By Jill Gleeson
After sheltering in place for more than a few fortnights, many Americans are ready to travel despite the coronavirus pandemic, eager to get out, get away, and enjoy summer. But with little oversight from the federal government, accommodation safety measures vary widely (as do reopening dates for properties across the country). The CDC has issued cleaning and disinfecting guidelines for the reopening of public spaces, while organizations from the Asian American Hotel Owners Association to the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association are pushing their own recommendations. So, as you ponder pulling that suitcase from the back of the closet, you might wonder, “Where can I lay my head with the least risk?”
In early May, the American Hotel and Lodging Association released its “Stay Safe” guidelines, a set of “enhanced industry-wide cleaning standards” in response to the forthcoming hospitality industry reboot. Drafted with the oversight of an advisory council comprising two dozen large hotel corporations including Hilton, Hyatt, Lowes, Best Western, and Marriott, its new protocols involve queuing, hand washing, pool seating, and more. It’s a smart step, but according to Al Heminger, proprietor of Huron House in Oscoda, Michigan, “staying smaller” might be a more palatable option for some travelers vs. bunking in a big property.
“There was a recent study that was done by folks in our lodging industry that asked people something like, ‘When you feel like you’re safe to travel where is it that you think you want to travel?’” says Heminger. “Over 50 percent of the people said bed and breakfasts and inns. So maybe there’s a mindset that we have the ability to have more quality control than those 150-, 300-room big box hotels…I don’t know how they do it. It’s always taken us between an hour to an hour-and-a-half to clean a room. I have friends that are general managers in hotels and they have time limits on their housekeeping staff—it’s like under 30 minutes. I don’t know what measures they’re taking now, but I know what we take and I just feel like we’re a safe spot to be and we’re about as normal as normal can be right now.”
Among the enhanced cleaning procedures Heminger has implemented at Huron House, an adults-only luxury inn with 14 rooms, is adding a new sanitizing step recommended by a friend who owns a professional cleaning business. “We’re using a sanitizer that’s been proven to have a ten-minute virus kill time.” says Heminger. “We’re running the sanitizer through a paint sprayer, and we’re spraying down beds, linens, jacuzzi tubs, chairs, dressers, and end tables. We also spray down countertops and toilets in the bathrooms, and then we finish by spraying the room floor. We wait ten minutes before we let our housekeeping staff go in and clean the rooms as they normally would.”
While Huron House opened the week before Memorial Day, there are many renowned small hotels and B&Bs that remain shuttered due to state and local quarantine regulations. The 41-room Stanford Inn on California’s Mendocino Coast has not yet reopened, though proprietor Jeff Stanford guesses that status will change sometime this month. When it opens, guests will experience corridors marked for one-way walking only, with cooking, yoga, and gardening classes following strict physical distancing procedures. The property’s vegan restaurant will be reconfigured to feature nine-foot aisles between table, and will be serving dishes that are specifically carry out-friendly. The guest rooms will also be rearranged to make in-room dining easier.
And masks, according to Stanford, will be a must. “We’re going to require and provide face masks,” he says, “so that people in the interiors who do want to talk to each other, or outside, on the property—we have 10 acres here—can do so safely. If someone doesn’t want to wear a mask we will ask them to leave.”
Many smaller luxury properties aren’t planning on making masks mandatory, including the Inn at Pamlico Sound, located on North Carolina’s Outer Banks as well as the Inn at Bowman’s Hill in New Hope, Pennsylvania. “The first day that I opened the café, I required all of my staff to have a mask, if not on their face then around their neck, and the same with my front desk staff at the hotel,” says Natasha Quidley, general manager of the Inn at Pamlico Sound. “If they saw someone approaching with a mask on, they put their mask on. We also ask at the hostess stand if you would like a masked or unmasked server. But in the weeks we’ve been open I’ve only seen one couple wearing masks out of everyone who walked in the restaurant. So, I left the masks to really be at the discretion of the guests and the servers.”
Those checking in to the 12-room hotel, which reopened May 16th, will find all in-room services, from dining to maid service, on pause. Housekeepers now roam the public spaces, disinfecting surfaces every 45 minutes. Keyless locks have been installed in the rooms, and plexiglass divides the front desk from the lobby. New guests are no longer offered tours around the property, but instead given maps and other pertinent information so they can explore on their own. The swimming pool is open at 50-percent occupancy, but management is asking that only those guests who came with each other to the inn enter the pool at the same time.
“Travelers’ safety is of the highest importance and wanting them to feel safe,” says Quidley. “We’ve really been letting them lead the way as far as what they are looking for in their experience with us.”
Meanwhile, the AAA Four-Diamond Inn at Bowman’s Hill, located in the beloved arts-centric village of New Hope, is just starting to take reservations again. When asked about new safety procedures at his property, which does not accept guests under the age of 16, Mike Amery is blunt: “It’s a very difficult position,” he says. “We are having guests come in, we will keep them spaced, we won’t do back-to-back bookings in the same room…yes, we can spray surfaces, use antiseptic, put masks on, but where does it end? I do think I’d rather come to Bucks County with this low density of population, where I can wander outside and go kayaking or boating and sit on the deck and eat breakfast. I’d rather come here, being on five acres and being next to a 130-acre wildflower preserve, than go to the Holiday Inn, and I think that’s going to be the short-term future of hospitality.”
John and Dena Finneran, owners of the historic Caldwell House Bed and Breakfast in Salisbury Mills, New York agree. They’ve implemented new protocols like contactless check-in and check-out; removing soft goods that can’t be washed every day—such as decorative pillows and bed skirts—from guest rooms; and delivering breakfast baskets to rooms rather than serving the meal in the dining room. And as for social distancing, they offer what few big hotels can: Because their inn comprises three separate buildings, six of their 14 rooms have private entrances.
But like Amery they believe that as the country emerges from quarantine one of the biggest factors working in their inn’s favor is its rural location. “We are literally in the country, where you can go out on hiking trails and on a kayak down the Hudson River,” says Dena Finneran. “You can be outdoors; you’re not stuck inside all the time. “You can go out into the fresh air, and still be socially distancing. If you want to get away, you’re going to get away out here.”
– Photos courtesy featured properties; click on any individual image for its specifics
Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion.