How the pandemic has altered — or eliminated — hotel amenities we once took for granted
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The travel industry has undergone changes we could have never imagined in 2019. Airlines have shrunk dramatically as a result of the collapse of international travel. Cruise lines have laid up their ships and many hotels closed for several months — or forever.
Hotels that remained open during the pandemic had to make some changes — and most of those changes are still in force.
Hand sanitization stations are abundant, floors and walls are marked with reminders to maintain your distance and elevators are largely capped to one person or “family unit” per ride.
Aspects of a hotel stay that guests took for granted before the pandemic have been altered or eliminated altogether. Right now, there’s no telling whether some of these changes will stick around after the pandemic subsides. Regardless of what happens, any major change is likely to be controversial among the traveling public.
Let’s take a look at how hotels have changed up their amenity offerings in the past year.
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How hotels approach housekeeping is perhaps the most striking change that COVID-19 has had on day-to-day operations.
In the beginning of the pandemic, hotels across the spectrum were quick to stop offering daily housekeeping services. While this wouldn’t come as a huge shock to a guest staying at a limited-service hotel, guests at five-star resort properties got accustomed to having their rooms looking spick-and-span after a day at the pool or beach, in addition to nightly turndown service where housekeepers would leave neatly placed slippers at the side of the bed and indulgent chocolates on the pillow.
Now, however, no one should go into a hotel stay — no matter the property — expecting daily housekeeping services. According to guidance from both the CDC and the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA), hotels are currently not advised to clean rooms that are occupied by the same guest(s) for multiple days on a daily basis.
Of course, there is some variation between specific properties. During a recent stay at The St. Regis Aspen, TPG’s Becca Manheimer noted that her room was serviced daily and even left chocolates next to the bed as part of the nightly turndown service. And, Summer Hull discovered that the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek also had daily housekeeping service. But, as noted in the full review, housekeeping had to be requested at the W Miami.
Going forward, it’s relatively easy to postulate that hotels on the lower end of the price spectrum may continue to offer housekeeping by request only.
But, it becomes trickier on the higher end of the spectrum, where guests expect more in exchange from their nightly rate but hotels struggle to staff their properties at the appropriate levels, especially at urban properties where demand has been weaker than their beachfront and mountain-adjacent counterparts.
On-property food and beverage
In a bid to decrease the amount of congregating happening in the lobby, many hotels pulled their selection of snacks and/or beverages that may have been offered as complimentary in the lobby before the pandemic.
While we’ve begun to see certain hotels bring this type of amenity, it doesn’t quite look the same as before.
Maybe it’s designed to discourage gathering, maybe it’s designed to make up some extra revenue after losing so much in 2020 or maybe it’s both, but some hotels — especially higher-end ones — are now charging guests for things like coffee in the lobby, to the tune of $6 to $8 per cup.
It certainly will be disappointing if, even post-pandemic, hotels continue to charge guests for amenities that were previously included in the price of entry. There’s no doubt guests will begin to feel nickel-and-dimed for things like this, especially in an age of ever-increasing resort fees.
Additionally, hotels just about everywhere have modified their food-and-beverage programs. Some properties have restaurants and bars that remain shuttered, some are operating on modified hours and some are operating at full strength.
Typically, room service is one of the most indulgent aspects of a hotel stay, but these days it’s up to the individual hotel to decide how room service will be delivered. During a recent stay at the Four Seasons New York Downtown, room service breakfast felt remarkably normal, with all items served on a tray that turned into a table with “real” dishes and flatware.
But during Summer’s stay at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek, room service breakfast was left outside the door in a paper bag and served in to-go dishes. It stands to reason since “traditional” room service hasn’t gone away completely, we could see most — if not all — hotels return to serving it in the way we were accustomed to after the pandemic subsides.
Anyone who’s stayed at a hotel since the pandemic began has noticed changes in their rooms.
Things like decorative pillows and throws have been removed entirely, and plastic abounds, whether it’s plastic cups — wrapped in plastic — to replace wine glasses or a TV remote wrapped in a plastic covering with the purpose of reducing contact between housekeeping staff and guests.
Interestingly, many hotels have chosen to remove pens and notepads from their rooms. Some have maintained pens in guest rooms, but they’ve also been wrapped in plastic. As a frequent hotel guest (at least before the pandemic), I’ve been disappointed by the lack of pens in a hotel room. It’s one of the things that I’ve come to expect every single time, no matter the price point of the hotel I’m staying at.
Research over the last several months has indicated that COVID-19 doesn’t spread on surfaces, so it will be very interesting to see how hotels react as the industry recovers. I have no qualms about a property replacing the TV remote with a system that allows you to control it through scanning a QR code on the screen, but I’m certainly ready for things like wine glasses, ice buckets and pens and paper to return to hotels on a widespread basis.
Plexiglass and less human interaction
One of the definitive markers of the pandemic era will certainly be the rise of plexiglass dividers — at check-in desks, in restaurants and bars and more.
Of course, they’re designed to slow or stop entirely the transmission of potentially harmful aerosols that spread when people talk and interact in close proximity.
While decreased human interaction may not be in vogue forever at all properties, it looks like some hotel brands are betting that guests will continue to be happy with some interactions being replaced with machines. For example, Marriott just shared the details of two programs it’s beginning to roll out at some of its select-service hotels. It’s adding automated self-service check-in kiosks as well as vending machines that sell food (even hot breakfast items), drinks and more that are paid for with contactless payment systems.
And, the major hotel chains have beefed up the functionality of their mobile apps to allow guests to complete things like checking-in, unlocking their room and checking out all from their smartphone.
Surely, hotels — especially in the select-service category — will be eager to reduce labor costs by replacing some functions that were formerly completed with humans with machines and technology. Unfortunately for workers in the hospitality industry, it’s unlikely, at least in the short term, that we’ll see a complete restoration of pre-pandemic services at the middle and lower end of the price spectrum.
The pandemic has changed what’s offered — and what’s expected — at hotels.
As the industry rebounds and more people return to hotels around the country and the world, properties everywhere are going to have to begin making decisions on what the new normal will look like at their hotels.
We don’t yet know what this will look like, but hotel guests everywhere can expect things to not return to exactly how they were before the pandemic. Some of these lasting changes could prove to be positives overall, but all signs, right now at least, point to a future of less human interaction and more automated processes for tasks that used to happen in person.
Whatever happens, hotels, please just give us our pens back.
Featured image by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy
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