Planning for the Hotel Opening, Coronavirus Be Damned - Press "Enter" to skip to content

Planning for the Hotel Opening, Coronavirus Be Damned

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Travel and travel planning are being disrupted by the worldwide spread of the coronavirus. For the latest updates, read The New York Times’s Covid-19 coverage here.

The hotelier Phil Hospod has spent the last two years building The Wayfinder, a boutique hotel in Newport, R.I. And despite the pandemic, he is still planning to open in mid-May.

The hotel, which will have an outdoor pool deck, an on-site restaurant serving coastal cuisine and seersucker-inspired rooms, was nearing completion when Gov. Gina M. Raimondo of Rhode Island issued a strict stay-at-home order on March 28, banning all gatherings of more than five people.

“We’re really close, which is kind of exciting, but also the painful part,” Mr. Hospod said.

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But he’s plowing ahead and says that once the government gives the green light, he could open his doors within two weeks. He has had to make some adjustments: Covid-19 has stalled deliveries — his mattresses are stuck in New York, his art in Ohio and a lobby fireplace in California. So he has begun relying more on local suppliers, and has also set up sanitation stations across the site for his construction crew (who are allowed to work). Unable to conduct job interviews in person, he’s interviewing front desk staff, bartenders, cleaning crews and more via videoconferencing.

The hotel industry has shed more than four million American jobs in the wake of Covid-19, and an industry analytics company, STR, reports more than 80 percent of rooms in the U.S. are currently empty. But a handful of hotels are nevertheless moving ahead with planned openings, offering their properties as a port in a very uncertain storm.

Greg Henderson, co-owner of The Roxbury at Stratton Falls, a whimsical resort comprised of themed cottages and mansion rooms in New York’s Catskill Mountains, was gearing up for a grand opening this spring. He now hopes to open June 1.

“From a business perspective, this is the scariest thing I’ve ever been through in my life,” he admits.

To conduct a deep cleaning of the property, he is employing a staggered schedule of cleaners who work in individual shifts, without punching timecards and without entering the hotel’s front office, where he also keeps a single employee.

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And some hotels that had opened their doors when the pandemic hit have found that it makes more economic sense to stay open, if only for one or two guests each night.

At The Abbey Inn and Spa in New York’s Hudson Valley, the general manager Gilbert Baeriswil finds himself on unfamiliar ground, even with more than 30 years in the hotel industry.

His property opened on March 18, two days before Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a stay-at-home order because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Abbey, a boutique hotel in a converted convent in the Hudson Valley, had hired a staff of 45, but with reservations plummeting to single digits (including those for some emergency medical workers), it now has a skeleton crew of 10. Tables at Apropos, the hotel’s farm-to-table restaurant, were first moved so guests could sit at least six feet apart; they soon made the shift to takeout only. Daily housekeeping is paused; cleaning staff, armed with masks, enter rooms only after check out.

“We knew this was going to be a different beast than any normal opening,” said Mr. Baeriswil. But a great deal of resources had already been spent on training staff, so the owners decided it made more sense to stay open.

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When John Castle, general manager of the AC Hotel Little Rock Downtown in Arkansas, opened the property on Feb. 18, the fallout from a pandemic was the last thing on his mind.

“We had never heard of it at that point,” he said of the virus, which has since killed more than 25,000 Americans. Arkansas is one of only seven states nationwide without a stay-at-home order, but Mr. Castle said the impact has nevertheless been brutal: Occupancy has plummeted to 5 percent.

“I’ve been running hotels for 10 years and have never seen occupancy in the single digits,” he said.

Yet the AC Hotel remains open.

“Even if you close a hotel completely, someone has to stay there as a caretaker. So there isn’t a huge savings as long as you’re still getting a couple rooms a night,” Mr. Castle said.

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In Florida, the website of The Ben, a waterfront property in West Palm Beach, informs its virtual visitors that only essential lodgers — like emergency medical workers and displaced residents — are able to book rooms (the same mandate holds in New York state). That hotel, which opened on Feb. 13, has provided each guest with a welcome letter explaining its adaptation to the crisis: its gym and pool are shuttered, food service is takeout only and housekeeping is suspended (cleaning staff waits five days after checkout before entering rooms).

Meanwhile, some hotels are finding more socially distanced ways to debut.

In El Paso, the Plaza Hotel Pioneer Park is still scheduled to reopen in April after a two-year renovation, with a caveat. The property kicked off a “digital soft launch” on April 10 while staff wait for Texas’s shelter-in-place order, which went into effect on April 2, to lift.

The launch includes a weekly live Instagram series with Andres Padilla, executive chef at the hotel’s Ambar restaurant, who is taking viewers into the hotel’s kitchen while he makes dishes like ceviche and pork carnitas.

The Instagram series is important, Mr. Padilla says, not just to connect with guests who can’t yet visit but also to keep up morale among his staff.

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