What to Know Before You Stay At a Hotel Again, According to Experts

There may be robots.

Image by Grace Han for Thrillist
This story is a part of a Thrillist series helping our readers navigate and slowly return to the world. Be sure to always follow CDC guidelines and, most importantly, don't leave the house if you're experiencing fever, cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms of COVID-19.

So, for the first time in a year and some change, you’ve packed your suitcase, clocked in some PTO, and booked a stay at a hotel. Exciting! But as we ease into post-pandemic life, you’ll probably notice a few changes to the way things look, feel, and operate: a few lingering sanitation precautions like extra hand sanitizer here, an increase in outdoor seating at hotel restaurants there. You may even see a robot if you play your cards right.

By and large, the hotel industry is ready to welcome back guests—so long as they manage their expectations. Keep in mind that we’ve got a little more pandemic-related weirdness to ride out before things go all the way back to normal. Here are a few things to keep in mind during your first post-Covid hotel stay.

If you want the views from Hotel Poseidon in Positano, you gotta follow the guidelines. | Photo Courtesy of Hotel Poseidon

Do your due diligence

Before you hop on a plane or hit the road, familiarize yourself with your destination’s current rules and regulations. Check state and international tourism websites for regional mandates, and continue to follow CDC guidelines. And just because public areas may have lifted restrictions for things like social distancing and masks, it doesn’t necessarily mean your hotel has. 

“Travelers should know that hotels need to not only follow the guidelines of state regulations, but also corporate regulations,” says Taylor Combs, Director of Sales at the Sheraton and Wyndham Garden at Niagara Falls. “Each hotel chain has their own set of guidelines that managed and franchised hotels need to abide by.” And nothing is permanent: We’ve all seen that Covid mandates can change by the minute.

If you’re unsure of what to expect, Kylie Shmida, Director of Experience at The Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club in Oahu, recommends calling up your hotel before your stay. “We have a wealth of information and are more than happy to lend insight into how you can travel more sustainably, or share local shops or restaurants that need a little more love these days.”

“In order to remain open and allow tourists to explore...we need everyone's cooperation as we navigate this new world of travel together," adds Liliana Mascolo, PR & Communications Manager of the Hotel Poseidon in Positano, Italy.

Cut hospitality workers some slack

Many hospitality workers have dealt with wage reductions and no time off during the past year, and even more have faced layoffs due to travel’s sudden shutdown. Now, even as tourism resumes, hotels and employees are still trying to recuperate.

“Many of us in the hospitality business have been working straight through this pandemic with little or no respite,” says David Carroll, Regional Corporate Director of Sales of the Doubletree Hilton in Niagara Falls. “Many of us are operating with severely limited staff due to circumstances we cannot control.”

With that in mind, be aware that the resources and amenities you’re used to may be limited, and be extra kind to the hospitality workers you meet who are doing their best. Now's the time to leave an extra tip for the housekeeper.

You may find yourself rendezvousing with a delivery robot. | Photo courtesy of Savioke

You may miss some of your favorite amenities...

Little touches like extra pillows, throw blankets, and magazines may be removed from your room in order to limit high-touch spaces. (Consider it minimalist décor!). You might also be faced with reduced elevator occupancy limits, as well as closed hotel restaurants, with only prepackaged food on offer. But the removal that’ll likely hit hardest is the minibar. Hopefully, those things will be back in a matter of weeks as restrictions lift, so just hang on tight. 

"We all had to act so quickly to rethink many of our systems and guest experiences when the pandemic began,” adds Gregory Henderson, owner of The Roxbury at Stratton Falls. “To undo all of those and go back to the way things were will be hard and expensive—meaning it might not all happen at once.”

But it’s not all bad—in fact, it’s a little futuristic

Even if you’re sick to death of Zoom happy hours, you’ve got to admit that technology has carried us through this pandemic. For many hotels, it’s sped up technological advancement—and things have gotten pretty futuristic out there.

A handful of brands offered expanded app functionality before 2020, but the pandemic put pressure on others to do the same. From Wyndham to Marriott, several major hotel groups have launched apps that allow guests to use keyless check-in and room entry, order meals, and connect to housekeeping services that give guests a heads-up when their room is being cleaned.

Other groups are taking things a step further. When the LEGOLAND New York Hotel opens this summer, Google Nest devices will replace hotel room phones and include capabilities far beyond just phone calls: they’ll also act as DJs and keep kids (or you!) entertained with bedtime stories. And in early 2021, the Dream Hollywood Hotel introduced Alfred, the roaming concierge robot. “He delivers items to the guests' rooms and he’s a hit,” says Vaughn Davis, the hotel’s GM. “He actually just received another five-star Trip Advisor review.”

If "vacation" were a picture. | Photo Courtesy of the Dream Hollywood Hotel

And some amenities are better than ever

Believe it or not, some amenities have actually improved over the course of this year. Scott Keyes of Scott’s Cheap Flights recently stayed at a Holiday Inn on the Oregon coast that required reservations for the hot tub and pool. And while you might consider advance-planning your pool time a minor inconvenience, once you get there, you’ll have it all to yourself. “It’s kind of a trade-off—but how often do you get access to your own personal pool and your own hot tub when you’re traveling?” Keyes says.

The Roxbury at Stratton Falls has also decided to make their hot tub reservation system permanent. “It has actually solved an issue we had pre-pandemic with people monopolizing the space when it was first come, first serve,” says Henderson. 

But wait, there’s more! Since many hotel gyms and indoor amenities are still closed, some properties are placing an emphasis on fresh air activities. For example, the Ciragan Palace Kempinski in Istanbul introduced luxury picnic offerings as well as an outdoor pop-up food cart. At Andaz San Diego, they’ve got rooftop dance fitness classes, and San Diego’s Hyatt Regency Mission Bay collaborated with Seaside Cinema for outdoor movie experiences. After all, as we all know after spending a year learning how to make sourdough bread or crochet, it’s all about making lemonade out of lemons.

And if you're still hesitant, there's always Airbnb

Ah, Airbnb: the nervous traveler's best friend. With Airbnbs, you can guarantee limited human interaction, plus you’ll be able to rent unique properties as a post-rona treat, like a giant snake god's body, or, heck, an island. They provide guidelines for both guests and hosts, including five-step enhanced cleaning protocols based on guidance from the World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control, and they've put a cap on groups, limiting bookings to 16 people or less. Added bonus: Some Airbnb hosts are offering reduced prices if you book long-term through the new Airbnb monthly portal. 

And our recommendation? Bring your own cleaning supplies and do a once-over on any high-traffic areas. After all, better safe than sorry.

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Vanita Salisbury is Thrillist's Senior Travel Writer. She will follow all the rules, just take her away, please.