I’ve missed hotels. Waking up in a big bed swathed in crisp linen, breakfast made by someone else, a bar with an air of anticipation that anything could happen. Hotels re-opened on May 17 (hooray), however, after months of lockdown and Covid-19 restrictions I wondered how the experience might change. What safety precautions would be in place? And would it still be fun and relaxing? I booked a night at a central London hotel to find out how hotel stays have changed.
What’s check-in like?
These days the precautions have actually fast-forwarded the 'seamless' hotel experience, with lots of major London hotel chains like the Four Seasons, Hilton and Marriott creating apps that allow travellers to check-in, unlock their bedroom door, order room service and ask questions, all through their phone. The contactless hotel stay was already in existence but after the pandemic hit, most hotels have been keen to push and improve their apps, fast-tracking the innovation.
Check in at The Marylebone Hotel, where I'm spending the night, is roughly the same swift process and I’m not asked anything about my health. The only unusual thing is that I’m given a new pen, freshly wrapped, to sign my arrival form and tick my wake-up call time and there a discreet little pots of hand sanitiser by the lifts, which I see guests using.
I'm also told that the gym and pool next door which guests have free access to, isn’t allowing access via the usual route through the hotel’s private lift, instead guests can enter via a side door and will need to be temperature checked before going in.
Are rooms any different?
A major concern for some travellers will be whether hotels are doing enough to keep public spaces and rooms clean. So what most hotels are now doing is a new double cleaning process, beginning with the usual cleaning and clearing, followed by disinfecting and sanitising.
Some hotels, such as Lime Tree have also removed some high-touch items, like decorative throws and cushions, while most major chains like Hilton have removed in-room notepads, menus and magazines.
After check in I’m shown to my room (that pistachio-coloured bed that looks so serene it’s tempting to climb in and forget about dinner) and most things are as expected, except for the huge QR code on the TV, which I am asked to scan in order to access things like in-room dining menu (which is way bigger than normal), order newspapers and book a restaurant table.
There’s also a card explaining the hotel’s Rest Assured programme, which is a lengthy set of health and safety protocols which you can read all about by scanning another QR Code.
Cleaning everywhere is extremely thorough, and according to director of operations, Lucy Gregory, this hotel and others are running a system calling 'fogging', in which the room is sprayed with fine particles of sanitiser and then a hygiene sticker’s placed on the door to seal it, so guests know nobody else has been in before they arrive.
How’s the dining experience?
The pandemic has caused hotels to rethink the way they handle dining options and that’s no bad thing. London hotels are having to get creative with socially-distanced dining options post-lockdown, so while buffets may be gone for now there are plenty of other fun options including gourmet picnics in the park at the Conrad London St. James Hotel, new pop-up outdoor dining spaces like The Courtyard at Treehouse London Hotel and hugely improved room-service menus, offering everything from afternoon tea to signature restaurant dishes.
During my stay I eat in the Marylebone Hotel’s Brasserie 108, a neighbourhood restaurant with a buzzy vibe where locals dine too. I have to wear a mask to get to the table, but whip it off as soon as I’m seated. There’s plenty of space between tables and although busy, it doesn’t feel too crowded. Waiting staff wear masks, but other than that, you wouldn’t notice a difference from before Covid hit.
Is it worth it?
An unequivocal yes. Admittedly face masks make it harder to connect with people in the same way as pre-Covid, but hotels are making every effort to ensure that guests feel safe and secure.
Staying in a hotel is still lots of fun - the lovely toiletries, the big bed with posh linen, breakfast choices, late-night bar action are all still there. Even with some restrictions, I’m more grateful than ever to get away for a night and feel safe doing so. Happy travelling.
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