(CNN) — Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts collaborating with Johns Hopkins Medicine International. Montage International teaming with primary care provider One Medical. For French hospitality company Accor, the partner is insurance firm AXA, and with Hilton, it’s Lysol. And then there’s the new safety stamp from the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC). The list seems to go on and on.
Welcome to a hotel stay reimagined in the wake of Covid-19. Forget three-Michelin-starred restaurants, a private rooftop suite with a butler or a five-star spa. As properties around the world get ready to reopen following several months of closure due to the crisis, their marketing efforts are focused on making their guests feel safe and secure — luxury as disinfectant.
Is a stamp from the WTTC, a high-profile partnership or a marketing campaign touting new safety measures the answer?
It may just be, according to some industry experts.
Marketing safety as an amenity
Reneta McCarthy, a senior lecturer at the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University, says that while it is undoubtedly a marketing ploy for a brand to visibly state that it’s working with a well-known company to achieve safety or has new safety measures, the strategy is likely to be effective in getting people to travel again.
“So many of us, me included, are scared to check into a hotel, but I would definitely stay at a place that I know has jumped on the game to get safe and clean,” she says. “A name like Johns Hopkins gets that message out there loud and clear as does validation from the WTTC.”
Whatever the opinion, many of these programs may in fact help hotels be safe environments for guests and employees.
Take WTTC’s stamp, for example, which is a worldwide certification that applies to hotels as well as travel-related entities like restaurants and tour operators. Gloria Guevara, the group’s CEO, says that its safety standards were created after consulting more than 20 parties including hotels brands such as Hilton, the luxury travel network Virtuoso and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Businesses, including hotels, must apply to get the stamp and whenever we can, we send an inspector to make sure that the protocols are in place and being followed,” says Guevara.
A new hotel experience
For hotels specifically, one of WTTC’s new guidelines applies to breakfast buffets, a staple at many properties across all price points. Buffets are still allowed, but now, all food must be covered and served by an employee as opposed to guests serving themselves — a measure that reduces the possibility of guests infecting the food and making others sick.
“These standards are international, so travelers have the comfort in knowing that safety means the same thing wherever they are in the world,” says Guevara. “People want the freedom to travel again, and safety is part of that freedom.”
WTTC’s stamp is across the hotel industry, but individual brands have their own initiatives, too.
Amenities like masks, gloves and hand sanitizer, along with spacing out tables at restaurants, disinfecting public areas often and reducing the number of rooms occupied at a time are common across the board, but some hotels are doing more than these basics.
An experiment in Japan conducted by broadcaster NHK and a team of medical experts shows how quickly and easily Covid-19 can spread. CNN’s Anna Coren reports.
Putting the hospital in hospitality
Four Seasons new Lead with Care program, for instance, includes a Covid-19 advisory board comprised of Johns Hopkins doctors and the hotel’s executives. Members will continuously review the latest scientific findings on the virus and implement protocols at Four Seasons hotels accordingly; they will also train employees on these standards.
Accor’s partnership with AXA gives guests at any of its 5,000 properties globally a free on-demand virtual consultation with a doctor who is able to prescribe medicine, if needed(AXA has a network of more than 85,000 doctors). “We have brands like ibis budget where rooms are as little as $50 a night and cost less than the consultation with an AXA doctor,” says Amir Nahai, Accor’s CEO of food & beverage and lifestyle.
“Our goal is for travelers, no matter what they’re spending, to feel comfortable staying at an Accor.”
Baccarat Hotel, one of New York’s most upscale properties, may not be reopening its doors with a flashy partnership, but it does have a new director of environmental health and safety, Tanja Hernandez. Her job is to oversee all of Baccarat’s new safety measures for guests and employees and ensure that they’re being followed.
A dedicated employee for safety or a fancy partnership could help give a property credibility with customers, but it’s not a must to entice guests, says Rob Karp, the founder of the luxury hospitality company Miles Ahead, who is currently on a road trip around the United States and staying at various hotels along the way.
“Even as someone who sells travel for a living, I was anxious to stay at a hotel again, but when I checked into a place in Charleston last week, I felt totally safe,” he says. “Every employee was masked, there was a limit on the number of people allowed in the elevator, and sanitizer was everywhere. There’s nothing that was missing.”
The new normal?
But some experts, including David Richey, the CEO of Metis, a behavioral research firm exploring customer and employee perceptions, think that it’s a mistake for hotels to focus too much on hygiene.
“Hotels, especially luxury hotels, are amongst the cleanest public facilities of any. At malls and airports, cleaning protocols are far short of a typical, well-run hotel,” he says. “To make a big show about how well you are cleaning your rooms now is tantamount to admitting that you did it poorly in the past. I believe what customers will really want when they start traveling again is a feeling of normalcy.”
Luca Virgilio, the general manager of Hotel Eden in Rome, agrees with the normalcy part.
“Of course, we’re following all the protocols for safety, but we are also working hard to make sure that we don’t feel like a hospital,” he says. “Guests should know that they can trust us but feel like they’re at a luxury hotel first and foremost. Today, trust may be the new luxury.”