As travel returns, hotels use coronavirus excuse to cut costs

Hotels are opening just as tourism restarts, but many hotels are cutting costs under the guise of coronavirus.
Hotels are opening just as tourism restarts, but many hotels are cutting costs under the guise of coronavirus. | Dennis Lennox

Americans are resuming travel just as summer officially begins.

But while airports are seeing their busiest passenger numbers in months, occupancy at some hotels is still low. Meanwhile, other hotels remain closed and may not reopen at all this summer.

Of the hotels open, the post-coronavirus guest experience varies greatly.

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Almost all of the big chains tout new protocols to purportedly enhance guest safety. Some of the measures are undoubtedly good. Hotels want guests to believe rooms are cleaner than ever. However, this can amount to nothing more than slick talking points since most chain hotels are franchises.

Over the past several weeks I have stayed at several hotels across the spectrum from upscale resorts to roadside motels. Some were affiliated with chains; others independent.

What I found is a great deal of inconsistency, even at hotels flagged under the same brand. It’s also obvious that some hotel owners and operators are using coronavirus to cut costs.

Long before the pandemic collapsed the travel and hospitality industries the major hotel chains announced they were moving to eliminate single-use toiletries — the little bottles of shampoo, conditioner and so forth — from guest rooms. The switch to wall-mounted dispensers was applauded by virtue signaling environmentalists even though it was actually a move to cut costs. The same motivation was true at chain hotels giving bonus loyalty program points if guests skipped housekeeping.

Flash forward to today and the dispensers remain even though scientists and public health experts warn the replacement for individual toiletries can spread harmful bacteria. If hotels are truly following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations, then the dispensers need to be removed.

Many hotels are also no longer offering daily housekeeping, even though rates haven’t dropped to account for a reduction in services. I suspect this will be the reality for the conceivable future as coronavirus is the perfect excuse, especially at hotels with expensive unionized staff.

That was certainly my experience at the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort, where peak-ski season rates exceed $1,000 per night. I was among the first guests to stay at the hotel in Colorado’s famed Vail Valley when it reopened Friday.

The much-reduced staff worked hard, but the complete lack of any real services, including daily housekeeping or open restaurants, make staying here a lousy value at $237 or 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night. The hotel tried to claim coronavirus prevented them from providing a bathrobe and slippers, though they relented and provided what should have been in the room in the first place. The idea a pair of slippers for loafing around the room somehow spreads coronavirus but bathroom towels don’t is just absurd.

My experience at the super-charming Chamberlin Inn, near Yellowstone National Park in Cody, Wyoming, was completely different. The 21-room, family-owned hotel is fully open with no downgrades to service standards.

Another hotel getting things right is the Sheraton Phoenix Airport Hotel. Staff send pre-arrival email messages, which inform guests about coronavirus-related changes. This transparency is a good thing since some hotels are selling packages that include breakfast buffets even though the restaurant is closed.

All this is to say that travelers hitting the road need to pay attention before booking hotel accommodation. Confirm ahead of time what is and isn’t open, as way too many hotels aren’t disclosing reductions in services or amenities. Reading trusted review websites for the latest insight on guest experiences is also a good idea.

One of the winners this summer will undoubtedly be Airbnb, as the short-term rental of a vacation house or apartment is a better value than staying at a hotel-in-name-only. This is especially true at hotels with the audacity to charge a resort fee when they are providing nothing more than a bed to sleep.

Spires and Crosses is a weekly travel column. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter and Instagram.

Dennis Lennox writes about travel, politics and religious affairs. He has been published in the Financial Times, Independent, The Detroit News, Toronto Sun and other publications. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter.

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