Accommodation for tourists and business travellers will have to change because of the virus. I look at some of
the challenges hotels are facing and explain some of the contact-free features of serviced apartments that
could be adopted across different accommodation sectors and become familiar during future stays. Electronic reception, keyless doors, direct room access and hands-free services are some of the key points.
Travel has been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Much of the media attention is on air travel, which has
been decimated in 2020 and will continue to suffer. Uncertainty still prevails as regional lockdowns and
quarantine periods for people returning from certain countries continue to pop up. Business passengers may be largely absent from flights for some time. People will still need to travel for work though. While the private sector invests in decentralisation, the government is likely to invest heavily in infrastructure and green power generation, both of which will pull specialist workers away from home.
Owners of large, city offices are trying to work out how they can take occupancy above 20% in buildings that already had 20-minute lift queues before the crisis. Hotels, also places of work, of course, are facing similar challenges. We have already seen big companies investigating in office space in our region in an attempt to reduce capacity elsewhere. Just as office use is forced to change, a less discussed challenge in travel is accommodation and how it needs to be reinvented for safety. I believe that serviced apartments are part of the solution. If we consider some of the ways that hotels will need to change, especially with the business traveller in mind, we see that alternative accommodation types like rentals and serviced apartments are well placed and that is why they are already experiencing growth.
Cars provide people with a sense of sanctuary in the social distancing world, they will be more popular for business travel at a national level. When travelling to accommodation for work, on-site parking will help people to maintain distancing at the end of their journeys. The next step is to get painlessly and safely checked in. The best-prepared hotels are introducing contactless self-check-in where everything is performed remotely and your phone becomes your room key. Even in these cases, buildings will have to have carefully managed access points and there are likely to be temperature checks at the door. For less prepared hotels, this will be followed by a check-in process that features new queueing systems with one-way and distancing decals on the floor, leading to a Perspex protected reception desk.
At our serviced apartments, south of Aberdeen, there is no reception. Parking is on-site and there is direct room access whereby the guest uses a secure code from their phone without having to pass through any shared spaces. We don’t have any lifts as each apartment is on the ground or first floor and our covered stairway is open to the air. A streamlined process like ours would be quite easy to achieve in an American style motel with its direct room access and external corridors, but will be tough in most UK locations where that style of building is rare, manned reception is the norm, and parking so often comes at a premium if there even is any.
Catering will face challenges. Self-service buffets will disappear for a while and reduced occupancy limits in dining spaces will probably lead to guests having to select specific table times. This inflexibility will precipitate growth in in-room dining with food delivered to the door. For business travellers, a serviced apartment works well here because food can be delivered safely to the door by external suppliers and there is ample dining space inside. Some people, especially those with longer stays, will choose to self-cater. An apartment provides full food preparation facilities.
Cleanliness is always high on the list of any hotel guest’s priorities. The pandemic takes hygiene to a new level with a range of deep cleaning requirements. In larger buildings, HVAC systems may need to be upgraded to “clean” the air and bring in a higher percentage of fresh air. We have a separate ventilation system for each apartment. To make cleaning easier, hotel rooms, even in the most luxurious establishments, are adopting more uncluttered looks with the likes of carpets, rugs, bed runners, scatter cushions, guest directories and magazines being removed.
Some items are more fundamental to the guest experience and are regularly handled; the TV remote, the thermostat, the telephone, the door handle etc. The answer here could be the type of contactless systems that we use, TVs and thermostats are voice-operated using smart speakers. To enable guests to contact staff, we use the GuestTalk smartphone app that removes another source of possible contamination. Some longer stay guests have asked us not to change the linen or clean the apartments during their stays. Because of COVID, they prefer to use our free self-service laundry and do it themselves, it’s all about minimising contact and risk.
We hope that all forms of accommodation manage to reinvent themselves in ways that work for their businesses, brands and clientele. This is especially true for rivals near us in Aberdeen because it’s important that the city maintains enough visitor capacity to thrive as an industry hub and tourist destination. The design choices that we made to reduce our environmental footprint and simplify the short stay have proved to be closely aligned to virus control. As a result, we believe that Apartrooms is an example of how intelligent modern design can meet the current safety demands without sacrificing comfort and enjoyment. Luxury hotel brands may not adopt all of our initiatives, in the same way that we won’t be providing branded cashmere face-masks or al fresco dining, but the solutions are out there and we hope that travellers of all kinds have the confidence to make their journeys and enjoy their stays.
If you are looking to visit Aberdeen, please consider our sustainable, secure and stylish apartments on the
south side of the city.