“Curbside check-in eliminates the need to go indoors,” explains Tyler Von Neida, the general manager at the timeshare property in Edisto Beach, S.C. “It limits interaction to one individual and there is no need to have any surface contact points.”
This summer, with some hotel and resort guests still nervous about travel, the lodging industry is responding in big and small ways. The initiatives include safer ways to check in, interact with staff and pay, plus a few creative ideas that may surprise you. Whether they keep you safer is another question.
“When it comes to making guests feel more at ease with their stay, hygiene and cleanliness will be the name of the game,” Vijay Achanti, head of the North American hospitality division at Capgemini, a consulting firm. “Guests will place a lot of scrutiny on hotels to meet standards of sanitization.”
The Ocean Ridge curbside check-in program allows the entire exchange to be completed in as little as three to five minutes. More important, it makes guests feel safer. “It has been extremely well received,” Von Neida says. “Ocean Ridge has seen over a 10 percent increase in guest satisfaction when it comes to check-in.” It has been so successful that Club Wyndham plans to keep this system even when the pandemic fades.
Many resorts have implemented similar changes. Disney World’s on-property hotels rolled out more contactless options for their guests earlier this year, practically eliminating the need for any human contact. Hotel guests already use wristbands to access their hotel room or one of Disney’s theme parks. A few weeks ago, Disney also added cashless payment options such as mobile wallets, debit cards, credit cards and gift cards, so you can pay for something by swiping your wristband.
Some upscale properties are framing lack of contact as an amenity in its own right. For example, the AKA Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia bills its suites as “self-sufficient sanctuaries,” with fully appointed kitchens and laundry facilities. This summer, it has introduced a suite sommelier who will make personalized wine recommendations by phone. The hotel staff then deliver the wine directly to guests’ rooms.
Some hotels have taken the idea a step further. At the Montage Kapalua Bay in Maui, a favorite with honeymooners, guests can order a private socially distanced luau. They get a full spread of poke, prawns, locally caught fish and kalua pork served on their balcony. Below, at a safe distance, local artists will tell the story of Hawaii and Tahiti through music and dance. The private luau starts at $3,400 — room not included.
This spring, the SLS Baha Mar, a luxury resort in the Bahamas, introduced a Travel With Confidence Program that looks very familiar. It includes an array of enhanced cleaning protocols, but there is one more thing: If you test positive for covid-19 during your stay, Baha Mar offers a quarantine with courtesy suite accommodations and a daily resort dining credit of $150 per person per day, for up to 14 days or until you receive a negative test result. If you want to leave earlier, Baha Mar will cover a private jet back to the U.S. mainland at no extra cost.
A resort spokeswoman said so far, only one guest has used the plane.
Some hotels are addressing their returning guests with innovation and humor. The all-suite Mercantile Hotel in New Orleans deployed a three-foot-tall robot that can deliver towels and snacks to its rooms. It can even summon an elevator, and best of all, it doesn’t accept tips. The concierge robot is named Suga, a nod to the hotel’s past as the famous Henderson Sugar Refinery. What else would you call your robo-butler in the South, anyway?
The real question is: Does any of this keep you safer? There is no research showing conclusively that pandemic-related hotel safety measures guarantee a safer stay. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says hotels are “less safe” than staying with a vaccinated friend or in a private cabin. But the agency doesn’t distinguish between hotels with stricter public health protocols and those without them.
“It’s all about the perception of safety,” says Glenn Haussman, a hotel consultant who hosts the No Vacancy podcast. “While not all of them are protecting you from covid, they are creating confidence for consumers.”
He recommends that hotel guests focus on the basics: enhanced cleaning programs that ensure their rooms are thoroughly sanitized. A cleaner hotel doesn’t necessarily protect you from the coronavirus, but it is a sign that the property is attentive to customer service.
The hotel programs that matter to visitors, he adds, are the ones that will remain long after the pandemic ends.
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