There was also no signage indicating a closed valet directing him to self parking. Once he figured out where to park and schlepped his stuff down two flights of stairs in a parking garage up the ramp to the hotel, he was frustrated, and rightfully so. If the hotel is not offering these services do your best to know before you go so you can avoid this uncomfortable arrival experience. As we know, once there is a stain in the arrival experience, it's very hard to recover. I also stayed at a hotel recently where the hotel reduced outside door access. I went out for a morning walk and when I came back to the hotel I tried my key on five different doors to the pool area which was the gateway to my guest room building. There was only signage on three of the five doors. It felt a bit like Russian roulette. Finally, on my sixth try I got in. I wasn't in a rush at this time, but, if I had been in a hurry to attend a morning session or a meeting, this would have been very frustrating. Many entrances and exits are being re-routed to one way in and one way out for Covid safety. If you're in a rush, and have somewhere to be, this is not very convenient. Pro Tip: When you get to the property, do a quick walk-about of the hotel to familiarize yourself with access points, restaurant hours, meeting space locations and anything that might make your stay a little better. This way, you won't have any last minute pre conference surprises that would make you late to a meeting.
These arrangements won't be like this forever. However, for now, its important to be aware of all possibilities and pitfalls at hotels. Give yourself a little extra time everywhere you go in a hotel. Practice a little extra patience and empathy. Hotels are doing the best they can.
I have traveled during Covid. I have attended conferences during Covid. I have clients that have operated programs during Covid. If you want to talk through your next hotel visit or your next hotel conference, reach out to me anytime here. I am happy to share expert guidance on how to make your re-entry to travel and meetings as pleasant as possible.
Mandi Graziano is Vice President of Global Accounts for Hospitality Performance Network Global. She has 23 years of hotel and hospitality experience. For more information on tapping into her vast industry knowledge, visit www.mandigraziano.com
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