As a travel journalist who focuses on hotel reviews, my life has involved frequent hotel stays. But as we all know, the travel landscape has shifted quite a bit. The global pandemic has made even the thought of leaving our own home frightening. No wonder hotel occupancy is down 40%. However, as knowledge of the virus increases, hotels across the world have invested heavily in overhauling their safety procedures. The result? A new type of hotel experience that will allow guests to be safe and also enjoy themselves. Sure, the spa may be closed and you probably won’t have a valet, but you can still experience an enjoyable getaway.
Since the start of the pandemic, I have cautiously stayed at 5 hotels with my family, both near and far, with great success. However, a lot went into ensuring that each stay was as safe as it could possibly be. Here’s how we did it:
Choose the Right Hotel
Probably the biggest factor in staying safe during your trip is choosing the right accommodations. First, look for hotels that are limiting occupancy. Less crowds will mean a safer and quieter stay. Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica, for example, is booking at only 50% capacity, or less. During my recent visit, most of the common areas had very few, if any people, and we rarely passed anyone in the hallways.
Also, consider hotels that have open-air spaces for guests to enjoy, such as beaches, rooftops, outdoor lounges, or lavish grounds. Mission Bay Resort in San Diego has expansive lawns to explore and a sandy beach along the bay that made it easy for us to find private spots to have a picnic or just relax.
Want to truly limit interaction with other guests? Consider more remote options. Drive to a ranch, find a lake resort, or check out local camping possibilities. The most socially distant stay that I experienced took place in the mountains of Vermont at the Basin Harbor lake resort. With private cottages tucked away along the shore of Lake Champlain, my stay was delightfully isolated.
Give them a Ring
Though some hotels have updated their websites to reflect all their procedural changes, many have not. That is why it is important to call the reservations department and talk through the safety protocols for every destination you plan to visit. Find out how rooms are cleaned, ask whether they do temperature checks, and confirm if masks and social distancing are enforced.
I was impressed by the extent to which the Shade Hotel Redondo Beach is sanitizing rooms and requiring temperature checks at their restaurant. I was also pleased to learn that they provide an amenity kit at check in that includes antibacterial wipes and a mask.
One more thing to inquire about before you book a hotel is what services and amenities are currently unavailable due to COVID restrictions. At several of the properties I visited recently, most gyms, spas and many restaurants were closed. So, before you head out on your next trip, make sure you know exactly what will be available to you when you arrive.
Less people mean more space. That’s why I always recommend midweek trips, even pre-pandemic. A midweek stay is proven to have lower guest capacities. This translates into a less crowded and more relaxed stay for you.
During my midweek stay at Shutters on the Beach I rarely saw another guest, even at the pool. My stay at Basin Harbor Club was also midweek, which made my daughter and I feel like we had the entire resort, and all its ample outdoor areas, all to ourselves.
Use Contactless Check In/Check Out
While I prefer to never have to wait at the front desk for keys, more hotels are now adopting contactless check-ins where all the important registration and credit card information is gathered digitally. Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott and other major hotels adopted this system. They also offer digital keys so you can open your room with your phone. More common is contactless check out. With this option, you simply call the front desk and alert them that you have checked out and they will email you a copy of your charges.
Disinfect Upon Arrival
I stay in 30+ hotels a year and always bring my antibacterial wipes to clean the remotes, light switches, and doorknobs in my rooms. Now, taking this step is more important than ever. If you have researched your hotel, the room should have been thoroughly sanitized prior to your arrival, but it never hurts to have an extra safeguard just in case. Areas to focus on are bureau and closet handles, night tables, light switches, remotes, and room phones.
With limited dining options, it is now even more important to plan your dining ahead. Of the five hotels I have stayed at during the pandemic, only one was offering room service. The rest had limited or closed restaurants on the property.
Either way, I strongly suggest you bring snacks and water so you aren’t desperate to leave the room at any time. If you are traveling with kids, you already know that you must have snacks. We went so far as to prepare all of my daughter’s dinners ahead and place them in compartmentalized snack boxes. This made it much easier because we only had to worry about ourselves and not hungry children.
If you are a planner, consider packing an easy breakfast like yogurt and fruit, and a sandwich for lunch. This way, you have the option to stay in your room and dine on a balcony or patio instead of at a restaurant. Don’t forget, you can always order takeout from nearby restaurants to be delivered to your room. We did this on a few occasions when hotel dining was not a feasible option.
Turn Down the Turndown
It has been common practice this year for hotels to limit any housekeeping for the duration of your stay. If that is not the case, consider making a request to opt out of the turndown service so you can limit anyone else from entering your room.
Splurge for the Cabana
If you are going to a hotel with a large pool, consider a day bed or cabana option if it is available. This will ensure that you have a protected, distant space to lounge that will be cleaned and reserved for you. If cabanas are not an option, I recommend hitting the pool in the off hours, early morning or sunset tend to be the quietest.
Wear a Mask
You probably know the drill at this point but wearing a mask in public spaces is not only important for your safety, it is imperative for the safety of everyone around you. Most properties allow masks to be off when seated at restaurants or while poolside, but make sure to always check before removing it.
Yes, hotel experiences are very different now. But if you are craving a change of scenery, like I usually am, I found that they are still worth it if you are careful. We all have gone through many changes and challenges during this unprecedented time. As long we are safe and smart, everyone can have the getaway that we all deserve.