My last stay at a hotel was March 12, one night at the Fairmont in Vancouver airport. Pumps of sanitizer were plentiful, but people were still shaking hands. A lot has changed since then, and as the country starts to reopen after months of being shut down, the travel industry is on a quest to balance service with safety.
A stay at the recently reopened Four Seasons in Toronto, for instance, starts two days before a guest steps foot through the property’s front door, by means of a text message with an illustrated graphic that explains what to expect upon arrival, including health checks and that masks must be worn in common spaces.
Across Canada, the summer months are peak season – the period in which the travel industry is at its busiest and hotels are usually near full occupancy. This year, things are different. Business data aggregator Stastita reported that, for the week ending July 4, Vancouver hotels saw an occupancy of 30.8 per cent; Montreal was at just 16.4 per cent. Communication and care are the name of the game now, as hotels attempt to win back some of the business lost during the pandemic.
Similar to Marriott and Accor hotels, the Four Seasons hotel chain has spent months establishing new protocols to ensure safety in its properties. Called Lead With Care, Four Seasons’ program was developed in consultation with Johns Hopkins Medicine experts and is constantly evolving as new information about how COVID-19 is transmitted, contained and combatted is learned. The key for hotel brands is to do this while also delivering the standard of service to which guests have grown accustomed. Can you make the personal connection that is integral to luxury hospitality while wearing a mask and standing two metres apart?
The answer, in short, is yes. Arguably, with multiple health, safety and information checkpoints throughout the property, there is more of a connection with guests now than ever before.
The first stop upon entering the Four Season Hotel Toronto, which is using only one entrance (down from three), is a temperature check in the lobby, along with a short series of questions about health and recent travel. Once those have been cleared, guests are given a sticker or wristband to indicate they’ve been tested and passed. It’s encouraged that guests use the hotel’s app, which allows for contactless check-in, room-service orders, housekeeping requests and check out, but the front desk reception remains staffed. All employees wear masks, but guests continue to be greeted and escorted to the elevators, albeit in a physically distanced manner.
Once in a room, changes are subtle but visible. The Four Seasons aesthetic has always been minimal, but things are pared back even more now, says Konrad Gstrein, the hotel’s general manager. “There are no magazines or decorative throw pillows.” There is, however, an amenity kit containing sanitizer, wipes and masks. High-touch areas that get extra attention during cleaning – television remotes, coffee stations, the mini bar – have Lead With Care labels on them. Room service is available 24 hours a day, and guests can opt to have meals left at the door and served with single-use items. Aside from these things, there’s little indication from inside the sanctuary of the room that the world outside has changed in the past four months.
While there is no cap on how many overnight stays the hotel can accommodate at once, it’s quiet enough that guests are spread out throughout the property, and rooms are left vacant for one day between stays to allow for disinfecting and cleaning, Gstrein says.
There are parts of the building that are off-limits to guests: The fitness centre is closed, as are the two ground-floor restaurants. But the spa is open, as is the pool. And the hotel has turned its pool deck, previously only used for lounging, into an open-air terrace with food and drink on offer. The menu is only available digitally, through a QR code readable on smartphones.
There are also restrictions in place in regards to services, particularly at the spa. As per provincial regulations (at the time of the hotel’s reopening, Toronto was in Phase 2), facial treatments cannot be performed. While all 16 treatment suites are available, therapists are assigned to one room each day and use it for all their clients. Guests must wear masks during treatments, including massages, for the safety of both parties. As well, the pool now has a concierge of sorts directing traffic and assigning guests to specific seating so that everyone is physically distanced. Swimming is limited to 15 people at a time.
The hotel’s first guests were from nearby in the province – Kingston, Collingwood, and a Toronto staycationer or two. After months cooped up within our own walls, being in a new setting – whether it’s down the highway or down the street – does wonders as a mood booster. That the health and safety measures are visible helps, too.
The writer paid a reduced rate for her stay at the Four Seasons. It did not review or approve this article.
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