The hotel experience has changed for the foreseeable future.
At Oasis Hotel & Convention Center, guests and employees can’t enter the property until passing a temperature check and answering a list of health-related questions outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
When entering the lobby, guests are met with masked smiles behind a wall of plexiglass and, come late June, they’ll be given their own personal protective equipment to use during their stay. That’s also where they pick up their towels and toiletries, which won’t be preplaced in their rooms anymore.
And after the hotel rooms are cleaned and inspected, employees place a sticker across the doorframe to seal off the room. It’s a way to assure guests that no one else has been inside since the room was cleaned, said General Manager Missy Handyside.
“I see this as the new way for hotels,” Handyside said. “Some things may change a little as we go, but we don’t expect to stop what we’re doing after concerns go away.”
Many hotels throughout the Springfield area have adopted new cleaning and safety protocols because of the coronavirus pandemic. And as cities begin to reopen, hoteliers anticipate a resurgence of travel.
A slight uptick already has been recorded in the Springfield area. According to data provided by the Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau Inc., occupancy rates have slowly climbed since activity bottomed out in March. Headed into the Memorial Day weekend, occupancy numbers reached 34.3%, up from a low of 21.2% occupancy the week of March 5.
Local hotels are collectively reporting an increase in business, said Springfield Hotel Lodging Association President Cara Walker-Whiteley. She said many of the 50 hotels in the association have adopted new cleaning policies.
“It’s slow, but it’s happening,” she said. “Travel will rebound; it’s just a matter of timing. There’s going to be pent-up demand and competition, too, for all of the cities competing for the same travelers. … They just need to have confidence that they’ll be safe.”
Handyside said other additions at the Oasis include prepackaged breakfast items, hand sanitizer stations throughout the property, foot-operated door-openers in the bathrooms and the removal of any nonessential items in the hotel rooms, such as decorative pillows, notepads and marketing materials. The property’s restaurant, Fire & Ice Restaurant and Bar, is also requiring servers to wear masks and gloves, she said. Handyside declined to comment on the overall cost of the new protocols. “This has been what our COVID-19 task force has been preparing over the last month,” she said. “We started using guidelines from the CDC and American Hotel Lodging Association and just started Googling what others were doing in the hotspots, like New York. “Thank goodness we aren’t a hotspot, but what if?” The AHLA in May released industrywide cleaning guidelines dubbed the Safe Stay initiative. They include enhanced cleaning standards, employee health guidelines and social distancing recommendations for any hotel activities, according to the AHLA website.
Greg Walker, owner of La Quinta Inn in south Springfield, said he’s juggling the AHLA recommendations with corporate guidelines. The changes include requiring employees to wear PPEs; no-touch registration; eliminating touchpoints, such as notepads and shared newspapers; closing the fitness center; offering a grab-and-go breakfast; and around-the-clock cleaning.
“We were already using cleaning supplies that would kill the virus. This is all just to make customers feel more comfortable,” Walker said.
For those who want to use the fitness center, Walker said guests can use a free pass to Genesis Health Clubs on Battlefield Road, with which the hotel has partnered for several years. Walker said he’s in talks with local restaurants to partner on discounted breakfast options for guests. The hotel is now running at about half its normal occupancy, he said, adding May’s occupancy rate will hover around 40% and June will likely climb to 50% occupancy.
Gail Myer, vice president of Myer Hospitality Inc. in Branson, said reservations for the latter part of the year are looking to average at normal capacity. “Our advanced reservations from August until the end of the year look the same as last year, but the caveat is some people will make decisions closer to when they want to come. There could be cancellations,” he said. “It’s not a matter of whether people will come to the area; it’s a matter of when.”
Myer Hospitality operates six hotels in the Branson area, two of which Myer said will reopen in early June. He said his hotel employees will have their temperatures checked each day and are taking on additional responsibilities, such as consistently disinfecting frequently touched surfaces. Other changes include grab-and-go breakfasts and enforcing social distancing.
On top of the new protocols, Handyside said the Oasis is installing roughly $100,000 worth of ultraviolet lighting, aka UVC lighting, at the hotel and convention center. The new lights are designed to eliminate bacteria in the air. “That’s a huge project we’re doing, but it’s necessary,” Handyside said.
UVC light has been found to destroy viruses, but it’s not known if the light specifically destroys COVID-19, according to The National Academies of Sciences.
Crews are expected to wrap up the upgrades in early June, which will come in time for several events that have been planned for the summer, she said. One event in late May, a Missouri Sports Hall of Fame bingo fundraiser, is still set to continue at a limited capacity, she said. Under the city’s phased reopening approach, the normally 1,300-person grand ballroom can occupy up to 300 people with social distancing guidelines in place.
Representatives of Georgia-based Atrium Hospitality, which owns University Plaza Hotel and Convention Center, said in an emailed statement that the company was also following AHLA standards. Local officials at the hotel could not be reached for additional comment by press time. Myer said about half of his 180-person staff used the last two months to also do cosmetic upgrades for an undisclosed cost to his six Branson hotels, including fresh paint and new decorations. The other staff members have receiving unemployment benefits, he said.
“We’re doing what we can to make the spaces feel nicer, because that will factor into how guests feel when they’re here,” Myer said.
The latest survey data yield results.