Having resumed international travels at the end of June originating from an E.U. which handled the pandemic reasonably well with only one major lockdown, I have learned early on that the new way we travel is equally about safety and hygiene measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 but also about staying informed and constantly being up to date about the constant changes in each country around the world about any changes in the rate of infections which would involve imposing Covid-19 tests, health declarations, isolation or quarantine.
Luxury hotels in destinations that have opened up to international travellers have been tempted to show restraint when providing any information on the pandemic travel restrictions and measures imposed by authorities, for fear of not being somehow legally held responsible for not providing the most recent or the most accurate information. This is not the case!
Even if restrictions may change several times daily with infamous”lists” to which countries are added or removed, luxury hoteliers should do their very best to stay informed and make sure that they keep guests informed. Hotels also have the advantage of comparing with other concrete recent stays, especially if there are measures to be ‘flagged’
On a recent such trip, before proceeding with any travel plans, I have doubled checked in detail any travel restrictions provided officially on the webpage of my country’s Foreign Affairs Ministry which also includes information centralised at a European Union level. I would also watch out for possible specific bilateral agreements, for the so called corridors (mutual waver of restrictions) or similar level of measures.
With destinations involving transit flights, beware that nowadays, airlines may not have their own staff, instead a ground handling company, a third party entity which assumes very limited responsibilities. On my most recent experience, such staff would advise they cannot provide any formal document on behalf of the airline. Nevertheless, I was denied boarding because, apparently, the destination country requires a negative Covid-19 PCR test (in English) taken not earlier than 48 hours.
Secondly, I was given a ‘Declaration form’ only available in Italian (the transit airport was in Italy) and I was told the form is not available in any other language. One of the key questions on these forms is the purpose of your trip. I was searching for the travel / tourism purpose and I could not find it, instead other reasons such as ”work”, health, family. The ground handling company agent told me with a raised voice – you didn’t know the country was not open for tourism? This was already a very serious matter because if indeed true, I should have known to to travel to that particular destination.
While shockingly facing all these issues, I have reached out to the hotel I booked at the destination and the first reaction of the General Manager was to decline any responsibility. I also asked whether he could check with some local authorities and if indeed I am denied boarding, what would I do. The ground handling company told me they cannot help in any way, not even to maybe give some suggestions / ideas – Your problem, the airline does not give any refunds!
The situation was even more daunting because I was in an airport of a country that imposes quarantine on all international arrivals. On landing, I was told that I have a transit status. But after being denied boarding, I was trying to find out information whether my status would change if I exited the airport. The airport information desk advised they have don’t know.
I also asked the hotel, airport and handling agent whether I could take a Covid-19 test in the airport – they all said there is some facility but they don’t know how it works but for sure, I would need to schedule in advance. Also, I was told that there is no hotel in airport, the nearest one is only reachable by taxi and would take 20 minutes. But then again, how could I exit the airport and return.
One of the critical questions you should seek answers before your trip (including from the hotel), is what happens if you provide a negative Covid test on arrival but develop symptoms during your stay. Is there an English speaking doctor who could be consulted? What is the procedure of isolation? – would the hotel provide a separate room with a special status? What if your condition worsens and you need to go to a hospital? – obviously no hotel representative can accompany you, but they should make sure not to lose touch with you so that they may inform your family or loved ones.
Luxury hospitality will indefinitely change and building trust and reliability with luxury consumers will be much more complex. Showing care and reactiveness will always make up for any such crisis situation. More than ever, luxury hotels will have to be very careful when they use the words ‘renovation’, ‘revamp’, ‘refurbishment’, ‘re-design’ or ‘refresh’.
The same is valid for transportation – most hotels use third party suppliers for airport transfers or any other chauffeur driven trips arranged by the hotel. These companies should also be verified and certified when it comes to disinfection, safety and hygiene. The uniform of the driver including gloves are equally important to cleaning any other high sensitive surfaces.
Beyond any hygiene protocols, guest will expect hotels to conduct renovations earlier – a renovated room or suite will not only be easier to clean but it would provide an indefinite safety feel. A hotel within a heritage building will not be exempt from the major investments required to clean and disinfect the AC system. Similarly a hotel within a glass building with no windows opening, will have to prove that their AC system brings at least 50% fresh air and is not only recirculating air.
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