A Road Warrior Visits the Business Travel Battlefield—Hotel Me Not!

Last week, I discussed the grand adventure that air travel has become, and that’s all well and good, but getting somewhere is only part of the challenge. Finding a place to stay is a necessary part of the trip, and we stayed in three different hotels as we meandered from Pittsburgh, PA to Alliance, OH to St. Louis, MO and then back to Charleston, SC. 

Getting a hotel reservation is really easy right now—plenty of rooms are available, and the hotel staff is absolutely delighted that you’re there. Of course, everyone is in a mask, and some are wearing gloves. The experience at different hotels varied widely. We stayed at a low-cost national chain, such as a Residence Inn or a Hampton Inn, for two of our stops, and we also stayed at a high-end luxury hotel in St. Louis. In each case, the service was widely variable. 

At the first lower-cost hotel, there were only about four other groups staying at the same time as we were, so there were plenty of rooms available. The hotel was spotless, as was the room. The hotel ordinarily offers a breakfast service, but that was closed, although there was still coffee available. And since the room had a microwave and a refrigerator, we were able to heat up takeout food and put some beverages and snacks in the fridge. Housekeepers cleaned and sanitized the room each day. The second lower-cost hotel was pretty much the same, except that it offered a sausage and egg sandwich or protein bars for breakfast.

As to the luxury hotel, most of the rooms were blocked, and it had moved check-in to a side entrance. Check-in was normal, and the room was fine. But, it turned out that the hotel was not providing any housekeeping services, so we had to make our own beds, put our trash in the hallway for pick up, and if we wanted clean towels, we put the dirty ones in the hall and a person would replace them. There was no room service, and none of the restaurants in the hotel were open, so we either got takeout food from local restaurants or we shopped at the local grocery store. The hotel would not provide additional glassware after the first day, and it had no utensils available, so there were a lot of logistical issues trying to figure out how to create a picnic in the room. Staying at this hotel was like camping with air conditioning—we basically got a room and nothing else for twice what we paid at the lower-cost hotels. 

My learning from this experience? 

  • Check to see what services are available at the hotel before making a reservation. Had we known that we would be paying US$200 a night for a bed and air conditioning, we would have stayed somewhere else. 
  • Get a room with a microwave and a refrigerator. I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit weary of tepid takeout, and it’s good to be able to warm up food before dining.
  • Lower your expectations for service. This is momentarily the next normal, and in this next normal, self-service should be your working assumption. That may change as things open up (slowly and carefully, we hope), but be prepared to take care of yourself—pampering is not an option right now.

As with the airports and the airlines, it’s clear that the hospitality industry is taking safety and cleanliness very seriously. I had no concerns about the possibility of exposure to COVID-19 while at any of the hotels. 

To conclude, my foray into the formerly familiar world of travel (business or otherwise) showed me that while it’s probably not the time to jump back in to travel at the level we enjoyed pre-pandemic, it’s pretty safe out there—the facilities are very clean and masks are omnipresent. I would travel again next week if it were essential that I did so, and I would be comfortable doing it. Just keep expectations realistic and be prepared to take care of yourself. 

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