The world is slowly—at its own pace—reopening for travelers near and far. Hotels and resorts have embarked on a transformation of the most basic ways they run their business, aimed at showing would-be travelers they understand where they’re at: anxious about the coronavirus but longing for a vacation. At the most basic level, hotels are performing temperature checks when guests arrive, conspicuously wiping down high-touch public areas, luggage carts, and door handles, offering complimentary PPE and hand sanitizer, and limiting contact between staff and guests. But some hotels have leveled up to offer an even greater sense of safety and peace of mind to their guests. From occupancy rate caps to socially-distanced entertainment, here’s what to look for when evaluating a hotel’s commitment towards state-of-the-art guest safety.
Blackberry Mountain, Walland, Tennessee. Photo, courtesy of Blackberry Mountain.
1. Check if the hotel is capping daily occupancy to make social distancing easier. A high occupancy cap may hinder your ability to socially distance from other guests as fewer rooms are kept vacant. In states with low or declining Covid-19 positivity rates, or hotels that exclusively offer cabins and cottages like the 5200-acre Blackberry Mountain resort in Tennessee, the cap varies from 70% to 100% (i.e. full occupancy is allowed). In states with high or growing Covid-19 positivity rates, or high-density hotels, the max occupancy should ideally be capped at 50% for safety. Occupancy cap information is not published on hotel websites, which means you’ll have to take the extra step to call the front desk for this info.
Maker Hotel, Hudson Valley, NY. Photo, courtesy of Maker Hotel.
2. Find out how much time has been allotted for room cleaning between stays. At a minimum a hotel should allow 24 hours of vacancy between guest reservations (though we prefer 48 hours). The Maker Hotel in Hudson Valley, NY, goes one step further and only allows bookings between Friday and Monday. Tuesday to Thursday are reserved for a thorough cleaning of the rooms and common areas. A deep clean should ideally involve changing all linens, wiping down hard surfaces with disinfectant, and using a UV light sterilizer to neutralize germs on soft surfaces like sofas and the bed. Some hotels including The Hilton Group (Waldorf Astoria, Conrad, Canopy, and Hilton) are also sealing their rooms after a deep clean. Housekeeping ensures that the door seal is visible to guests prior to room entry, providing certainty (and peace of mind) that the room has not been accessed since the last cleaning was completed.
3. If you’re heading to a resort, pick one that has multiple outdoor dining spaces and pools. Studies suggest that dining indoors is riskier than outdoors, where circulating air minimizes the chances of transmission. You might also want to consider finding out how large these outdoor spaces are (a small outdoor dining terrace will mean long wait times for seating), and whether the food menus have been consolidated. If you’ve booked a 2-week vacation, it would be less than ideal to arrive and discover that the room service menu, pool-side menu, and outdoor-dining restaurant menu are basically the same.
Miraval Berkshires Resort, Lenox, Massachusetts. Photo, courtesy of Miraval.
4. Choose hotels and resorts offering a wide variety of outdoor entertainment options. If you like to get in a morning workout during your vacation, call in advance to see if the resort is offering outdoor workouts and yoga classes. At Terranea, a resort on the southern coast of California with a 102-acre campus, the gym is sealed shut but spin bikes are set up outside and seaside yoga classes begin at 7:30am. Their spa is closed, however guests can still book 60 minute treatments in one of their private outdoor cabanas. At the Disney Resort Fort Wilderness, guests can enjoy trail rides and outdoor movies. And if you're looking for a more grown-up stay, the newly opened Miraval Berkshires Resort in Massachusetts is something of a luxury summer camp for adults. Here, guests can enjoy a full day of outdoor beekeeping, yoga, gua sha, horse-riding, kayaking, and rope courses. The resort also offers a full service spa, where (as should be industry standard) therapists take the time to explain the PPE they’re wearing before pampering each guest.
Velas Resort, Los Cabos, Mexico. Photo, courtesy of Velas Resorts.
5. Your health and well-being is directly correlated to how resorts treat their staff. Good establishments try hard to keep staff safe, partly to avoid the bad publicity around a Covid-19 outbreak, but mostly because a healthy and happy staff translates to healthy and happy clients who book return trips and recommend the resort to friends and followers. So, how do you know if the resort is doing right by its staff? By keeping your eyes open. Is the staff keeping their masks on? Are they trying to distance from each other? Most of the time, you can tell right away. With six hotels in Mexico, Velas Resorts has taken staff safety to a whole new level. Juan Velas, the vice president of Velas Resorts, requires staff to take a smell test every morning. When they arrive to work, they have their temperature taken, then they are invited to close their eyes and smell coffee beans, garlic and lemon laid out on towels. “Having a headache and losing one's sense of smell are common signs of Covid,” said Mr. Velas. Employees who have trouble identifying the correct smells are asked to get tested before returning to work.
The Rosewood Miramar, California. Photo, courtesy of Rosewood Hotels.
6. Once you’ve narrowed your resort selection to two or three properties, find out when the property was last renovated—and in particular the last renovation of their HVAC system. In pandemic times, you might be better off staying at a newly opened or newly renovated property. Pre-pandemic, HVAC systems were designed and programmed to introduce enough fresh air to comprise 10%-15% of total conditioned air actively being supplied to the indoor spaces. During the pandemic, hotel managers have re-programmed their systems to “maximize dilution” by allowing more fresh air in. Older HVAC systems, however, have a hard time handling this level of strain and over time their efficiency will decrease. The same efficiency loss occurs when thicker, hospital-grade MERV 13 filters are used in an older HVAC system. New properties are likely to have HVAC systems that can introduce more fresh air and also have superior filtration technology such as bipolar ionization which neutralizes germs within 30 minutes of passing through (coronavirus included). It is obviously difficult to find out this level of detail which brings us to the first point: whenever possible, pick a newly opened or newly renovated hotel. Some of our favorite new properties include Castle Hot Springs, located on a 1100 acre property 50 miles north of Phoenix, Arizona; The Rosewood Miramar Beach, which occupies 16 beachfront acres in California; the wellness-focused Shou Sugi Ban House in the Hamptons; Sensei Lanai Four Seasons located on the island of Lanai in Hawaii; and The Lodge at Blue Skye from Auberge Resorts in Utah, where you can fly-fish in 25 miles of streams, shoot biodegradable clays on an 18-stand course, and learn horseback riding at Saving Gracie’s Farm.
7. Browse hotel reviews to learn how guests are being delighted during their stay (despite all the new safety protocols). Have the guest hospitality rituals (such as afternoon high tea or an energy purification ceremony) been abandoned, or have they evolved to take safety into account? At the Viceroy Los Cabos, socially distant new moon ceremonies that help you set new intentions are back. Even as many hotels are asking guests to take their own luggage to their rooms, the bellhop team at The Dunton Hot Springs in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado will wipe down your luggage with disinfectant wipes prior to cabin drop-off. The more thorough and thoughtful the hospitality, the greater the sense of safety and security you’ll have when enjoying your time at the hotel.