Hotels have changed a lot since the pandemic started, and more changes are coming. Now that COVID-19 finally appears to be on its way out the door, hotels are making a few more adjustments in time for the summer — for better or worse.

So how will your hotel stay be different? Debbie Winsett, a nonprofit tour planner, has seen some of the changes, and she is not impressed. 

On a recent business trip to Southern California, her hotel charged her $10 to park and another $10 for breakfast. Pre-pandemic, the same hotel included parking and breakfast in the room rate. When she asked about the extras, a representative shrugged and said, “we have to make up for all the extra COVID costs somehow.”

“My hotel rates were not less than prior years, and the service was definitely less,” she adds.

More on the COVID-19 pandemic

Hotels, motels and resorts are still evolving, just like COVID. In the last three months, I’ve stayed at properties in Europe and the Middle East that ranged from permissive (a breakfast buffet with zero restrictions) to conservative (a la carte service only with masked and gloved servers). Some hotels offer full housekeeping, while others leave you alone for the duration of your stay. 

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“There are still a lot of unknowns,” says Faisal Sublaban, president of Bonotel Exclusive Travel, a travel agency in Las Vegas. But he says, generally speaking, hotels are starting to return to their pre-pandemic lineup, with a few important exceptions.

Some things will probably never change. For example, hotels that used to serve breakfast buffets will slowly start to phase them back as the pandemic eases. Other things might change permanently, like daily housekeeping service. As far as guests are concerned, the worst part is that some hotels will look for new ways to leverage the pandemic for additional revenue. So watch your wallets, fellow travelers.

Here’s what’s changed for good

Some of the changes have been for the better, and they appear to be permanent. For example, Martinhal Resorts, a Portuguese luxury family hotel chain, is keeping its rigorous cleaning and safety measures even as restrictions have slowly eased. 

“We will adapt, with the government’s guidance,” says Chitra Stern, the chain’s CEO. 

I’ve spoken with several hotels that say they plan to keep their sanitizer stations and rigorous cleaning measures because guests want them.

The Atlantis Resorts hotel chain launched an in-resort app that lets guests check in, access their room and order from room service. That cuts down on contact points, like picking up a room key or using the in room phone to order dinner or to call the concierge with a question. Apps like those will stick around, leading to a more seamless stay.

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The most significant changes are hotel cancellation policies. During the pandemic, many properties allowed last-minute cancellations to entice guests to book. Some, but not all, of these flexible policies will survive. At the Domaine Madeleine, a small luxury hotel in Port Angeles, guests liked the more relaxed rules, says Stephen Fofanoff, the general manager. 

“The changes are now a permanent part of our operations,” he says.

Hotel experts agree that many, if not all, of these changes are set in stone.

“It’s easy to forget there was ever a time when features like enhanced cleaning and free cancellation weren’t standard when searching for a hotel,” says Melissa Dohmen, a spokesperson for Hotels.com.

Post-COVID, beware of fees and reduced service 

Winsett, the tour operator, says her experience is no fluke. Hotels are trying to squeeze out a profit in lean times. Ellis Connolly, the chief revenue officer for Laasie, a hotel technology company, says the fees and extras help them do that. 

“The biggest thing that will change for hotels is their profit margins and their ability to continue to do more with less,” he says.

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That means hotels may add new charges for amenities, like parking and breakfast, that used to be included in your stay. For now, many full-service hotels have returned to daily housekeeping. But other properties are limiting room cleaning to every other day or by request only, and some are even charging extra for it.

“The pandemic created lots of additional financial burdens on hotels,” says Vimal Patel, president of Qhotels, a hotel-management company. “Labor costs have risen dramatically. They’re up 20% to 25% versus pre-pandemic. “There is no way the hotel can sustain itself without passing on those kinds of rate increases to guests.”

The only solution is to add new fees. These extras may become a permanent part of the hotel pricing scheme. But for now, it’s hard to say if they’ll stick.

Here’s what we don’t know about post-COVID hotels

Although the post-COVID hotel experience is coming into focus, no one knows exactly how hotels will look going forward. A lot depends on how the pandemic ends — and what hotel guests want when it does. Scott Ford, director of marketing at Innisfree Hotels, says even with cases going down, it’s too soon to tell.

“We have learned as soon as we think we have this situation figured out, it changes on us yet again,” he says. 

Here are some of the best hotel changes after COVID

New and improved rooms. Forward-looking hotel chains used periods of lower occupancy to renovate. Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts remodeled or expanded properties from Bangkok to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The Ritz-Carlton San Francisco turned its central courtyard from a meeting area for private events into a central area for guests to enjoy time outdoors. 

New menu items. At Holiday Inn Express, the hotel kept its signature pancake and cinnamon roll station for breakfast. But knowing that its guests were ever-mindful of their health, it also added Greek yogurt, fresh fruit and oatmeal with toppings. “We wanted to add options that guests wanted and needed,” says Stephanie Atiase, the company’s vice president of marketing and global brand management.

A new attitude. There’s a sense that hotels have survived the pandemic, and that’s something to celebrate. Milwaukee’s Ambassador Hotel is taking that literally by relaunching happy hour. It’s added new cocktails and appetizers to appeal to business travelers, who are slowly returning. “Happy hour will come back with the return of corporate travel,” predicts Jon Jossart, general manager of the Ambassador.

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