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August 4, 2021 – Americans returned to travel this summer as the COVID-19 vaccine rolled out and pent up demand caused bookings to soar, not only this year but also for 2022 and 2023. However, the return to travel – especially the hotel stay experience – comes with a level of uncertainty, evolving protocols and ever changing guidance for travelers. Hotel stays will likely look different than prior to the pandemic, according to AAA Travel Advisors. Once tried-and-true expectations of travel have shifted, especially when booking a hotel stay, all in the name of keeping guests and employees safe.
“Since the pandemic, hotels have taken extra precautions and implemented many new safety protocols,” said Debra Calvert, Managing Director, Merchandise and Auto Travel, AAA Club Alliance. “Knowing what to expect when you stay at a hotel this summer and beyond will be key to maintaining your peace of mind as you decide to return to travel."
Hotel Changes Due to COVID-19
- Technology at many hotels is helping to keep the guest experience as seamless as possible.
- Many hotel chains adopting mobile check-in to allow guests to bypass the front desk altogether and use a smart phone to unlock the room door.
New Cleaning Processes are the Norm
- Daily housekeeping service has often been discontinued and is instead available upon request.
- Guest room cleaning protocols have been enhanced at hotels across the country, with many naming and publicizing their programs to help with guest comfort levels.
- Unnecessary, high-touch items have been removed, including decorative pillows, bed scarves, notepads, and pens to put guest safety first.
Food Service and Housekeeping Amenities Have Evolved
- Breakfast buffets have been replaced with cooked-to-order sit down service or grab-and-go options.
- In many instances, room service is delivered to guest room doors. Hotel personnel do not enter guest rooms to deliver meals.
Guest Expectations Require Re-Focusing and Understanding
- Hotels, like so many industries, have and continue to suffer from staffing shortages at the same time that occupancy rates have increased, leaving a gap that requires traveler’s patience and understanding.
- Leisure travelers have replaced what would formerly have been a mix of business and leisure guests at many hotels. As leisure travelers often desire different services and at different times, hotels have worked to adjust staffing and services to meet expectations.
“Vacation stays at hotels can remain enjoyable for all, with a little pre-planning, patience and understanding from guests,” said Calvert. “Simply knowing what to expect and planning accordingly can make a big difference and prevent surprises. If, for example, a pool requires reservations, although this is certainly not always the case, knowing it in advance will allow travelers to plan accordingly.”
AAA Diamond Inspectors offer Hotel Tips
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on travelers’ expectations. AAA Diamond Inspectors have been at the forefront of the hotel industry for more than 80 years, conducting independent in-person hotel inspections. As people return to hotels stays, AAA Diamond inspectors share the following tips for travelers before and after check-in:
- When you arrive to the hotel room, act like an inspector. Does the room smell fresh? Turn on the lights and open the drapes, do a quick walk around and look for any obvious issues. Pay special attention to the bathroom, as issues are usually easiest to see there. A very clean bathroom is a good indicator of the property’s overall cleanliness.
- While everyone loves a good deal, now may not be the best time to go “bargain hunting” as unusually low rates at a property may be an indication that they are struggling for business and possibly cutting corners.
- Be prepared for restricted services, including housekeeping services that may only be performed every third day. Some swimming pools may be closed or have capacity restrictions, and breakfast at many limited-service hotels has been pared down significantly or eliminated in some cases. Guests should be prepared to reuse towels, and may want to bring some snacks to supplement the daily breakfast.
- Be prepared to see a little more wear and tear on the hotel. Delayed renovations, supply chain issues and heavy use by leisure travelers have impacted some maintenance efforts.
- Pack your patience! Be understanding of the difficult conditions the staff at many hotels have been working under for well over a year now. Managers in particular have had to cover a lot of positions, including working the front desk, cleaning rooms or serving breakfast. A little patience and understanding will be appreciated and returned in the hospitality given.
“The hotel landscape has changed dramatically in light of the pandemic,” said John Lubanski, AAA regional inspections manager. “Use the available information to choose wisely. If service and amenities are most important to you, a higher 4 or 5 Diamond designation will be more likely to deliver on all of your expectations. If convenience and price are important, go with the trusted hotels and well-known brands at the Approved and 3 Diamond level that have been better able to sustain their quality levels through the pandemic.”
AAA Diamond Inspector Program – “Inspected Clean” Enhancement
AAA recently announced its latest enhancement to the AAA Diamond Awards Program: Inspected Clean, a new designation for AAA rated properties who also meet enhanced cleanliness standards. According to AAA research, 76% of consumers surveyed would be disappointed if a third-party inspection did not evaluate whether high-touch areas in a hotel are sanitized. While hotels that are awarded diamond ratings must already meet sanitation standards, AAA’s new housekeeping evaluation includes an objective, scientific validation of the cleanliness of common surfaces in guest rooms. Hotels that meet AAA's new criteria for cleanliness, condition, and this new surface cleanliness testing will now be recognized as Inspected Clean in addition to their Diamond designation.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on travelers’ expectations for cleanliness. That’s more important than ever as more people get the COVID-19 vaccine and start traveling once again,” said Stacey Barber, executive director, AAA Travel. “All AAA Diamond designated hotels must meet our established standards of cleanliness and physical condition. With the new addition of surface cleanliness testing, these properties will now also be recognized as Inspected Clean.”
Inspectors will measure eight surfaces in guest rooms and bathrooms during each inspection, which may include:
- Interior guest room door handle
- A wall light switch
- Thermostat control
- Guest room desk/writing surface
- Television remote
- Refrigerator handle
- Bathroom light switch
- Sink faucet handle
- Toilet flush handle
- Bathroom door handle
- Hair dryer
- Vanity surface
Travelers will be able to find Inspected Clean hotels on AAA.com/Diamonds to help plan their trips later this fall. For Americans planning trips between now and then, look for AAA’s Best of Housekeeping badge for peace of mind.
Rigorous standards for cleanliness and condition have long been a foundation of the AAA Diamond Program. After a hotel passes AAA’s review for cleanliness, condition and surface cleanliness testing during an unannounced inspection, it will be recognized as Inspected Clean and earn a AAA Diamond designation—Approved, Three Diamond, Four Diamond or Five Diamond—which describes their level of amenities and services. For now, Inspected Clean only applies to AAA Diamond designated hotels, not restaurants that are also part of the AAA Diamond Program.
For more than 80 years, AAA has conducted professional, independent, in-person property inspections. The AAA Diamond Program comprises more than 26,000 Diamond designated hotels across the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.
The Key to Planning Your Hotel Stay
One trend has become clear as hotels resume operations—the need for advanced planning. With pent-up travel demand and hotel rooms being pulled out of service for deep cleaning after a guest stays, availability could quickly become challenging.
“Advanced planning is more important this year, as we anticipate that people will need to make reservations that perhaps they had not considered before,” said Calvert. “That includes amusement parks, restaurants and checking hotels to ensure what to expect at their facilities so that you have a memorable and enjoyable trip.”
AAA offers the following tips when booking a hotel for a summer vacation:
- Book early and be flexible with your travel dates.
- Use a trusted travel agent. Booking through a travel agent gives you peace of mind that the agent will advocate on your behalf, getting you the information you need and facilitating any future changes or cancellations. When booking new travel, consumers should ask about cancellation, rebooking, and refund policies.
- Take advantage of hotel discounts with your AAA membership.
- Contact your hotel of choice and review their cleaning protocols.
- Check out AAA’s COVID travel map for an update on state and local guidelines.
- AAA has developed an additional new resource, “AAA Presents: Put Your Worries to Rest”, to offer a first-hand look at what travelers can expect from check-in to check-out.
AAA provides automotive, travel, and insurance services to 61 million members nationwide and nearly two and a half million members in Ohio. AAA advocates for the safety and mobility of its members and has been committed to outstanding road service for more than 100 years. AAA is a non-stock, non-profit corporation working on behalf of motorists, who can now map a route, find local gas prices, discover discounts, book a hotel, and track their roadside assistance service with the AAA Mobile app (AAA.com/mobile) for iPhone, iPad and Android. For more information, visit www.AAA.com.