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How to holiday in the time of coronavirus

Carolynne Dear unpacks how hotels will be operating in the ‘new normal’.

How to holiday during coronavirus

Will hotels be able to balance health with happy holidays? (Photo courtesy Sergey Novikov/Shutterstock)

So, how do you stay in a hotel in the time of coronavirus? Living in Hong Kong, I find myself occupying a rather enviable space somewhere in the future. 

Because while much of the world is still trapped at home and worrying about life post-lockdown, Hong Kong (which has never undergone a full lockdown) is already testing out that much anticipated post-coronavirus existence. With negligible new cases for more than a month, the city is on the move again. 

City hotels are offering fabulous staycation packages, restaurants are buzzing, beaches are crowded and museums, libraries, sports centres and public pools have all reopened.

Recently, I splurged on a staycation weekend at one of the city’s glitzy five-star hotels. And to be honest, give or take a few tweaks, post-lockdown hotel breaks don’t look like they’re going to be that much different from pre-lockdown holidays.

Checking-in, the desk was buzzing (no doubt news of the competitive mini-break deal had spread), which meant a five-minute wait. Myself and my partner were asked to wear a mask – mandatory now throughout the hotel – and after completing the usual check-in process, we were invited to sign a health and travel declaration confirming that we hadn’t left Hong Kong in the last 14 days and that we hadn’t come into contact with anyone with coronavirus symptoms over the last fortnight. We also had our temperatures taken and were required to hand over our HKID cards for checking.

Formalities over, we were led to our room. To the naked eye, nothing much had changed here. There was still the reassuringly large, comfy, snowy white bed, and a bathroom filled with luxe Shanghai Tang toiletries.

The hotel’s champagne brunch came as part of the package so our first port of call was the eighth floor restaurant. Temperatures were again taken before entering and we were asked to keep our masks on until we began eating. The buffet was manned by several chefs who served the salads and seafood starters to us. The hot main was brought to our table and the dessert buffet was again served to us by the chefs.

The biggest impact was probably outside on the pool deck. The loungers had been socially distanced which meant there weren’t quite enough to meet demand and my husband and I ended up at opposite ends of the pool. 

This oversight is worth noting because hotels need to respond to the demands of a staycation market. Staycationing guests are unlikely to vacate the hotel to head off sightseeing or to attend business meetings. They are there to enjoy the facilities, to lounge by the pool and to eat in the restaurants. To entice families away from a weekend at home and into town is going to require targeted entertainment for children and enough space around the pool.

The hygiene, however, was on point. When a guest vacated a lounger, pool staff quickly materialised wearing black rubber gloves to whisk away the used towels and spray down the bed and table with disinfectant.

Other than that, it was rather wonderful to be lying by a pool in the sunshine, watching children splash and waiters drift about proffering trays of aperol spritz to bikini-clad sunbathers. A bit like the good old days. Actually, very much like the good old days.

Behind the scenes, of course, it has been a different story. Hotels and resorts have been working hard to use this lull in business to renovate, redecorate and spruce up their cleansing regimes and policies.

How to holiday during the time of coronavirus

Avani staff practice their ‘contactless greetings’.

Keen to reassure returning clientele, hotel chains are now releasing details of how they plan to keep us safe post-coronavirus.

Locally, Hong Kong hotels are singing from a similar song sheet. Buffets have either been removed or adapted, masks are compulsory or highly recommended for all guests, health declarations must be completed and temperature screening has been introduced in all key areas of hotels.

“We are reinforcing our existing protocols for addressing public health issues,” said a spokesperson for Hong Kong’s Ritz-Carlton hotel. “Additional preventative measures include implementing strict food handling processes and tableware disinfection, providing more hand sanitisers, requiring all associates to wear masks when on duty and arranging for temperature detection in common areas.”

Singapore, which was placed under a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown on April 7, is looking forward to a return to business this month as the city state gradually reopens.

Marina Bay Sands says it will be rolling out hygiene protocols including the sanitisation of all key cards, the use of hospital-grade disinfectants for in-room cleaning and limiting pool capacity.

Singapore’s National Environment Agency introduced a SG Clean initiative in February to instil a ‘keep clean culture’ in the city state. The certification system sets rigorous cleaning and sanitisation standards; before the circuit breaker was introduced, 85 hotels had been accredited. Assessment and certification will continue now the circuit breaker has been lifted.

Internationally, Avani Hotels & Resorts has launched an AvaniSHIELD programme across its portfolio. All 32 properties in 18 countries will gradually adopt this menu of heightened hygiene standards.

Initiatives will be driven by new technology, such as digital check-in and check-out, replacing face-to-face concierge with live chat apps, copper protection coating of high touch surfaces and introducing High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) grade purifiers into guest rooms. 

Rooms will be cleaned, sealed and left to ‘rest’ for 24-hours between guests and Ultra Violet C sterilisation boxes will be used to disinfect key cards, stationery and other high touch objects. Disinfectant processes will be set-up to sanitise incoming luggage and staff will be asked to use contactless greetings, such as bowing or placing a hand over the heart. 

“Our life has been impacted, but our spirit to travel will never fade,” said Javier Pardo, Avani’s vice president of Operations.

He added that Avani is also taking advantage of this breathing space to review environmental initiatives, such as a zero-trash programme and carbon footprint reduction measures.

Hospitality brand Accor is partnering with insurance group AXA to offer medical support to its 5,000 worldwide properties.

The partnership is set to swing into action in July and means guests will be able to take advantage of free medical tele-consultations around the world, with access to tens of thousands of vetted medical professionals with a wide range of language abilities and areas of expertise.

“This distinctive partnership with AXA which we have been working on for several months makes even more sense in today’s context,” said Sebastien Bazin, chairman and chief executive officer of Accor. “In an increasingly complex environment, our 300,000 team members on the ground will be able to assist our guests and ensure their safety during their stay, turning our hotels into shelters.”

So while changes are afoot and hotel holidays won’t be quite as they were, on the whole the ‘new normal’ is looking very manageable. We will all need to ‘do our bit’, but, taking in the view from a sunny Hong Kong pool deck, things ain’t looking too bad.


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