Jade Conroy explores the pros and cons of two key accommodation options – hotels and holiday rentals – in the new world order
Nothing ruins the high gloss of a hotel more than visors, temperature checks and moving through a lobby quicker than you can say “disinfectant”... before trying to press the lift button with your elbow (and even then, you’ll probably be told to take the stairs).
But this is going to be the way of the world. Il Pellicano, on the Tuscan coast, has retained its sense of glamour by opening as Casa Pellicano at half its capacity, harking back to its 1970s heyday when it was a smaller establishment. Its yellow-striped sunbeds – once photographed by Slim Aarons – will be spaced out, as will its restaurant, which will occupy the area usually taken by two.
The Pig group is making screens between tables that are “in keeping” with their rustic-boutique vibe (no Perspex here), while the St Moritz in Cornwall is building a “socially distanced restaurant” with 16 private dining rooms. The breakfast buffet will be replaced with in-room dining. The idea is to keep people apart, which feels unnatural.
Ultimately, though, if you’re a reunited couple or exhausted parents, crisp white sheets and room service will still have the same appeal – with or without the masks.
Any hotel worth its salt will have stringent cleaning guidelines in place. Some brands have even had their practices vetted by another body such as Marriott and the World Health Organisation. Olga Polizzi, who has boutique properties in Devon and Cornwall, is using Rapid-10, a specialist spray. The Cary Arms in Devon has an aqueous ozone machine, which turns water into a bacteria-killing cleaning fluid.
Other hotels will be keeping rooms vacant in between guests, made easier by lower capacities. While you can expect the risk of contamination in rooms to be low, it’s the public areas (and many surfaces) which are more challenging.
Facilities and activities
Places with a focus on outdoor activities should continue as normal, with a few capacity caps – Lucknam Park in Wiltshire, for example, is offering forest bathing, cycling, horse riding, tennis, archery, falconry and more.
For many, though, the clincher will be a pool – and currently, as per the Government’s latest announcement, they cannot reopen. The same goes for spas.
Flexibility and refunds
Many hotels around the world have amended their cancellation policies. The Pig allows guests to cancel (fully refundable) or amend bookings (free of charge) until three days prior to arrival. If their hotels are forced to close due to Covid-19, bookings will be cancelled or transferred at no charge. As always, though, check the small print, especially if you’re travelling abroad.
You might not be able to get that massage but if you love hotels then book and support your favourite – many have decent cancellation/rebooking policies.
Many will be looking for group and family holidays this summer – and there is no better value (or opportunity for space) than a house rental. Human contact outside your “bubble” can be minimal. Most companies are operating a contactless check-in with key boxes; Airbnb even allows you to filter by “self check-in”.
Welcome Beyond, which operates design-conscious villas and hotels across Europe reports that 90 per cent of all enquiries over recent weeks have been for houses.
Some properties will also provide you with fully-stocked fridges, or at least help with unloading online supermarket shops (as long as you can get a delivery slot) to minimise the need to leave the property during your holiday. You will have to do your own cooking and tidying.
Facilities and activities
Activities will largely have to be self-planned. Facilities, however, offer more scope – a private sauna or a pool, perhaps. It significantly adds to the price though.
Airbnb has a cleaning protocol, which has been informed by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the US and Europe, and advice from Vivek Murthy, the former surgeon general of the United States. If hosts cannot commit to the cleaning protocol, they can choose to opt into the new “booking buffer” feature, which creates a vacancy block-out period between guests.
Others, such as luxury rental site Oliver’s Travel, have a comprehensive cleaning guide for owners. But rental sites which work with properties from different owners – such as Oliver’s Travel and Airbnb – can’t as easily standardise cleaning, due not only to scale but also the size of houses: think of all the utensils.
Flexibility and refunds
Airbnb has a “cancellation flexibility” option when searching, which is strongly recommended. Otherwise, it is down to the hosts’ discretion. Similarly, Oliver’s Travels gives guests the option to change their holiday dates up to 28 days before their holiday (though in today’s world, that is a long time). In terms of refunds, after the deposit is paid, the customer is in direct contract with the owner, and so it is up to them.
Smaller companies, such as Bibury Farm Barns in the Cotswolds, are offering full refunds (or date changes) for trips affected by government restrictions or Covid-19. Others, like Aria Resorts, with properties in Devon, Dorset, Cornwall and Yorkshire, will offer credit vouchers for this year or next.
Minimal contact means that this will remain a popular option for the foreseeable future. The downside? Cleaning protocols are hard to standardise and cancellation policies can be down to individual hosts. It’s important to ask those questions before booking.