How hotels could change after coronavirus, from private spa time to DIY happy hour kits
Hotels will likely have less people, more privacy, and the cleanest rooms around. But beloved aspects, like the lobby bar, could disappear too.
If hospitality means making guests feel comfortable, then consider hand sanitizer the most sought-after amenity this summer. As properties reopen, many are rethinking the hotel experience to address safety concerns. “The key is being nimble, and not making a change that can’t be reversed or evolve as and when the situation does,” says Neil Jacobs, CEO of wellness retreat leader Six Senses. Any changes, then, must be subtle, strategic, and flexible, but obvious enough to create confidence in travelers. Below, a few ways in which we can expect hotels—whether urban properties with swinging social spaces or boutique country escapes—to change as reopening begins.
The new lobby rules
Known primarily as the social heart of a hotel, the lobby may now function entirely differently. Check-ins will be paperless and person-less, much like the model popularized by Public in New York three years ago, and keys won’t so much be handed over as they will be downloaded on hotels’ own apps. Thought-leader 1 Hotels, with properties in Brooklyn, Miami and West Hollywood, will introduce contactless temperature checks before entering the building and limit the number of entry points, so that every person, guest or staff, is checked in this way before stepping inside for the foreseeable future. Staggered arrivals or departures to prevent clusters in the lobby will be more common, as at the New England-based Ocean House group. Silver lining? You may not have to rush to make a 10 a.m. check out anymore. Oh, as for socializing or co-working in a hotel lobby space, lingering will likely become widely verboten. At Britannia in Norway, which reopened recently, guests must check in outside the hotel and non-guests can’t come in.
Let’s hear it for housekeeping
Cleaning protocols used to be purely behind the scenes: no one wanted to see how it was done. Now brands are declaring health and hygiene practices much the same way they celebrate cocktail initiatives and award wins: Hilton’s protocols, in partnership with the Mayo Clinic, include new door seals, proving the room has remained empty since the last cleaning, while Marriott has a Global Cleanliness Council with rules like housekeepers disinfecting hands every 20 minutes while working. Smaller properties are adopting a similar approach: Eastwind Hotel in the Catskills will now use only CDC-approved products, like Nutra-Max disinfectant, while rooms will have a buffer of four days between guests.
To minimize interaction further, look for larger piles of towels in the bathrooms, so they’ll last longer, and creative alternatives to turndown like the new initiative at The Lodge at Blue Sky, from Auberge Resorts, in Utah. Its new door hanger features amenity refills and strawberries fresh-picked from its farm that morning. Per hospitality consultant Adam Patrizia, who spent several years working for Standard Hotels founder Andre Balazs, hotels will likely introduce co-branded cleaning supplies like gloves and wipes in bathrooms, to sit alongside the shampoos and toiletries.
Meet the bed and beverage
As soon as hotels reopened in China, room service spiked, so expect the same thing to happen here. This is not just due to consumer preferences. Hotels want to limit capacity inside their restaurants, and will likely encourage in-room dining without forcing guests to incur an additional charge. The Four Seasons, for example, is now offering smartphone menus and contactless delivery brand-wide. But out of necessity comes more creativity, such as barbecue kits so guests can grill dinner outside their private villas, or picnic baskets with sanitized blankets, as Auberge Resorts plans to do. Auberge has also devised a Happy Hour kit with ingredients, glassware, recipes, and even a playlist for guests to host their own in-room bar.
Minibars have been an endangered amenity for some time, and expect the pandemic to hasten their elimination. Instead, hotels might offer maxi-bars—where all items have been prepaid for—or filled-to-order fridges, which they’ll stock on a guest-by-guest basis. Likewise, open plating is no longer appealing for food, so Six Senses CEO Neil Jacobs expects instead to see bento boxes and tiffins, which are simultaneously visually appealing and reassuringly sealed. As for the actual bars, expect crowd-deterring initiatives like grab-and-go cocktails to be brought back to the room, says Meaghan Doorman, bar director of New York’s Aliz.
Restaurants have traditionally been a huge part of the hotel experience—like Jason Atherton at the Edition hotels, for instance, or the blockbuster partnerships at most Las Vegas properties—MGM has Alain Ducasse, Tom Colicchio and Charlie Palmer, among others. MGM has removed tables from each of its venues, so that every party will be seated at least six feet apart. The same goes at more boutique spots. At Blackberry Farm’s James Beard Award–winning restaurant in Tennessee, every other table will be left empty for extra reassurance. Jacobs expects chef-manned, live stations to displace buffets: “You want to keep the fun and interaction, but change the concept,” he says. Though this does not mean the death of the hotel restaurant, it certainly is a milestone in its evolution. Just be sure to make reservations even further in advance to guarantee the seating you’d like.
Bailing on workouts just got harder
Though it won’t be the end of the hotel gym, expect more emphasis on other physical programming. Think excursions for rock climbing with a private guide, perhaps, or heli-skiing. Wyndham’s design head Ted Brumleve plans to prioritize in-room exercise, too, via products like Peloton or Mirror while New England–based Kennebunkport resorts will allow guests to pre-book the fitness center for a specific workout time. Look for attendants at gyms, too, ready to visibly disinfect equipment after use.
Spa service will be both more structured, and more limited, and for good reason. At luxury ranch Amangiri in Utah, which reopened on May 21, facials have been removed from its spa menu, while spa common areas will be first-come, first-served—so that sauna could be all yours. The hotel is aiming to operate at no more than 50 percent guest capacity overall. In fact, lower capacity all around will make the hotel experience feel even more private. And who doesn’t want privacy on vacation?