The hotel industry responded quickly to the threat of the novel coronavirus by introducing a blitz of safety measures, including electrostatic spray guns across all of Marriott’s 7,000-plus properties, U.V. germ zappers at Hilton, and all sorts of industry-wide adjustments to turndown service (treats in bags draped over the door handle) and new rules about pool decks (no shared chairs). Oh—and mandatory face masks for all hotel workers, of course.
But the most lasting impact of COVID-19 may be a fundamental shift in how people interact in hotels even after the pandemic is over. “Hospitality at its core won’t change, but how we express it will,” says Phil Cordell, global head of new brand development for Hilton. At the 18 brands within the Hilton portfolio, this may mean leaving handwritten notes on room service trays—which now must be dropped off outside guests’ doors, in disposable packaging—to “let guests know we are glad they are here.” At press time, Hilton, whose collection includes more than 5,000 properties around the world, was exploring ways to welcome guests that do not involve handshakes. “In the Maldives a greeting is your hand over your heart, signaling respect,” Cordell points out.
Rethinking person-to-person interaction is uniquely complicated at the millennial-friendly hotels that have made community engagement one of their pillars, like Ace and Eaton. Activist-minded Eaton, founded in Washington, D.C., in 2018, was hosting 10 events a month on topics like police brutality before the pandemic shutdown; all programming has now shifted to digital. “Virtual platforms align with our values of accessibility,” says Sebi Medina-Tayac, Eaton’s director of impact. “We can now reach our audience around the globe.” Going forward, Eaton will continue on platforms such as Instagram Live. “This was a radical moment to rethink how to use space and envision something different,” Medina-Tayac adds. “COVID forced us to do it.”
This article appeared in the August/September 2020 issue of Condé Nast Traveler. Subscribe to the magazine here.