It was the first Friday in June. My wife and I had just finished working from home for the day. It had been a stressful week. Let’s be honest: It has been a stressful three months. My wife looked at me and said, “Let’s get out of here and go to Pennsylvania.” She knows me so well.
Growing up, our family vacations were all done in my dad’s Oldsmobile. Montauk, Wildwood, Mount Airy Lodge (for those of you old enough to remember the jingle “beautiful Mount Airy Lodge”), among other drivable destinations. But my favorite was Lancaster, PA. Tranquil Amish farms, Pennsylvania Dutch cooking and shoofly pie. To this day, the entire family still visits Lancaster every year, only we are too large a group now for dad’s Oldsmobile, so we rent a van. It’s quite a sight.
Pennsylvania had just entered phase 2 of the COVID-19 reopening guidelines. Outdoor seating for restaurants and pools were open, and other restrictions were being relaxed. So, I called one of the local hotels to book a room. Of course, the Hotel Business publisher in me couldn’t help but ask questions about occupancy, new cleaning protocols and safety. They were running at about 36% occupancy for that weekend, which, I was told, was a good improvement due to the reopening of the pool area and poolside F&B. This particular hotel had not closed at any time during the pandemic.
Housekeepers would not be entering the room to clean during our stay, but I was assured, anything we needed was just a phone call or text away. Room service was available along with outside dining. The front-desk agent on the phone also informed me that they are practicing social distancing but admitted he wasn’t sure how that was going to work in the pool. I was satisfied with what I heard and booked a room. We quickly packed, got my daughter in the car, and off we went, just making it out of New York two minutes after curfew. A curfew in the city that never sleeps; who would have ever imagined it?
As I entered the lobby around 10:30 p.m., I immediately saw signage informing me that masks were required in all common areas indoors. At this point, I thought nothing of it. I put my mask on and headed up to the front desk where plexiglass shields had been installed—something I am already used to seeing. The front-desk agent had her mask on, but I could see she was smiling. I guess at some point, I started to identify people smiling by cheeks and eyes instead of their lips. “Smizing” they call it. Anyway, she was happy to see me and got me all settled in.
The following day after breakfast at a local bakery I love, we went back to the hotel to enjoy the pool, which had to be reserved for a block of time to control the number of people. When we got to our socially distanced lounge chairs, it was like being in a different world, yet a world that was vaguely familiar. Children playing, people drinking, eating and laughing. It was a wonderful day, and a much-needed break. But more than that, it confirmed something I have believed during this entire pandemic: The world is not going to change as much as some might think. People want to travel, and they will. In fact, many will the first chance they get. Whether for business or leisure, we will travel.
It is such an important part of who we are. The memories we make with family. The connections we make with business colleagues. And the much-needed mental breaks like I needed. We adapt so quickly. Some faster than others, but we adapt as people. I realized that as I saw the signs in the lobby requiring masks, the plexiglass shields, and noticing someone smiling at me even though their face was covered. I adapted and enjoyed my stay in Lancaster no less than any other time I’d been there. In fact, I appreciated it more than any other time I can remember.
It has been a devastating time for our industry, but my little trip gave me much hope that recovery is closer than we may think. Your guests will not be held back. They want new memories and connections. They will adapt to get them. It’s our job as an industry to help them along by making them feel safe and welcome, and that’s something we are truly the best at. Oh, and by the way, the shoofly pie was amazing as always.