How Will the US Hotel Experience Change Post COVID-19?

As hotel occupancy ticks up ever so slightly, the lodging industry is putting new standards in place to enhance cleaning and ensure guest safety.

One organization working overtime to make sure that these new measures are clear and communicated effectively to the public is the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA), which has created Safe Stay guidelines for the industry.

“Safe Stay was developed specifically to ensure enhanced safety for hotels guests and employees. While hotels have always employed demanding cleaning standards, this new initiative will ensure greater transparency and confidence throughout the entire hotel experience,” said Chip Rogers, president and CEO of AHLA. “The industry’s enhanced hotel cleaning practices, social interactions, and workplace protocols will continue to evolve to meet the new health and safety challenges and expectations presented by COVID-19.”

Travelers in states where shelter in place and stay at home orders have been lifted may be looking to travel and stay in a hotel soon. What will that look like in the “new normal?”

Hygiene will be the number one priority. The Safe Stay guidelines promote frequent handwashing for employees, hand sanitizer dispensers, signage, instructions for mask-wearing and more.

Major hotel brands have launched their own programs, too, partnering with brands such as Clorox and Lysol and the Mayo Clinic.

Hilton CleanStay was launched in partnership with the makers of Lysol as well as the Mayo Clinic. Marriott announced a Global Cleanliness Council, a panel of experts on everything from food and water safety, infection prevention and hygiene, and hotel operations.

Visitors will have a much more contact-less experience when they visit properties while maintaining social distancing guidelines and new standards of cleanliness.

Hilton will have a CleanStay room seal on guestroom doors and guests will no longer find shared amenities such as pens and paper in the room and room directories will be made digital.

Travelers are also likely to find keyless entry to rooms and disinfecting wipes for touching elevator buttons. Room service menus and ordering will likely be done on mobile apps.

Guests should also arrive expecting to self park their vehicles. Resorts such as Omni have limited valet services and instituted social distancing protocols where self-parking is unavailable.

There will also be limits on the number of people allowed to congregate in different areas with limited seating in lobbies, bars and restaurants in order to observe social distancing guidelines. The days of buffet dining may also be a thing of the past. AHLA guidelines say that room service should use contactless delivery and that buffets should be limited and served by an attendant in personal protective equipment. Pre-packaged and grab and go options are encouraged.

Guests may have to plan out their visits to the gym. Expect fitness centers to close multiple times per day for cleaning as well as socially distanced pool areas with lounge chairs six feet apart.

Behind the scenes there will be new cleaning technologies utilized.

One example is Marriott’s deployment of electrostatic sprayers and the use of the highest-grade disinfectant products. Electrostatic cleaning really gives a deep clean to surfaces, the spraying is a method where a device is used to apply an electric charge to a disinfectant, enabling the disinfectant to more effectively cover a surface than traditional cleaning methods.

One of the aspects of hotel stays that remains unknown is how many properties will institute temperature checks but travelers should expect the practice may become quite common.

The Venetian in Las Vegas said that it will use thermal scanners at entry points for a non-invasive temperature check.

Many properties will screen the health of their employees and include temperature checks.

Caesars Entertainment said that it will institute health screenings for all employees that include taking temperatures and COVID-19 testing.

While most hotel guidelines call for near-constant cleaning and disinfecting, travelers can also do their part.

Hand washing and the use of hand sanitizer should be frequent when traveling. Many properties plan to provide face masks and disinfectant wipes, but it doesn’t hurt to bring your own and wipe down surfaces, doorknobs and buttons.

Wearing a face mask is also recommended to protect both you and those around you.

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Hotel company Ashford returning federal aid money

Hospitality conglomerate Ashford said it will return all the
funding it has received from the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck
Protection Program (PPP).

Ashford’s related companies include publicly traded real
estate investment trusts Ashford Hospitality Trust and Braemar Hotels &
Resorts. Ashford Hospitality owns hotels under several major brands, including Courtyard, Embassy Suites, Hampton In, Hilton and Marriott.

Ashford came under the microscope after the New York Times
published a report
on the company’s attempt to apply for $126 million in taxpayer-funded PPP
loans. Around $70 million in PPP funding was ultimately granted. PPP loans will be forgiven if used on payroll and other designated expenses.

The news emerged after the PPP’s initial tranche of $349
million in funding ran out in just two weeks, with many small businesses owners
left high and dry.

In a statement, Ashford said the group’s decision to return
the loans in full was due to the SBA’s “recently changed rules and inconsistent
federal guidance that put the companies at compliance risk.”

“While we believed then and continue to believe today that
we qualify for PPP loans based on the legislation and rule-making in place at
the time our applications were submitted, continuous SBA rule changes and
evolving opinions by administration officials have led us to conclude that we
may no longer qualify,” said Ashford.

Specifically, the company highlighted two adjustments to PPP
guidelines made in late April, including an addendum stating that “it is
unlikely that a public company with substantial market value and access to
capital markets” will be able to properly certify that a PPP loan request is

The second change dictates that “businesses that are part of
a single corporate group shall in no event receive more than $20 million of PPP
loans in the aggregate,” with such businesses being defined as companies that
are majority owned, directly or indirectly, by a common parent.

If they are no longer eligible for aid received, the
Treasury Department has ordered large enterprises to return the money by May 7.

“We are disappointed that, in an abundance of caution to
avoid any risk of non-compliance with the changed PPP rules, our actions mean
that our employees, vendors, communities and others in need will not benefit
from the PPP as Congress intended,” said Ashford chairman and CEO Monty J.
Bennett in a statement. “We call on Congress, the Treasury Department and the
Federal Reserve to provide assistance to the hotel industry to protect jobs and
asset values that have been severely impaired as a result of the pandemic and
the government’s actions that have followed.”

Other large enterprises returning PP funds include restaurant
chains Shake Shack, Ruth’s Chris Steak House and Potbelly. Publicly traded
expedition cruise line Lindblad Expeditions returned the $6.6 million in PPP
funds it had received.

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Caribbean hotel closings continue to mount

With borders, airports, seaports and many large resortsclosed throughout the Caribbean region, more properties have announced closures through May and beyond.

The 420-room Sonesta Maho Beach Resort and the 130-suite Sonesta Ocean Point in St. Maarten are closed until June 2.

Guests holding current bookings can reschedule with no cancellation penalty or change fee as long as notification is given at least 48 hours before scheduled check-in date. Those who do not cancel but postpone their travel until a later date will earn a $50 per room, per night resort credit, which can be used on property toward a spa treatment, tour, selection of wines and more.

Elsewhere on the Dutch/French island of St. Maarten/St. Martin, travel restrictions at the border have been tightened and all nonessential travel from either side of the island is banned.

An islandwide curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. is in effect, and all airports, ferries and seaports are closed as well.
In Antigua, Curtain Bluff closed its doors in late March for the first time in its 58-year history and will reopen on Oct. 24, following its already planned annual summer closure for refurbishing.

“It is a very sad time indeed. However, we are strong and will survive this pandemic and the economic crisis that  comes with it. We are confident that we will ride out these current events,” the resort said in a statement.

In Jamaica, the Holiday Inn Resort Montego Bay is closed through May, “although we reserve the option to adjust our plans,” according to Kevin Henrickson, its managing director.

Resorts World Bimini is closed and will “update our website when there is clarity as to the appropriate time to welcome back our guests,” according to a statement from the resort.

Several hotels, resorts, villas and other accommodations  in the U.S. Virgin Islands are closed to leisure guests but have opted to keep their doors open to essential personnel, including government workers, relief workers, business travelers and airline associates. These include five properties on St. Thomas, one on St. John and 14 on St. Croix, according to a statement from the U.S.V.I. Hotel & Tourism Association and the St. Croix Hotel & Tourism Association.

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How the Hotel Industry Will Bounce Back After COVID-19

The resiliency of the hotel industry will help it rebound as the effects of the coronavirus ebb, according to GlobalData, a data and analytics firm.

“It is imperative that hotels across the globe remember how they have overcome a range of past crises, such as natural disasters, the SARS outbreak and acts of terrorism when thinking through their strategies to handle the COVID-19 crisis,” said Ralph Hollister, a travel and tourism analyst for GlobalData. “As the impact of COVID-19 lessens and demand increases, it is crucial that hotels act in a proactive manner by effectively managing room rates and marketing offers to maximize revenues.”

He added, “Hotels that are the fastest to drop their room rates and who provide the heaviest discounts will often be the last ones to recover when demand eventually returns. Many hotels will not be able to return to their normal rates instantly after demand for travel returns.”

In the view of Becky Lukovic of Bella Travel Planning, it depends on how deep the discounts are and how many properties are offering them.

“The public is expecting discounts so they will be drawn to the properties offering [them], provided they are in an [properties with] acceptable levels of comfort and service,” she said. “That said, those who discount may take longer to recoup their lost income and it might be difficult to stay afloat. We also need to keep in mind that a good portion of the traveling public may also be hurting financially, so travelers may need these discounts to even consider traveling.

Claire Schoeder of Elevations Travel noted that in the past, hotels were the fastest at dramatically dropping rates subsequently had issues in obtaining new bookings when demand increased and rates were raised significantly.

“Travelers saw that and selected hotels that did not appear to have substantial price increases when demand increased,” she said. “A number of hotels lowered prices a bit and then simply raised rates as demand increased. There was not a substantial decrease or increase,” she said.

Meanwhile, Susie Chau of Carpe Diem Traveler believes that hotel rates will need to be adjusted going forward, and in all likelihood, increase based on supply and demand.

“Some hotels may offer initial discounts to lure the first wave of travelers, but that’s likely not financially sustainable after such devastating losses over the period that the travel restrictions will last,” she said.

Travel advisors, meanwhile, were mixed on how and when the hotel industry will make a recovery.

“If this ends relatively soon (like before summer), then I think people will trickle back into travel in the summer and many will keep their reservations for fall,” Lukovic said. “That said, we have an election coming up, and historically, from my perspective, the uncertainty an election brings keeps people home near those months.”

Said Chau, “Some travelers will have very itchy feet and want to leave home as soon as possible, while others may be more cautious in the beginning and/or will not have the same financial means to travel as they did before the crisis.”

For her part, Schoeder is of the opinion that the hotel industry will indeed be one of the first travel segments to bounce back. “I think we will see hotels offering very attractive promotions that will not damage their brand to get people booking again,” she said.

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Radisson Resort Dubai Palm Jumeirah coming to United Arab Emirates

Radisson Hotel Group has singed Radisson Resort Dubai Palm Jumeirah.

The property will become the company’s first beach resort in Dubai and the third Radisson hotel in the United Arab Emirates.

It brings the Radisson portfolio in the United Arab Emirates to 23 hotels in operation and under development.

Home to some of Dubai’s top resorts, the Palm Jumeirah is built from reclaimed land in a series of artificial archipelagos and shaped like a palm tree when viewed from above.

Located on the Jumeirah shoreline, Radisson’s latest resort is perfect for both leisure and business travellers and is ideally located, providing travellers with easy access to the city and Dubai Media City, the region’s leading media hub, and a 30-minute drive from Dubai International airport.

Elie Younes, chief development officer with Radisson Hotel Group, said: “Radisson is a very compelling brand to all stakeholders, blending real estate efficiencies with guest relevance.

“We are excited to enter this new partnership and look forward to a successful journey with our partners based on trust and responsibility.”

Inside the hotel’s 389 upscale rooms and suites, guests will discover the renowned hospitality and modern amenities.

The hotel will feature five food and drink outlets, with cuisine suited to every taste at the all-day dining restaurant and guests can explore the hotel bars which overlook the infinite views of Dubai and the sea.

In a statement, Silver Beach Hotel, a subsidiary of Bhatia Holdings, added: “We are excited to partner with Radisson Hotel Group, one of the leading players in the hospitality industry.

“We were seeking a brand that is able to recognise and respond to the needs of the business and leisure clients coming to Dubai; while focusing on driving business from its established city portfolio into this prominent leisure destination on the Palm Jumeirah.”

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