Hotels are reopening across Texas with the relaxation of pandemic quarantine restrictions. But many would-be travelers remain skittish about checking into a room because they’re concerned exposure to the coronavirus.
In response, hoteliers say they’ve stepped up their cleaning and implemented measures to encourage social-distancing. Dr. Ben Neuman, the chair of biological sciences at Texas A&M University-Texarkana, commends such actions, but he says best thing travelers can do is wear a mask and take steps to avoid exposure to people outside of their immediate group.
“We’re seeing hotels take a lot of precautions, and they’re mostly aimed at cleaning the rooms,” says Neuman, who spoke by phone from a hotel in College Station. “It will reassure people, but it won’t necessarily have a whole lot of impact, because most infection happens face to face in close proximity indoors.”
It goes without saying that a good hotel is expected to be clean. Still, hotels are making extra efforts.
“Guests tell us they are excited we are open, and they know we are taking their safety seriously by wearing masks and going to extra lengths to sanitize the inn according to established state and national guidelines,” says Jim Leitch, co-owner of The Inn on Lake Granbury. “That said, they want to come to a lodging property that doesn’t constantly remind them of COVID-19. They appreciate the spacious grounds for social distancing and the careful thought we have expressed about use of public spaces.”
Along with wearing a mask, Neuman recommends avoiding interaction with people outside of your group in places like dining rooms, elevators, pools, gyms, or exercise rooms. “In terms of the hotel, who sees the most people? It’s whoever is sitting at the checkout desk, whoever is running the place,” Neuman says. “They’re the ones at the most risk. And so to protect them and to protect yourself from them, wear a mask. It’s respectful and safe at the same time, so it’s nice when you can be both, right?
We asked a handful of hoteliers and innkeepers—from local mom-and-pops to boutiques and a destination resort—how they’re handling cleanliness during the coronavirus pandemic.
Leitch and his fellow innkeeper, Cathy Casey, still greet their guests personally as they have since they opened the inn in 2005. But now they do so from behind a clear shield guard at the front desk counter. And they don masks to show guests to their rooms. To minimize contact, guests can complete check-in from their phones. To make sanitizing easy, the inn put glass tops on the rooms’ wood surfaces, such as bedside tables and media consoles. “We are sanitizing rooms over and above our normal cleaning protocols, which have always been very detailed,” Leitch notes.
To discourage guests from congregating in common areas, Casey’s lavish breakfasts are now delivered to the rooms or on open porch areas, rather than in the formal dining room. In addition, the innkeepers monitor the number of people in the pool area to maintain social distancing, and they help guests understand the social-distancing protocols observed by restaurants and shops on the popular Granbury town square, a couple of blocks away.
This sprawling resort located about 25 minutes north of downtown San Antonio adheres to a corporate cleanliness policy that calls for the creation of a cleanliness council and employment of new cleaning technologies, such as electrostatic sprayers and the strongest disinfectants recommended by the CDC and WHO.
General Manager Doug Ridge says the resort has implemented deeper and more frequent cleaning of high-traffic and high-touch public areas, and installed hand-sanitizer dispensers throughout the resort’s indoor and outdoor spaces. The housekeepers are also conducting enhanced deep-cleaning of rooms between guest stays. Ridge says the hotel has also suspended its valet parking services.
The resort’s River Bluff water park is open but the hot tubs are not. Two of the many restaurants are open, but with social distancing and restricted occupancy. The resort has also added a grab-and-go market for guests to pick up pre-packaged meals, and in-room dining menus are expanded. Fortunately, it’s easy to be socially distant on the 600-acre resort’s grounds. “Along with preparing new ways to enjoy the traditions our guests love, the comfort and wellbeing of our guests and colleagues is always a top priority,” Ridge says.
Co-owner Jane Price notes that the goal of these four renovated 1940s cottages has always been to offer guests a stay in “very clean, comfortable, and hypoallergenic surroundings.” Price says Harbord Kourt’s standard cleaning procedures still include laundering and sanitizing all bed and bathroom linens, and cleaning and disinfecting all bath and bedroom surfaces and frequently touched areas, such as TV remotes, light switches, and doorknobs. In light of the pandemic, the business has added additional provisions, offering hand sanitizer in the office and guest rooms, spray-disinfecting draperies, and air-drying bed linens on clotheslines in the sun. Further, all check-in and payment is contact-free. “The individual cottages provided an unbeatable level of social distancing before it was cool,” Price adds, noting that the cottages are 50 or more feet apart from one another.
The Valencia Hotel Group, which owns the luxurious 223-room Hotel Alessandra, has established new guidelines to protect the health of employees and guests. Th company’s website offers a detailed information online about its protocols, including that employees are required to check their temperature when they arrive for work; those with temps above 100 are sent home. They must also follow sanitation protocols, such as frequent hand-washing for 20 seconds, and the use of masks and gloves. The hotel instructs its employees to keep at least 6 feet apart, and guests are asked to remain at least 6 feet apart from anyone not traveling in the same group. The hotel has placed touchless hand sanitizers throughout the property, along with signage reminding guests to maintain health and hygiene practices.
“The health and safety of our guests and staff remain our top priority,” says Ryan Gullion, Hotel Alessandra’s general manager. “In addition to hand sanitizer stations throughout the property we added outward-facing credit card machines and installed glass partitions at the check-in desk.”
The Valencia Hotel Group also owns Hotel Valencia in San Antonio, Lone Star Court in Austin, Cavalry Court and The George in College Station, Texican Court in Irving, and Cotton Court in Lubbock.