To travel, or not to travel. That's the question millions of us have faced as we choose to get vaccines and attempt to mitigate the raging cabin fever we’ve been keeping at bay for the past year. With restrictions and travel information changing by the minute, it’s been a challenge to find ways to escape the four walls of your home easily.
As travel kicks into high gear, one thing is for sure—it's going to be the year of the road trip. Whether it's to visit family and friends or to escape to a scenic national park with plenty of room for social distancing, travelers are starting to make their plans to explore America this summer.
What were once tried-and-true expectations of travel may have shifted since the last time you hit the road. Gone are the days of getting in the car and traveling without a plan. These days, a reservation is required for just about everything you do, from staying at a hotel to visiting amusement parks. And inside hotels, the experience has changed a bit, too, all in the name of keeping guests safe.
With more than 71% of Americans ready to travel, according to a recent Destination Analysts survey (a pandemic high), hotels are expected to be far more occupied than last summer. Knowing what to expect when you stay at a hotel this summer will be key to maintaining your peace of mind as you make the decision to return to travel.
NEW CLEANING PROTOCOLS AND CHECK-IN PROCESSES ARE THE NORMS
The Best Western Premier Mariemont Inn has been in the Spinnenweber family for decades. Located in the heart of the village of Mariemont on the east side of Cincinnati, Ohio, the hotel’s distinct Tudor architecture in the heart of the village greets leisure and business travelers alike.
Like all of the properties in Best Western's portfolio, the boutique hotel has had to adjust its practices because of the COVID-19 pandemic, starting with the addition of the “We Care Clean” program that puts both guest and hotel employee health first.
“Best Western developed the ‘We Care Clean’ program in conjunction with government agencies to provide the best and safest environment for our guests and our employees,” says Bill Spinnenweber, owner of the Best Western Premier Mariemont Inn. “[It] has two components. It’s not just the cleaning to be safe on the virus component, but it’s also the operational piece with our employee and guest interactions.”Like many hotel chains across the country, Best Western has implemented the “We Care Clean” program to address cleanliness and safety protocols. The program guides everything from the guest rooms to the common areas under the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The streamlined cleaning processes minimize contact between guests and hotel employees while maintaining a high level of service.
"Before the pandemic, at check-in, we were able to talk to the guests and explain the history of the village and the amenities of the area," says Spinnenweber. “But with the pandemic, we’re trying to limit the amount of time we spend with guests for their safety. We’ve moved all that content to our Mobile Concierge platform, which is a technology that we utilize to pass on information we normally can’t give in person.”
Technology at many hotels is helping to keep the guest experience as seamless as possible. With many hotel chains adopting mobile check-in, some guests can bypass the front desk altogether and go straight to their room, using their phone to unlock the room door. According to Spinnenweber, Best Western’s Mobile Concierge platform provides guests with the ability to request extra amenities, too.
"The Mobile Concierge platform allows guests not only to pre-register for check-in, but throughout their stay, they can request extra towels, extra amenities, or receive information on the hotel all through their phone," says Spinnenweber.
For guests who still need to visit the front desk to check in at a hotel, social distancing markers, plexiglass, and personal protective equipment will be the norm, along with enhanced sanitization of high-touch surfaces at check-in.
Hotel employees across the country, ranging from the front desk staff to housekeeping, have also undergone special training to make sure they're familiar with new processes. The guidance includes wearing personal protective equipment, sanitizing work areas, and enacting frequent and stringent personal safety measures.
NOTICEABLE CHANGES TO HOUSEKEEPING
Guests checking into hotels may notice some differences if they haven't stayed in a hotel since the COVID-19 pandemic began. At many hotels across the country, unnecessary, high-touch items have been removed, including decorative pillows, bed scarves, notepads, and pens to put guest safety first. However, items like soaps, shampoos, lotions, hairdryers, irons, and ironing boards will still be available in most cases.
At many hotels, staff will not enter guest rooms for 24 to 72 hours after checkout—at which time housekeeping staff will spend extra time on all touchpoints. On the housekeeping staff at the Best Western Premier Mariemont Inn, Robin Rhodes takes special care as she cleans guest rooms.
“We are doubling everything that we do. We’re doubling on our cleaning of our light fixtures, our door handles, our ironing boards, our coffee pots,” says Rhodes.
Besides spending more time cleaning high-touch areas and linens, a new final touch sanitizes the room—an electrostatic sprayer.
“An electrostatic sprayer is a device that we use to fight the COVID virus,” says Rhodes. “We use this device for the final sanitizing of our rooms.”
The electrostatic sprayer applies a positive charge to liquid disinfectants as they pass through the sprayer nozzle. According to the EPA, the positively charged disinfectant is attracted to negatively charged surfaces, which allows for efficient coating of hard, nonporous surfaces. The device has commonly been used to disinfect hotel rooms, lobbies, and airplanes during the pandemic.
Housekeeping frequency during your stay will likely be impacted by the pandemic, as well, with housekeeping occurring by request only. According to Spinnenweber, this change keeps the guests and hotel staff safe.
“If a guest is staying multiple nights, they’ll have to request their daily cleaning if they want to,” says Spinnenweber. “It’s not automatic like it was in the past. This could be something as simple as a quick tidy-up or a full room service. The guest cannot stay in the room while we’re cleaning the room just to keep social distancing in effect.”
HOTEL AMENITIES ARE AVAILABLE DEPENDING ON LOCAL REGULATIONS
Local and state guidelines are currently dictating the availability of hotel amenities such as fitness centers, business centers, breakfast areas, and pools. When allowed to open, these amenities are cleaned regularly with disinfecting chemicals, including the use of an electrostatic sprayer or other technology. Spinnenweber notes that guests will find hand sanitizer and wipes in many of these public facilities, too.
“We’ve tried to keep as many areas of the hotel open to the guests to use,” says Spinnenweber. “In the business center, we’ve added hand wipes for guests to feel safe using the computer, as well as in the fitness room. We’ve also added hand wipes and signage to promote safe conditions.”
WHAT TO EXPECT AT HOTEL RESTAURANTS
Many of us look forward to a hotel breakfast, whether it’s a visit to the waffle bar or a full-blown sit-down meal. But breakfast offerings at hotels across the country vary based on local and state regulations, causing some hotels to offer “grab and go” offerings in place of a traditional breakfast to minimize the risk associated with the virus.
“Breakfast at Best Western has always been a highlight for a lot of guests in the morning after their stay,” says Spinnenweber. It’s changed quite dramatically through the pandemic to encourage safety between our guests and our employees. Guests may notice more ‘grab and go’ bags at this point than a hot breakfast. It is in an attempt to minimize any exposure without decreasing the service.”
The National Exemplar, the restaurant inside the Best Western Premier Mariemont Inn, was able to open its doors this past summer after a months' long shut down due to state regulations related to the pandemic. National Exemplar Chief Operating Officer Michael Pardo made sure restaurant employees were prepared to meet new, lasting standards when the doors opened.
“Prior to reopening, everybody had to go through a certification that they understood the importance of what was happening and the role and responsibilities that they played,” says Pardo. “It’s an ingrained culture now. The standards that you see us employing today will likely continue to be with us well beyond the days of COVID.”
Like many hotel restaurants, the National Exemplar utilizes rigorous daily health assessments of all employees, including temperature checks and a voluntary vaccination program. The restaurant has also enacted a multi-step cleaning program that includes UV lighting, electrostatic disinfecting, and food-safe sanitizers for each table. But these extra measures only enhance the guest experience, according to Pardo.
“One of the first things guests will still notice is a best-in-class approach, both by the restaurant and by the hotel,” says Pardo.
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 guest stays, availability could quickly become challenging, according to AAA’s Micki Dudas.
“Advanced planning is more important this year, as we anticipate that people will need to make reservations that perhaps they had not considered before,” says Dudas. “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.”
To help travelers get familiar with state and local guidelines, AAA has created an interactive map that provides detailed and pertinent information changes.
According to Dudas, flexibility will be essential as we return to travel this summer.
"You need to anticipate things are going to look different, and there are a number of changes," says Dudas. “So advanced planning is the key to a successful summer vacation.”