The next time you check into a hotel, it might be a vastly different experience from your past stays. You’ll likely skip the front desk and may use your mobile device not only to check in, but to unlock your door. It may be one person at a time in the elevator and room service will be left outside your door.
It’s all part of reconfigurations that hotels across Canada are doing to reassure guests that it’s safe to travel again.
A new set of Safe Stay guidelines was endorsed in May by all the major hotel chains and most independent hotel owners across Canada. “We want to ensure that hotels are ready to welcome guests safely and with the highest health and safety standards,” says Susie Grynol, president of the Hotel Association of Canada, which developed the standards with the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s advisory council.
“Safe Stay is a common-sense set of guidelines in one document for enhancing cleaning practices and adapting social interactions and workplace protocols,” she explains.
They will likely result in the reconfiguring of lobbies, rooms and service standards.
According to Ms. Grynol, “You will probably see less things in hotel rooms that could be shared, from throw pillows to pens and notepads and magazines. You’ll see the same thing in lobbies; furnishings that don’t need to be there will be removed and what is left will be shifted to increase social distancing and cleaned more frequently.”
Many of the physical changes will accelerate trends that were already developing in hotels, says Paul Morissette, principal at CHIL Interior Design, the hospitality studio of Toronto-based B+H Architects.
There has been a transition away from carpeting toward luxury vinyl tiles that are easier to clean, he says. “Finishes have to not only be easy to clean, but also perceived to be clean, so lighter colours and less clutter.” Mini bars have already become an endangered species, although rooms will still have fridges so people have a place to cool things they bring themselves.
An example is a recent renovation of the Novotel Toronto that features uncarpeted floors and crisp, white finishes in the bathrooms, he says. “I think when things are white, it gives you more confidence that it is clean.”
In Calgary, the lobby of Delta Bow Valley hotel, originally built in the 1960s, was reconfigured to create seating areas and lounges that all intermingle, rather than being separate enclosed zones. “That can make people feel more comfortable because they don’t have to walk into a room and then say, ‘No, this feels too busy.’ ” Other hospitality trends are a move to more adaptable furnishings, and using outdoor spaces to accommodate physical distancing, Mr. Morissette says.
Hotels have been rethinking fabrics as well, which have typically been more durable and cleanable in hotels, although they often don’t show it, he notes. The current emergency will likely accelerate hotels’ normal renovation cycles, which see soft furnishings replaced every six years.
“Considering how fast things have been changing in the past few years, I’d call what’s coming ‘a newer normal,’” said Mark Medland, senior vice-president of asset management for Vancouver-based SilverBirch Hotels & Resorts. The company owns 17 franchise hotels across Canada, mostly managed by Marriott and Hilton brands, including Delta by Marriott and Doubletree by Hilton.
The changes in lobbies will mostly include signage about physical distancing and hand sanitizing, a reduction in seating and tables spaced further apart, he says. Another big change will be eliminating self-serve buffet breakfasts. Even more major changes will focus on guest rooms.
Apps are the key to reducing touch points in hotel rooms. “If you look at remote controls, telephones and clock radios, you have to wonder if the customer is going to need them in the future when most people walk into a hotel with mobile devices that can replace all of them,” Mr. Medland says.
“In reality, cleaning will not have to change that much, because basically hotels are intrinsically very safe and clean places,” he adds. “You don’t clean your house every day the way we clean guest rooms every day. We may use different products, but cleanliness has always been rigourous.”
Hotel groups are developing their own protocols that build on the Safe Stay guidelines. Marriott Hotels is testing ultraviolet light for sanitizing keys for guests and devices shared by associates, and using electrostatic sprayers with hospital-grade disinfectant to sanitize surfaces in guest rooms, lobbies, gyms and other public areas.
Meanwhile, Hilton Hotels is partnered with Reckitt Benckiser, the maker of Lysol, to develop new cleaning standards. Hilton plans to expand use of the Digital Key app already in use for check-in to include room and hotel door opening, using mobile devices to avoid interactions with staff.
The post-COVID-19 era may present challenges for Airbnb, as travellers steer toward the familiarity and consistency of hotels rather than individually run short-term rentals, says Chris Gibbs, chair of Creative Industries at Ryerson University. “I think people will question cleanliness more than they have in the past,” he says.
To provide reassurance, Airbnb Inc. in May announced a Host Cleaning Protocol, specifying the use of masks and gloves for hosts or their cleaners, as well as disinfectants that are approved by regulatory authorities. The protocol also recommends a 24-hour wait period before entering a vacated property as a precaution against particles that may remain airborne for a few hours.
“Historically, guests have shown interest in Airbnb travel because of amenities like private kitchens and laundry. Now, more than ever, travelers may choose Airbnb listings, which inherently offer more control over their environment and travel experience,” the company said in its announcement.
Many home-based bed and breakfasts will remain closed in the short term. “We are not pushing anyone to reopen their B&B. Some will wait until there’s a vaccine and the world fully starts again,” says Karyann Toth, office manager for listing site BBCanada.com. Those that do open are encouraged to follow the guidelines for hotels.
While no one yet has all the answers, hosts are doing all they can to make the hotel experience safe, comfortable and enjoyable, Mr. Morissette says. “Part of the joy of travel is getting to meet people and enjoying the amenities like spas and lounges. These things will come back.”
Stay Safe Guidelines
The majority of chain and independent hotels in Canada have signed on to a set of guidelines endorsed by the Hotel Association of Canada. The Stay Safe enhanced health and safety protocols include:
Guests should be advised to practise physical distancing, with areas clearly marked for physical distancing.
Encourage one-way guest flow with marked entrances and exits.
Reconfigure public seating areas to promote physical distancing.
Housekeeping shall not enter a guest room during a stay unless specifically requested or approved by the guest.
Room service should use a no-contact delivery method.
Limit traditional buffet service and, when offered, it should be served by attendant in PPE.
Minimal items should be placed on guest tables to allow for effective disinfection between each guest, including condiments, silverware, glassware and napkins.
The use of prepackaged foods and “grab and go” items is the preferred method of food delivery.