The plunge in hotel occupancy levels due to the coronavirus pandemic has forced the hospitality industry to unveil new cleaning standards and redesign parts of the hotel experience. As travelers venture back to hotels, the changes will be visible as soon as they enter the foyer.

There will be plexiglass at the front desk. The breakfast buffet? Likely gone. Instead, grab a prepackaged meal or order a la carte.

These are some of the changes hotel brands like Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt are in the process of rolling out in an effort to ease travelers’ concerns.

“We’re hopeful that these protocols and enhanced cleaning procedures will actually spur on demand,” said Ray Bennett, chief global officer at Marriott. “We know that there’s a lot of people with a lot of pent-up energy wanting to get back on the road again. I think that what we’re doing will give them reassurance that it’s safe to come back and travel.”

Guests be greeted by a receptionist who is wearing a mask to check you in, but mobile check-ins will be encouraged to minimize interaction.

“A number of our guests may use keyless entry to bypass the actual desk,” said Bennett.

Once guests enter their room, hotels like Marriott and Hilton will use signage to alert them that certain hot spots like the remote control, light switch and shower handle have been deep-cleaned.

The Westin Houston Medical Center is testing a germ-zapping robot that sanitizes and disinfects hotel rooms.

Source: Westin Houston Medical Center

Housekeeping will also be reduced during a guest’s stay to allow for more social distancing.

“More and more of our guests have actually asked that we don’t come in their room because again, human-to-human contact. And so, we are reducing the level of frequency as it relates to housekeeping, based on guest feedback,” said Bennett.

Hilton is offering customers three options: normal housekeeping service; a streamlined service that occurs daily or every other day and/or a light service that is limited to emptying the trash, supplying fresh towels and new amenities; or no service at all.

Hilton’s global head of new brand development, Phil Cordell, said the third option is for guests who do not want anyone in their room during a multiday stay.

With the help of Mayo Clinic, Hilton is preparing a coronavirus training program for its staff.

To ensure extensive cleaning guidelines are followed, Hyatt said every hotel will be staffed with a hygiene manager.

Technology will likely play a key role. The Westin Houston Medical Center is testing a germ-zapping robot that sanitizes and disinfects hotel rooms.

Fitness areas will also see some edits, including hand-sanitizing stations. Cordell said expect fewer machines and once again, signage to alert guests if the treadmill you want to use has been cleaned.

The Westin Houston Medical Center is testing a germ-zapping robot that sanitizes and disinfects hotel rooms.

Source: Westin Houston Medical Center

For guests who want to work out but also want to keep social distance, Marriott will make fitness videos available on the TVs inside each room.

The costs associated with the additional cleaning will likely fall on the hotel owner, not the brand.

Vinay Patel, who owns nine hotels across Virginia and Maryland, said that while the brands are not helping with the direct costs, they are heavily discounting the cleaning products.

Azim Saju, vice president of HDG Hotels and owner of multiple Hilton- and Marriott-branded hotels, estimated his housekeeping costs, both labor and supplies, will rise about 20%.

“This is just an estimate as we await the details of the brands’ programs to get ironed out,” said Saju.

The added costs, however, small or large, takes on particular gravity when many owners of hotels are small business owners, already hurting due to the drop in bookings amid the pandemic. Those who were granted a PPP loan say the funds will cover them only for two to three months.

Despite the added costs, experts in the hospitality industry agree that these new guidelines around cleaning, and the extra focus on social distancing, are a step in the right direction.

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