ATLANTA—As luxury properties reopen, Forbes Travel Guide has surveyed the leaders of luxury hotels worldwide to see what the next chapter holds following the COVID-19 pandemic.
A total of 438 general managers and senior executives, representing a third of Forbes Travel Guide’s star-rated hotel collection, took part in the two-week poll closing on June 23. Hoteliers cited their top two operational challenges for reopening: adapting and maintaining luxury service levels within constraints of COVID-19 (64%); and budget or financing to manage the crisis and continue operating (62%).
Despite the challenges, the guest experience has been reimagined for most hotels, and 86% are either very or highly confident to handle any COVID-19 outbreak at their property. Hoteliers have created unique ways to keep the guest experience as seamless and enjoyable as ever. For example, Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Farmington, PA, has pivoted to a preregistered check-in process, where guests can pick up their clean, pre-sealed room key on arrival to avoid staff touching it; Watch Hill, RI’s Ocean House has reinvented happy hour by introducing a red cocktail cart that rolls door to door each evening for every guest; and The Houstonian Hotel, Club and Spa in Houston has introduced a Dinner & a Movie Date Night series where the hotel’s 400-capacity ballroom has been converted into a theater for 26 couples to enjoy an appropriately spaced out evening.
“Our industry is poised and ready to receive guests once again after months of reimagination, training and preparation,” said Filip Boyen, CEO of Forbes Travel Guide. “They have reinvented their operations, ensuring that guest experience is still at the heart of the luxury hotel stay. But many hoteliers are faced with a fresh challenge of managing some guests who see the protocols as an inconvenience, regardless of safety for staff and other guests.”
Some of the feedback shared from hoteliers in the survey included: “Guests are not interested in wearing masks and are not afraid of COVID-19,” said one hotelier, and “Some comment positively on the extra measures. Others see it as an inconvenience to the flow of their stay in a luxury hotel,” said another.
Despite ever-changing national and state government guidelines, 70% of hoteliers are still confident that business will return to sustainable levels within a year. At the time of the poll, 41% of hotels surveyed were still closed, with the majority of those planning to reopen in July (38%), August (18%) and September (15%). Of those closed, 58% divulged that 76-100% of staff were either furloughed or laid off, highlighting the pandemic’s devastating impact on luxury hospitality.
Unsurprisingly, with the reopenings, the safety of staff and guests are at the forefront of operational procedures; 97% of respondents said they are providing staff with PPE, and 95% are increasing the frequency of cleaning and disinfecting procedures. Other measures that hoteliers are taking to ensure health and safety include capacity control measures throughout the property (75%) as well as altering guest and public areas to enable social distancing (81%).