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Hotels’ New Safety and Sanitation Measures

Big chains and boutique establishments adapt to keep guests and staff safe

A hand sanitizer dispenser is posted is the lobby at Caesars Palace on the Las Vegas Strip

David Becker/Stringer/Getty Images

En español | On Friday and Saturday nights, guests of the Oxford Hotel in Denver have a new entertainment option: a band playing on the mezzanine can be heard throughout the room corridors above and by those in the lobby, where staffers dispense complimentary tastings from the hotel’s Bourbon Bar.

“The Oxford team thought it was important to provide something that people had really missed during quarantine, and that was live music,” says Kim Corrigan, vice president of operations at Sage Hotel Management, which runs the downtown boutique hotel. Its miniconcerts, she notes, are provided in “a safe, unique and social-distancing-approved manner.”

The shows are one example of the creative ways hotels are adapting to the public health threat of COVID-19. Business abruptly halted when the coronavirus outbreak hit. Some have only just opened or have yet to do so: In the Florida Keys, hotels and resorts reopened June 1; in San Francisco, leisure stays are not likely to resume until August at the earliest.

Wherever they travel, hotel guests are likely to find that the experience has changed — including a much more serious emphasis on hygiene and physical distancing, and less on social perks such as rooftop pools, fitness classes and lively bars. 


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“While safety and security are always expected from a hotel, protection from COVID becomes the top priority,” says Liping Cai, professor and director of the Purdue Tourism and Hospitality Research Center at Purdue University. “Travelers might see signs of COVID-free protocols in public space and in private rooms, such as sanitizers, 6-feet markings, and limited food and beverage availability.”

The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) has released “Safe Stay” guidelines for travelers and hotel management. It recommends that hotel guests and staff:

1. Wear face coverings in all indoor public spaces and practice social distancing in all common areas.

2. Choose contactless options, where available, including online reservations, check-ins and payments.

3. Consider daily room cleaning, only if necessary. Ask the hotel about your options.

4. Request contactless room service delivery.

5. Refrain from traveling if you have, or recently had, any symptoms of COVID-19 or contact with anyone diagnosed with COVID-19.

Different hotels and areas of the country may have different policies, however. Before you travel, be sure to find out what your destination’s current status is, including whether the state requires visitors to quarantine, and how severely the area has been affected by the outbreak.

Here are a few changes hotel guests can expect.

A housekeeper cleans the bathroom for the benefit of media present in The Presidential Suite at the Hotel

Maja Hitij/Getty Images

‘Emphasis on clean, clean, clean’

All of the major hotel chains have announced new cleaning standards that emphasize killing germs, sometimes with state-of-the-art technologies, such as hydrostatic spraying, which thoroughly distributes disinfectants. They’re also employing ultraviolet light, as it is known to kill pathogens. Marriott International, which operates more than 7,300 properties worldwide, created the Marriott Global Cleanliness Council, whose hygiene and infection prevention experts are tasked with developing cleanliness standards, which include installing hand-sanitizing stations throughout hotels, thoroughly using hospital-grade disinfectant and supplying disinfecting wipes in guest rooms.

Hilton’s CleanStay program, developed with input from the Mayo Clinic and the makers of Lysol, includes removing pens and paper that other guests may have touched and sealing the door of each room with a sticker to indicate that housekeeping has finished and no one else has entered.

Hyatt has designated a Hygiene & Wellbeing Leader at each property to oversee new protocols, such as ensuring that social-distancing guidance is followed in public spaces and installing hand-sanitizer stations throughout hotels.

Expect more visible expressions of spotless standards in the form of certifications that affirm cleanliness. The Broadmoor resort in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for one, touts on its website its AAA 2020 Best of Housekeeping award, which is based on unannounced evaluations by inspectors. The Accor hotel company has created an AllSafe label to indicate that properties have surpassed hygiene standards as determined by Bureau Veritas, an inspections and certification service.

“Social distancing may subside, but this emphasis on clean, clean, clean is here to stay,” Phil Cordell, Hilton’s senior vice president and global head of new brand development, told the travel-industry news site Skift. 

Contactless service and personal protection

The hotel experience will be less personal in the coronavirus era — and probably after it’s over (what with the institution of practices like contactless check-in, even before the outbreak). The Hilton Honors app and the Marriott Bonvoy app can be used to check in and as a digital room key. Other robust hospitality apps, like the one from Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, will enable guests to order room service or communicate with a concierge without using a shared device like a bedside telephone. 

Many cities require people to wear nose-and-mouth coverings indoors. Regardless of where you travel, expect the hotel staff to greet you in masks. In Las Vegas, the newly reopened MGM Resorts properties, including the Bellagio, MGM Grand and New York-New York, require employees to wear masks (part of the company’s Seven-Point Safety Plan). Guests must also wear them in public spaces and are encouraged to minimize the time they are removed in order to drink in the casinos. 

Most hotels are taking the temperatures of their workers before they go on duty, including MGM Resorts, which asks guests to “abide by a similar self-screening protocol prior to arriving and during your stay” and to stay home if they are sick. 

And some establishments are monitoring guests as well as staff: The recently reopened 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge in New York uses thermal scanning to take guests’ temperatures as they enter and flags any reading over 100 degrees F. Guest luggage is sanitized curbside using ultraviolet light technology. 

Social distancing

The social distancing floor stickers you regularly see in grocery stores are showing up in hotels, advising guests where to stand in line at the front desk. Expect to find pool chairs and lobby furniture rearranged to allow for more space between visitors. You may wait longer for an elevator as capacity is reduced; at the Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino, for instance, an elevator concierge will be the only person permitted to touch the elevator buttons, and just one individual or one party at a time may ride an elevator.

Most notably, you’re likely to see fewer fellow guests. Many hotels will be subject to capacity limits (which may vary by state or local laws), such as Topnotch Resort in Stowe, Vermont, which reopened in early June with 17 available rooms, and is now offering 34 at 50 percent capacity. The Fairmont Pacific Rim in Vancouver plans to leave each room vacant for 48 hours after checkout to, literally, clear the air.

More outdoor spaces

Urban hotels may find it harder to operate under the new rules, but those with outdoor space are capitalizing on the guidelines.

“Nature has always been at the core of what we do,” says Peter Mack, the CEO of Collective Retreats, which has five locations with high-end furnished tents, from New York’s Governors Island to Big Sky, Montana. “We don’t have elevators and tight corridors.”

But even nature-blessed compounds have to maintain distance among diners. In the case of Collective Retreats, communal tables will be replaced by individual ones spaced far apart.

Hotel pools may or may not be open, subject to local restrictions. The Sound View Greenport resort on Long Island, New York, requires guests to make a reservation for pool entry.  

Even for resorts with lots of room, programming will be different. The Pacific Sands Beach Resort in Tofino, British Columbia, for one, expects to be busy this summer with those seeking broad beaches and its self-contained accommodations. But instead of welcoming guests nightly for hosted s’mores by the firepit, management will pack up the fixings and deliver them to guests to toast at their leisure.

This story was originally published on June 10; it has been updated to reflect changes in hotels’ policies and/or opening status.

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