2 years into COVID-19 pandemic: If it’s still gone from hotels, is it ever coming back?
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The COVID-19 pandemic has been going on for two years now, and the realization is slowly sinking in that many of the perks and amenities at hotels that were cut “due to coronavirus” may not be coming back.
Among the items cut from many hotels are breakfast, housekeeping, restaurants, lounges, pools, spas, gyms, kids clubs, room service and even concierges.
Some people report pens, notepads and “Do Not Disturb” signs seem to have also gone the way of the dodo bird at some properties.
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“I don’t think these cuts are going to be reversed anytime soon, and in fact, I will be shocked if we see some of these amenities returning in the next few years,” said Tim Jue, a San Francisco-based reporter covering airlines and travel.
Resort and destination fees are the only things that didn’t seem to get cut during the pandemic … even as the list of what you are supposed to be getting for those fees continues to shrink.
That’s something that also ticks off Jue who told TPG, “The real rub here is many hotels are still charging exorbitant resort fees on top of all these cuts. At the end of the day, you’re paying more for less, and that’s terrible value for your money.”
Some analysts think that guests are going to start revolting over the lack of amenities and service. “When you are visiting a city and it is about to relax mask rules, bars are open, gyms are open and your hotel looks like East Berlin with everything closed or walled off — especially at full-service hotels — the guests are going to be furious and are not going to accept that,” said Henry Harteveldt – a travel industry analyst and president of Atmosphere Research.
So what’s been cut and what has it meant for guests? Read on.
No more free breakfast
Lots of hotels got rid of breakfast at their property during the pandemic. While breakfast service is coming back for many hotels, the options, hours and variety have often been cut to the bone.
“Hotel owners are wounded animals, and they are roaring and clawing at their guests as they attempt to heal,” said Harteveldt. “Hotel owners are unapologetic about it. They’re putting their own profits ahead of anything their guests want or expect even when brands tell them that services are supposed to be restored.”
We talked to readers in the TPG Lounge group on Facebook, and, as you can imagine, the query set off quite the discussion.
They told TPG that breakfast still hasn’t come back at some properties at all.
Suzanne Wolco had a recent stay in Fort Lauderdale where she said she wasn’t surprised to find no room service, but was surprised to find there was no breakfast at all. She said she was, “… told to go to local restaurants if I didn’t want to do coffee shop in the lobby.”
Kelly Albomonti said she was missing hot, decent breakfasts, “Microwaving a frozen breakfast sandwich myself isn’t appealing to me.”
Other hotels offered only grab-and-go packs for breakfast during much of the pandemic. Fortunately, that trend seems to have mostly gone away.
There was a social media post last weekend that got my attention focused on the scaled-back breakfast benefits at Hilton.
During the pandemic, Hilton rolled out a “temporary” policy on free breakfast for its Gold and Diamond members. That policy has now been extended through at least 2022. Instead of free breakfast, Hilton elites get a food and beverage credit to use during their stay. The problem? It rarely covers a full breakfast.
Indeed, Jue said while a daily room credit of $10 – $25 per day sounds nice in theory, “… but when the hotel restaurant charges $15 for a bagel and schmear, the tab adds up quickly. You almost always spend more than the daily credit. I usually go outside the hotel for my morning nosh nowadays.”
That cut to the breakfast benefit is just one of the many, drastic changes we’ve seen at hotels during COVID-19.
Where did the lounges go?
One of the strangest and longest-lasting cutbacks in hotels has been the demise of the hotel lounge. Executive floor lounges are, in many hotels, shuttered, or gutted of any real food or beverage service.
“What’s really annoying is when guests pay for products that aren’t delivered,’ said Harteveldt, “so if you paid for a club-level room and have an expectation for an elevated experience, and then are told the lounge is closed. That’s not what those guests are paying for.”
When I asked readers in the TPG Lounge what they missed most, many said the hotel lounge, which in many places in the United States is either gone or a shell of its former self.
Sometimes, if they are open, the lounges will have a sad assortment of granola bars and, if you’re lucky, a bottle of water.
“Several hotels I stay at have declared that their lounges won’t be coming back,” said Larry Kaplan in the TPG Lounge. He continued, “What’s the point of having VIP floors at a higher price, without a lounge?” Kaplan called it a, “… deceitful way of lowering costs to raise profits and trying to blame it on COVID-19.”
Colleen Caldwell Specht told TPG, “We stayed at the Marriott in Irvine a few months ago and the executive lounge was only open on weekends. My trip had me arriving on Saturday and leaving mid week so we only got to enjoy our free breakfast on one day of our stay.”
Blair Soucy told us, “Hyatt O’Hare Regency Club was closed on my last visit, but they did set up a $20 breakfast buffet…should have been comped… .”
Another reader told me the lounges at both the Hyatt Regency and the Grand Hyatt in Denver remain closed, but not due to COVID-19, but both telling him it was due to lack of staff.
That lack of staffing may have as much to do with the lack of some amenities as COVID-19. Tim Jue said:
“Hotels really suffered during the pandemic, and they’re still going through incredibly turbulent times, so they’re looking to cut as much as they can to keep the lights on. The labor shortage, rising cost of doing business and supply crunch are exacerbating the pressure this industry is facing, and I can’t see many hotels bringing back hot breakfast buffets or lounges for elite members in the near term. For travelers, this is going to mean less value for your dollar. Hotel lounges for elite members typically had great happy hour offerings — but I believe that’s now a thing of the past.”
Gary Hoel said he didn’t buy the reasoning some hotels were offering, ” … they say because of lack of staffing. Somehow international hotels manage, just not in the U.S. (recent stays in Iceland, London, Miami and Anchorage).”
No more daily housekeeping
Many hotels dropped daily housekeeping during the pandemic, and at some hotels (like most Hiltons), it’s now a thing of the past. Indeed, at Hilton housekeeping is “by request only.” Guests who want their rooms cleaned have to call the front desk, and even then, it sometimes only means fresh towels and an emptied wastebasket.
“Housekeeping at many hotels I’ve stayed at is on request only, and I see this practice becoming the norm given the labor shortages in the industry,” said Jue.
“At some hotels, housekeeping may be gone for good,” Harteveldt confirmed, continuing:
“Three-star and two-star brands’ daily housekeeping may be going away or be on request only, but at four-star hotels, guests are paying for and expect service and amenities and this is where the battle is the most intense. This is where the hotel owners are setting themselves up for massive problems. When brands create expectations of what guests should expect, and loyalty programs add to those in terms of promised benefits, guests are going to expect them. This is especially true for brands that have longer histories…brands like Hilton, Marriott, Westin, Crown Plaza, Kimpton, Hyatt and other four-star brands guests are going to expect that housekeeping will be available, restaurants will be available, gym and so on.”
That was one of the biggest complaints we heard in the TPG Lounge was the lack of daily housekeeping.
Kyle Parks told me he was currently staying at the Renaissance in St. Augustine, “Housekeeping will come in and refresh the towels, but not make the bed or empty the trash.”
Gyms were closed early in the pandemic when we weren’t sure exactly how COVID-19 was spread. Most hotels have now reopened their gyms, though some remain closed or have limited capacity and hours. At some hotels, reservations are required.
Traci Chenini said she was aggravated at, “Having to make reservations for using the gym. On a short stay, if you don’t know to reserve in advance, you don’t get to go. And half the time the gym is empty anyway since people reserve and don’t show up.”
Erica Ramos told me the gym remains an issue at the Hyatt House in Emeryville in the San Francisco Bay Area, “… gym is by reservation only, so impossible to get a morning slot if you check in the day before. Also, no notification of this if you check in through the app.”
No pool, hot tub or other water features
Many hotels shut down their pools, hot tubs, saunas, waterparks and other water features during the coronavirus pandemic like the Hilton Waikiki as you can see from the photo above, and the Sonesta in Kauai which had its hot tubs closed in the height of the pandemic.
While most pools and other water features have returned, some properties are still keeping their pools closed. Others, with multiple pools, will occasionally have just one open.
No more hotel shuttles
This was a big pain point for me personally a few times. When I arrived in Fairbanks late one evening with my elderly father, the hotel shuttle was nowhere to be found. When I called the front desk at the Hyatt Place where we were staying, no one ever answered the phone. Fortunately, a shuttle driver for a competing hotel took pity on us and dropped us off at the hotel. When we arrived, I saw the shuttle was parked in front, but there was no driver. The front desk told me that sometimes the phones don’t work, but no driver was available anyway. Well, then.
The next day, I had to beg the overnight clerk to drop us off at the train station as there were few ride share drivers available in Fairbanks.
It’s not so uncommon these days. Some hotels have dispensed with shuttle service all together or scaled back the hours it runs. In the age of Uber and Lyft driver shortages, it’s a bad combination.
Beverly Kerr told me, “Denver 24-hour airport shuttles last year were not offered by the hotel, as mentioned on their website. Called the hotel, took a long time to be able to speak to someone, then was told the shuttle stopped half hour before our arrival. We had to get a Lyft. Another time last year, the shuttle from the hotel to the airport was contracted out and made stops at other hotels, causing stress to passengers about getting to the airport on time.”
Spas remain shut down or operating with reduced hours
Many spas have either shut down or are running with limited hours (including this one at the Alyeska Resort in Girdwood, Alaska).
Restaurants are closed or have limited menus and hours
A lot of times, hotel lobbies have shuttered their restaurants altogether or only kept one open with limited hours. Room service has also disappeared from many hotels. I had a few hotel stays in Anchorage where there was one restaurant only operating with limited evening hours.
On another trip — to the high-end Hotel 1000 in Seattle – the restaurant was excellent, but only operating a few hours on a few days a week.
Jeffrey Eslinger told us in the TPG Lounge that he spent a week at the Grand Hyatt San Antonio and said there was, “… no room service, no seated lunch dining option and the only seated dinner option was Ruth’s Chris.” He did say that housekeeping was on top of it while he was there, so we’ll call that a win.
Goodbye to the concierge
At many hotels, the concierge desk is forlorn and abandoned — either done away with completely or offering sporadic service. COVID-19 sped up a trend that had been underway for some time with many hotels ditching the concierge in the age of Google. Some hotels will even tell you to search for local attractions on Trip Advisor or hunt for restaurants on apps like Uber Eats.
Bad service or understaffing issues
When we asked what was missing from hotels these days, Dan Horvath told TPG, “The simple things. Like, ‘thank you for being a Marriott Titanium elite member. We appreciate your loyalty.’ No, I’m not pretentious but little things like that make a difference. Oh, and, and any cut amenities where they cite “health and safety” as the reason. I’d rather them flat-out say ‘we’re cutting this because we are short staffed and trying to save money.’”
“We just stayed at a luxury property and while nothing was technically “missing” EVERYTHING was unreliable and inconsistent, from service to amenities. One day service was fabulous, the next day the phones rang and rang and rang and we couldn’t reach a single person at the hotel. It feels like the system is overwhelmed with pent-up travel demand yet lack of trained staff. It really feels like the floodgates are opening on travel right now and I really don’t think the travel industry systems are going to be able to handle it. So much frustration all around. I feel like people will be happier when it comes to travel if they go the fast casual route and don’t expect all the amenities and services they r (SIC) used to.”
Some of our favorite things about hotel stays were slashed during the pandemic, and two years later, they may not be coming back. While some service and amenities are returning slowly but surely, others may be gone for good — especially now that inflation, staff shortages and companies’ hunger for bigger profits look to be sticking around for a while. Unfortunately, resort fees are apparently here for good. If the pandemic didn’t kill them, nothing probably can at this point (aside from governments passing laws against them). Meantime, those resort fees are covering less and less.
Related: How to avoid resort fees
But analysts say hotels are playing with fire. “What’s going to happen is hotel guests will adopt the same behavior as airline passengers, where they view hotels as substitutable commodities and focus more on price and book the least expensive rooms and rates they can find,” said Harteveldt. “If hotel owners and operators are not careful, they will create a death spiral for their businesses.”
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