What It’s Like to Travel and Stay at a Hotel During the Pandemic
Two Zoomer editors fill us in on what it's like to board an airplane and stay in a hotel during the pandemic. Photo: Courtesy of the Broadview Hotel
What’s it like to check into a hotel now? And, if essential, what’s it like to get on an airplane, even if it’s just for travel within Canada? For Zoomer editors Vivian Vassos and Derick Chetty, it was a whole new experience.
Checking into a hotel in the time of COVID? In some cases, you just can’t. In others, the hotel staff are working very hard to ensure that low to no contact, minimal staff and guest interaction and physical distancing in all aspects. And there are signs that it’s working and enticing guests back to the hotel.
In a report by hotel industry data gatherer STR tallying the numbers for the week ending Aug. 22 and as published in hoteliermagazine.com, it stated that although the industry is in decline year over year in general, Canadian hotel performance saw a steady rise. P.E.I. and B.C. both surpassed the 50 per cent occupancy rate that week, while Ontario saw a 43 per cent rise. Of course, these stats are weighed against the significant drops due to COVID-19 but good news, nonetheless.
As the editor that handles all things travel here at Zoomer, I had to ask Derick Chetty, Zoomer’s fashion editor-at-large to tell us about his experience while on assignment. Here, he tells us what it’s like travelling from Toronto to Vancouver via Air Canada and checking into the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver. My own staycation story in Toronto follows.
Our Fashion Editor’s Return to Travel
As COVID-related restrictions ease and much of Canada prepares to return to schools and offices, decisions on air travel and hotels will have to be made as the country returns to business.
Recently, I had to make a trip from Toronto to Vancouver for a photo shoot for an upcoming Zoomer cover. Because the trip was within Canada, I felt relatively comfortable venturing out on what would be my first business trip since lockdown in March.
Surprisingly, the early morning Air Canada flight direct to Vancouver looked like it was at capacity. I took this as a reassurance that people were eager to return to some sort of normalcy in terms of travelling.
Wearing a mask was mandatory from the moment you boarded the aircraft and throughout the flight. No food was served, and only once during the flight was a hot or cold beverage offered. The airline gave each passenger a care package that included a mini-hand sanitizer, a mask, gloves and ear phones.
Checking into Fairmont Hotel Vancouver was a speedy affair with industry-leading standard health and safety protocols in place, which included masked employees, plastic barriers at the check-in desk and temperature checks each time entering the building. Guests were advised to wear masks in all public spaces of the hotel. Hand-sanitizing dispensers were on each floor at the bank of elevators.
Taking an extra step, the hotel offered assurances each room was unoccupied for a minimum of 48 hours before a final cleaning. This included removing amenities such as refreshments and writing materials from the room.
There is no daily maid service unless you request to have your room cleaned and if you do, you must be out of the room for a minimum of four hours before the service can take place. Since most of my days were spent location scouting and our photo shoot was during the day outdoors, this was not an issue.
The hotel’s room service is contactless. The in-room menu is given to you upon check in. The staff will only wheel the cart to the entrance of your door, and you leave it out in the hall for pick up when you’re finished.
For business guests, newspapers and magazines are only available by downloading the PressReader app on your personal electronic device. While most of this hotel’s amenities were open, such as the swimming pool and fitness centre, you had to plan your visit since it was based on a capacity limit.
Check-out can also be contactless by leaving your keys in the room or by depositing in a drop box in the lobby and having your invoice emailed.
It all sounds a bit impersonal, but this being the Fairmont, the service when needed is still stellar. One night after returning from my shoot to the hotel close to 10 p.m., I wanted to eat something light but room service was stopped at 9. The concierge offered to drive me to the gourmet supermarket located just a 15-minute walk from the hotel! I didn’t take him up on his generous offer because I noticed that other familiar and reliable sign across the street – Tim Hortons.
Staycation Meets WFH(otel)
Hotel staff across Canada are working very hard to ensure that low to no contact, minimal staff and other guests interaction, and physical distancing in all aspects are being respected. As a staycation treat to myself, I decided on somewhere boutique and close to my east-end home in Toronto. At the Broadview Hotel, all the health and safety protocols are being followed and then some.
About 24 hours before arrival, the front desk manager rang me and asked me a series of questions. Not just about my health but also to arrange reservations for dining. At the same time, they mention that they also book through Open Table as another remote or contactless option. If you’d like breakfast and coffee, you can order from a limited light menu “To Go,” in advance, but you’re also expected to go down to the lobby and pick it up, rather than staff bringing it up to the room.
No more than three in an elevator. A non-existent mini-bar. No room service. Little or no touch points. Masks are mandatory for guests and staff in all public areas, including at check-in and check-out and when you’re not seated at a table at the restaurant. Check-in for dining with all guests is also mandatory, as a way of contact tracing – you are asked to go back to the lobby to sign in before being sent to the roof top.
Rooms have to be empty for at least 24 hours before cleaning staff are allowed to enter and do their thing. Staff will not enter the room during your stay, and if extra towels and toiletries are needed, they will be brought to the door and placed outside the room. Check-in is strictly observed as no earlier than 3 p.m. to give staff a chance to disinfect, leaving the room clean and minimal.
But the beauty of staying at a hotel like the Broadview are its outdoor venues and its location. The Rooftop is known for stunning views, great food and good vibe – and they all hold true. Tables are spaced at a respectable physical distance and also have pretty, brightly painted dividers to help navigate. You walk in one way and out the other, even to the powder rooms. The menu, created by executive chef Richard Singh (formerly of The Chase in Toronto’s financial district) is available through scanning the QR code on the table, to limit contact with a physical menu. The second floor also features a barbecue pop-up that is open on weekends in the warmer weather months.
Situated in the Riverside neighbourhood in the east end of Toronto – you’ll find celeb chef Lynn Crawford’s Ruby Watchco and Tabbulé, the plant-forward Middle Eastern cuisine spot here, among others – the hotel is walking distance to trendy Leslieville and all its restaurants and shops, as well as the suddenly very cool Gerrard East strip. How cool? Margaret Atwood and Adrienne Clarkson have been spotted dining at Wynona, near Carlaw and Gerrard, that’s how cool.
The close-knit restaurant community there has come together to create Gerrard East Market, a pop-up in a parking lot until November with a summery vibe. Muskoka chairs in the sand and picnic tables with umbrellas on decks, all physically distanced, where there’s an on-sight bar, with servers circulating to manage your drinks. Masks are mandatory when you’re not at your table. Washrooms are inside the building and are clean and kept that way. Plus, you can order from half a dozen restaurants to your table, all from your table, via QR code.
Vatican Gift Shop (the most fabulous pizza!), The Dive Shop (did you say Barbacoa tacos or jerk chicken wings, yes please!) and Poor Romeo’s (I’ll take the Burger, stat!) are just some of the delicious spots.
Afterward, head to The Dive Shop itself, a short block away, for cocktail hour. Check out the cheeky-meets-tiki black-and-white murals by Toronto-based artist, @sarahskrlj, and take a swing on the swings on the back patio beach bar. Order a Tequila for Breakfast (The Dive Shop’s take on a Paloma), a refreshing mix of tequila, grapefruit juice and lime (cocktails are a wallet-friendly $12), sit back and enjoy the relaxed surfer beach vibe and DJ-spun tunes. Oh, and do tell them Vivian sent you.
Once I had my fill on Gerrard, I was back to the Broadview. Before crawling into a king-sized bed made with crisp, white sheets, I went for a night cap to the roof to catch the last of the sunset views and watch the bright lights of the big city come up. Staycation achieved.
What Happens in Vegas…
There are many of us who may not be ready to jump on a plane to Sin City just yet. But with Las Vegas mandating masks in all public spaces – including around the resort pools, it seems the powers that be are realizing it’s important to take their guests’ health and safety very seriously.
Of course, it’s also important to remember that there are thousands of people who work in hospitality and tourism that still need to put food on the table, and it’s an industry that has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic.
In an effort to invite travellers back to Vegas, two hotels are switching up the game. Instead of working from home, Bellagio and Aria are both suggesting that you work from the hotels. Packages for bookings on business days of the week (that’s Monday to Friday if you’ve forgotten what day it is!) are on offer at as little as US$102 a night.
Need high-speed and secure Wi-Fi? Check. Need an office-ready room that includes a desk, chair and video-call worthy backdrops? Check. Not having to make your bed in the morning, after taking in cuisine – physically distanced and everyone is masked up – by some of the best chefs in the world? Check. It also doesn’t hurt that the resorts are also offering up to a $375 food and beverage credit with some packages.
The kicker? You get your own Executive Assistant who will help you make reservations and appointments and ensure you have everything you need during your stay. Normally, this type of service comes with a fee. Check. And the resorts are even bending the arrival/departure rules, with an 8 a. m. check-in and a 6 p.m. check-out.
There is a downside, however. It looks like Air Canada and WestJet won’t be flying direct until early October. And Canada is still mandating a 14-day quarantine upon return from international travel. So choose your timing wisely.