How Hotels Are Helping During the COVID-19 Crisis
The hospitality industry provides rooms for health care workers, patients and first responders in the midst of travel restrictions and shelter-in-place orders.
There’s no shortage of industries impacted by the coronavirus crisis, and hotels are walking a fine line of trying to save business while helping. Here’s how some hospitality brands are adapting as the pandemic evolves, finding ways to make use of hundreds of thousands of rooms and staff.
There were early calls for New York City, America’s epicenter of the virus, to quarantine the sick in hotel rooms, and the city’s first step was for some hotels to provide rooms for non-critical patients and health care workers (a move lauded by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo).
The Four Seasons Hotel New York started welcoming medical personnel for complimentary stays on April 2.
“Our health care workers are working tirelessly on the frontlines of this crisis,” said Ty Warner, owner of the Four Seasons Hotel New York. “Many of those working in New York City have to travel long distances to and from their homes after putting in 18-hour days. They need a place close to work where they can rest and regenerate. I heard Governor Cuomo’s call to action during one of his press conferences, and there was no other option for us but do whatever we could to help.”
As our first medical personnel check-in today, we are thankful for all of the health professionals who are working tirelessly all over the world. Today, we’re drawing the line so they can be on the front line. We are humbled to play a small part during this unprecedented situation. Stay safe and be well everyone! #fsnewyork
Other cities have seen similar efforts: In Los Angeles, San Pedro’s Sunrise Hotel converted its 103-room property for emergency use, which also helped keep staff employed. These responses aimed to free up space and ease pressure on hospitals while continuing to generate revenue.
Since mid-February, when the pandemic started escalating in the U.S., hotels have lost more than $10 billion in room revenue, according to The American Hotel and Lodging Association. Hotels are on pace to lose more than $500 million in room revenue every day based on current and future reported occupancy rates, with nearly 3.9 million jobs either eliminated or soon to be eliminated. And as travel restrictions continue, these figures only worsen.
Chicago enacted a plan in response to the pandemic and the industry effects. Various properties are offering rooms to those who are mildly sick or awaiting test results for $175 a night, which includes three meals a day. Michael Jacobson, CEO and president of the Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association, told The Chicago Tribune that hotels were gaining interest in joining the program “by the hour.”
While Marriott earned its place in the news as a popular chain that furloughed thousands of employees, including at the corporate level, the brand has responded with a relief effort called Rooms for Responders in collaboration with American Express and JPMorgan Chase. The effort will provide up to $10 million worth of hotel stays with no-cost rooms for frontline health care workers in some of the hardest-hit cities across America.
Meanwhile, some luxury hotels are finding ways to help and keep staffers employed. Le Bijou in Switzerland is offering free stays for health care workers, according to Alexander Hübner, CEO and co-founder of the apartment-style hotel.
“We saw that they were shutting down borders and we had a lot less guests coming in and airlines were grounded so we thought it was probably going to hit us very hard, and we had to come up with a new offering and we also had inquiries in that direction, people asking for two-week stays and additional health care offerings,” Hübner says.
Prior to the pandemic, Le Bijou had health care offerings for guests, such as requesting a nurse through a digital app called James.
“We call ourselves the hotel of the future: We use apartments with a modern design and technical amenities, we employ more software developers than other people, and we use an Uber-like system where you can order all sorts of services,” Hübner explains. “We do grocery shopping for our guests and leave groceries in front of the door, and we have inquiries for private chefs and for medical check ups as well.”
The hotel typically has about 70-80% occupancy at this time of year, and now it is at 60%, so Hübner is pleased with the result of the hotel’s efforts.
“We have people here who depend on their salary and on hourly rates and we wanted to make sure that all of our team members can stay in the company,” he said. “I am subsidizing my CEO salary to try to make things work for now.”
Other properties are responding whether as an exercise in brand marketing or to give back: The Kimpton Fitzroy London is serving free breakfast and lunch to health care and emergency workers, service industry employees and local residents. In the Amalfi Coast, Le Sirenuse, Hotel Santa Caterina, Il San Pietro di Positano and Palazzo Avino are donating money to a fundraiser called Together for a COVID-19 Vaccine. Even Airbnb implemented a program offering free or subsidized housing for COVID-19 responders.
The definition of hospitality is “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors or strangers.” However the world and situation may change, companies will continue to adapt — and the definition of hospitality will remain.
Pursue a career entertaining guests with a diploma in Hospitality & Hotel Management.