This is the second blog in our series about traveling after COVID-19. In our first blog we described how hotels are struggling with serving a traveler’s favorite: breakfast. In this blog we will talk about how to find hotels in the summer of 2020. Hotel availability is not that great and hotel facilities might be closed. While you could easily rely on hotel booking websites in the past, COVID-19 has changed that. The pool might be closed, the spa might not be operational, and the 5-star rated breakfast is probably not at its pre COVID-19 level. In this blog we explain how we have successfully navigated this ‘new normal’ while on vacation during the summer of 2020.
Since early June, European countries have started opening up to tourists again. We got right back to traveling and stayed at seven hotels in 4 different European countries: Austria, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. All this traveling was for vacation or leisure purposes. Here are our experiences. The EU offers a handy website that shows you what borders are open to whom and what rules are in place in your destination country: https://reopen.europa.eu/
Not all hotels are open
The most important thing to realize is that not all hotels are open, but that does not stop them from selling rooms. Hotels are trying to fill up rooms in 4 to 6 weeks while they are currently closed. When we tried to book great deals for a long weekend trip to Vienna in the first weekend hotels were allowed to reopen again, there was plenty of choice. Most hotels were accepting bookings. Unfortunately, as we came closer to our Vienna weekend, many of these hotels were still closed.
This means, in order to make sure your reservation holds up, that booking hotel rooms is now something you should do shortly before your departure. Another option is to only book hotels that have already reopened. You can easily check if a hotel has reopened yet by giving them a phone call or sending them an e-mail. The unique COVID-19 situation allows hotels to cancel reservations at any time and without having to offer any alternative. You will be entitled to a refund but that takes time and effort.
We recommend traveling stress free. While booking, think about what happens if you are not able to go. For example, when countries shut borders again. Or prepare for the worst-case scenario where you or a family member gets sick. In those scenarios, you want to be sure you can cancel your reservations. AirBnB and other booking platforms have adjusted their terms and conditions. The virus or borders closing is no longer a valid reason to get a full refund. Basically, these booking platforms say that disruptions caused by the pandemic are a risk you accept when booking.
Instead of checking all the terms and conditions, there is an easier way to stress free. Only book hotel rooms that you may cancel for free up to 1 or 2 days before arrival. You might pay more for this flexibility but during a pandemic we think it is definitely worth the investment. Ideally, also book hotel rooms that don’t require pre-payment. Although pre-paid packages or non-refundable rooms often come with a discount, we argue that it is not worth the risk. Hotels and maybe even full hotel chains will not survive this COVID-19 crisis. When these hotels go bankrupt, you might not get your money back or your voucher becomes useless.
Hotel COVID-19 hygiene
All hotels we have stayed at have put extensive hygiene measures in place to avoid the spread of the coronavirus. These measures are different from country to country and from hotel to hotel. Some hotels take your temperature at arrival. If you have a fever, the hotel has to isolate you and call medical services. All hotels have hand sanitizers all over the premises.
Face masks are mandatory in some countries, including Germany and Italy, but are not mandatory in others, like the Netherlands. As the global crisis evolves, these rules change. We recommend preparing to wear a face mask no matter where you go.
Most hotels we stayed at take COVID-19 measures very seriously. However, there were exceptions. In one of the hotels staff was not consistently wearing their face masks although this is still mandatory in Italy. The staff also did not remind guests of the rules. As a result, we were one of the very few guests that continued wearing a face mask throughout our stay.
Hotels are not full, not by a long shot
All hotels we stayed at were not full. In fact, they felt empty and sometimes eerie deserted. At the Ritz-Carlton Vienna we were basically the only visitors. We shared the breakfast room with only two other couples. Our hotel in Nürnberg, Germany was large but also not filled and the hotel restaurants and bars also remain empty. I am typing this blog at the pool of the luxurious and massive Renaissance Tuscany Il Ciocco Resort & Spa.It is peak season butthe resort is mostly empty. Out of three restaurants only one is open and the number of guests on weekdays can be counted on one hand. The hotel bar is open but without guests and the pool is effectively a private oasis. The contrast with the extremely crowded summer of 2019 could not be bigger.
None of the hotels we stayed at were at full capacity. Each hotel had empty hotel rooms and cut back on staff as they are struggling to fill up rooms. Hotel prices have dropped as the supply is so much bigger than the demand. While some hotels shut their doors to reduce costs, others like the Renaissance in Tuscany operate with minimal staff.
Hotel facilities might be closed
We have come across hotels that have closed facilities. The swimming pool at the Ritz-Carlton Vienna was closed as the hotel staff said it did not know how to enforce the constantly changing COVID-19 regulations. Most hotels also closed facilities, like spa areas because they are not safe during the pandemic.
The reason why these facilities are closed isn’t always the coronavirus. With fewer guests it is not economically sustainable to operate large scale operations. Non-essential or less popular parts of the hotel will close to cut back on costs. Hotels with multiple bars or restaurants will shut down all but one and won’t open multiple swimming pools with so few guests.
Rules and regulations vary per country and are constantly changing. Changing rules and low occupancy make it very challenging for hotels to operate as normal. Although booking websites still show photos and descriptions of hotels operating under normal circumstances, this is often not the case! Check with the hotel what facilities are open and confirm your booking only when you are sure the hotel offers the services you want.
Tips for a comfortable stay
Traveling during the summer of 2020 is different. Although hotels have reopened, you cannot expect services to be back to normal. We advise everyone to do their homework before booking and prepare before departing. Adjust your expectations accordingly and you can have a perfectly enjoyable vacation while the world tries to adjust to life during this pandemic.