In today’s edition of how the novel coronavirus is changing our world, I’ll direct your attention to the business section of NBC News and an article about how hotels are changing their practices while dealing with the pandemic. It’s affecting everything from the way you check in and out to the amenities and services found in the guest’s rooms and the hotel restaurants and bars. But it turns out that these may not be temporary measures. Even once the virus has run its course (assuming it ever really does), these businesses are looking at making most of these changes their new normal.
A hotel stay that doesn’t include a breakfast buffet, an in-room minibar and a coffee station would have been inconceivable to many Americans three months ago. But the onset of the coronavirus has prompted a sea change that could alter everything from how guests check in and eat to how rooms are cleaned.
Hotel experts predict that the pandemic will drastically alter hotel stays in coming months, prompting many properties to embrace a host of new practices, up to and including temperature checks upon guests’ arrivals.
“Hotels tend to be a reactive business,” said Chekitan Dev, a professor of marketing and branding at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration. “It’s taken COVID-19 for a lot of hotels to take a harder look at safety procedures and to up their game.”
Going forward, you may be checking in and out without ever coming within six feet of a clerk or concierge, nor handing credit cards or room keys back and forth with another human being. Prices may rise as additional staffing is required to enact more stringent disinfection procedures after each guest departs. The mini-bar may be a thing of the past unless everything in it can be completely sterilized. Restaurant layouts will likely change and robots will probably be bringing your food and drinks out from the kitchens. And forget sitting at a bar with a crowd of other guests. Everyone will have to have their own table.
Many of these functions are the same ones I addressed when recently writing about how the casinos in Las Vegas can reopen and operate. And they’re not the only ones. At the Four Seasons in New York City, one of the premier hotels in the country, elevator rides are now restricted to one person or family group at a time. There are no in-person check-in options. It’s all done online. There’s no more room service and both the restaurant and the complimentary coffee station are closed indefinitely. And those things may not be coming back even after this wave of COVID-19 has ended.
Normal interactions across society are very likely changing before our eyes. There have already been serious discussions about permanently doing away with the tradition of shaking hands. Perhaps we’ll all bow to each other in Asian fashion. And you can forget about hugs when greeting non-family members. (Joe Biden will likely be the hardest hit.)
Will there still be saunas, public gyms or swimming pools? And don’t even get me started on bowling alleys. Just think of the number of transmission points involved in a business where people stick their fingers in the same bowling ball holes and rent shoes. Yeesh. Those will probably be a distant memory.
But does it make sense at this point to simply go back to the way things were and pretend all of this never happened? If we’ve learned one thing from the ongoing coronavirus saga, it’s that there will always be another pandemic sooner or later. And when it arrives, it will do so on silent paws, spreading far and wide before we even realize that the enemy is at our gates.
And yet, some of us (like me, I think) don’t want to see the world turn into a permanent Stephen King movie. Particularly for men, shaking hands is woven into our culture and how we relate to each other. Hugging friends and loved ones is more than just a tradition or a gesture. It’s part of how we bond. Sitting at the hotel bar at the end of the day on a business trip is a cultural excursion far more than just an excuse to have a couple of martinis. And I used to love bowling when I was younger, darn it!
But I’m old and stuck in my ways. Perhaps this is just what the new world will have to look like. But if so, I’m sure going to miss the old one.