I’m currently in Tampa, Florida, where circumstances have led me to stay in a handful of hotels in the past couple of months. It’s been interesting seeing the changes that hotels have implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve also called other hotels to research what changes they’ve made. Most changes are consistent among hotel chains and brands, including a focus on social distancing and cleanliness. However, changes to the complimentary breakfast offering varies. Following is my COVID report on a sample of a dozen hotels in Tampa Bay:
What Are Hotels Doing Differently for COVID?
All hotels have installed a plastic shield between guests and front desk workers.
Hotels no longer offer daily housekeeping service, but you can request items or a cleaning as needed. Hilton hotels place a sticker to show their unused, sanitized hotel rooms. The rooms often contain literature explaining their new sanitization procedures, as described on their websites, e.g., the Hilton Clean-Stay Program.
All hotels have signs about wearing masks and following social distancing rules. Unfortunately, many guests ignore these rules, and I have not yet seen any hotel staff enforce them.
There is also a sign suggesting that only a small existing group or no more than 2 people should be in the elevators at once. Since I have mostly been on the top floor, I see many disappointed guests when they want to take the elevator downstairs but have to wait because we’re already in it. These certainly are not the most convenient rules, but at least people follow this one.
Many hotels have also added hand sanitizing dispensers in the lobby, hallways, and elevators. Unfortunately, every time I have wanted to use one of these dispensers, it’s empty! Hotel management doesn’t seem to consider the additional maintenance required for this service.
Although there are signs and pamphlets throughout the hotel about cleanliness, I haven’t actually seen a big difference from pre-COVID days. I rarely see anyone cleaning the public areas. Also, to replace daily housekeeping, it would be nice to have a cleaning kit to help me clean and disinfect my own room.
What are Hotels Providing for Breakfast During COVID?
As I shared in my book, Hotel Sweet Home, most hotels offer a free breakfast. Budget and long-term stay hotel brands, like Embassy Suites, Homewood Suites, and Hampton Inn, typically offer a complimentary breakfast buffet for all hotel guests. Standard and premium hotel brands offer complimentary breakfast only to elite hotel loyalty members. For example, my Diamond Hilton Honors status normally provides a free hot breakfast at Doubletree and Hilton hotels. My Marriott Bonvoy Titanium status normally provides free breakfast at Marriott and Renaissance hotels.
Of course, buffets are no longer desirable since they easily can spread the virus. So what are hotels providing for their complimentary breakfast during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Some mid-range hotels have simply stopped providing a complimentary breakfast service. For example, the Doubletree Rocky Point hotel restaurant is closed for breakfast, although they open back up for lunch and dinner when you must pay for your food. As a consolation, they provide a public coffee area, but I saw most guests ignore requests for social distancing and wearing masks around it.
As another example, Courtyard by Marriott hotels are supposed to provide elite members with a voucher for complimentary meals at their cafe, called “The Bistro.” During the pandemic, The Bistro is still open and offers most of the food options it did before, but elite guests no longer receive a complimentary food voucher. Instead, I received points, which I value at about 10% of the value of daily breakfast for two. Fortunately, the low room rate made up for it.
Higher-end hotels, such as my two favorite Tampa hotels, still offer breakfast. For example, The “Current” (a Marriott Autograph Collection) hotel restaurant is open and serves their full menu to hotel guests. (I’d rather not sit in a restaurant with other people at this time, but apparently most people are comfortable with this.) Other hotels offer a limited “to go” menu:
The Renaissance International Plaza hotel offers one of the best solutions given the pandemic: you can choose your breakfast(s) from the menu (elite members are told to ignore the prices) and either use the Marriott app or the phone to order it and then pick it up from the from the front desk. I did not want anything I saw on the menu; I requested fresh fruit instead, which they kindly provided! As a matter of fact, upon visiting the front desk the second day, they had 2 cups of fresh fruit waiting for me. My husband said the Tampa Cuban breakfast sandwich was high quality. We were both pleased.
Hotel Alba (a Hilton Tapestry Collection hotel), formerly known as a Crowne Plaza, is one of my favorite hotels because my elite status always gets me an complimentary upgrade to a spacious 2-room Cabana Suite. These suites have an external door that leads directly outdoors, so we don’t need to go through the hotel to leave or talk walks to the Bay. That capability is especially desirable during the pandemic.
The only reason to walk into the hotel is to grab a “to go” breakfast, which is complimentary for elite loyalty members. Once again, we were told to ignore the prices – everything was free. The menu changed daily, and the options were fine for someone who eat a Standard American Diet (SAD). However, I only want fresh fruit. Even though it was on the menu, they were out of fruit cups for the first few days. I finally ordered one later when they had them, and unfortunately the fruit had mold on it. That’s okay; skipping the hotel breakfast provides a little less risk of catching COVID.
Hilton hotel brands that offer complimentary breakfast for all guests (e.g., Embassy Suites, Hampton Inn, Homewood Suites) are consistently offering a “Grab and Go” option with items liked hard boiled eggs, yogurt, bagels, cream cheese, bananas, and apples. Some of them offer a hot breakfast item, usually a cheese-sausage-egg sandwich, a few days per week.
Many premium hotels also used to offer complimentary breakfast and evening food and drinks via an executive lounge. In my experience so far, all hotel lounges are closed during the pandemic. Hotels that previously offered complimentary evening hors d’oeuvres and spirits for all guests (like Embassy Suites) have also ended that service.
Given that a lot of the services and complimentary items no longer available, and only a skeleton staff is required. Fortunately most hotel prices are generally 30-40% lower than they were pre-COVID. Demand is still low in most destinations. It turns out that Tama, Florida is an exception:
Tampa is hosting the Super Bowl in February 2021. I am not a football fan, so the way I learned about it is by trying to book hotels in Tampa. Most hotels are sold out, and remaining prices are sky high! How many people will be attending this event? The NFL has still not announced the number, but they have stated that they “will have ‘as many fans as we can safely do’ at Raymond James Stadium.” The stadium can seat up to 66,0000 people.
I am concerned that the Super Bowl will greatly increase the spread of COVID. Simply staying in hotels during the pandemic is risky, primarily due to other hotel guests not following the rules and regulations. This is a crazy new world, and I hope these measures are temporary. What’s next for me? Time to hunker… likely not in a hotel, and likely not in Tampa. I’m currently researching options for working remotely and isolating for the next few months.
I hope everyone stays home and stays healthy.