Hotel rooms

Empty hotel rooms have become private dining rooms and offices

It’s the kind of need-based idea that hotels around the world have been weighing for nearly a year as the pandemic has curtailed vacation and business travel and emptied rooms that would otherwise have been filled with travelers. . Hotel occupancy in the United States fell to 44% in 2020, a record high, according to travel research firm STR.

Early on, hotels opened their doors to medical workers or first responders, people recovering from coronavirus, or those who had nowhere to stay. Over time, some presented their properties to workers who could easily uproot themselves and take their Zoom meetings from afar. A few enterprising companies offered “schoolcations” or promised tech help to students learning virtually.

But many have found ways to generate business even when customers aren’t staying overnight by turning bedrooms from places to sleep into places to do things with no one nearby.

For the Detroit Foundation Hotel, the solution was to turn 30 empty rooms into private dining spaces for people who still wanted a dining experience. Customers pay $50 to use the room, order over the phone, and call when ready for class. Servers leave dishes on a tray outside or just inside the door, and masks are required when someone enters.

It turned out that a lot of people wanted exactly that: the device room was taking hundreds of calls a day and ended up with a waiting list. With the restaurant allowed to reopen at 25% capacity on Wednesday, the number of private dining rooms has been halved; Lent said they were still exhausted.

“It’s about trying to offer hospitality; people want to do the things they can’t do right now,” Lents said, like going out to dinner and going to the movies. “Come in, dine, watch Netflix. We can offer this in a safe environment.

At Sofitel Washington DC Lafayette Square, there is no charge for the room, but anyone who wants to order from the “enhanced private dining menu” must spend at least $70 on food and beverages.

Eating in a private room may seem like a luxury, but hotels are promoting a more practical activity: working. The Mandarin Oriental asks “Tired of working from home? on the promotional page for its “working from MO” program, which offers a room, free Wi-Fi, printing services and access to the gym from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The “Work From Hamilton” package at DC’s Hamilton Hotel includes a Keurig coffee maker and fax or printer on demand; prices start at $79. The Sawyer in Sacramento rents pool cabanas for $150 a day for people who want to work poolside; lunch, water, Wi-Fi and parking are included.

In Brooklyn, Wythe Hotel transformed loft-style rooms into offices in partnership with coworking company Industrious over the summer.

“At the time it looked like a great experiment – is it going to work?” said Anna Squires Levine, Chief Commercial Officer at Industrious. “We were quite bowled over by the demand.”

They extended that arrangement to a membership program this week, offering four days of office suite use each month starting at $300 per month, with the option to book more. Members who wish to stay longer than a working day benefit from a 25% reduction on an overnight stay.

Yannis Moati, CEO of HotelsByDay, which lets people book rooms or amenities for part of the day, said some hotels list “gyms” so guests can use a Peloton in privacy. His business was launched in 2015, but he said he believes the pandemic will force hotels to get creative in whole new ways in the future.

“Hotels are going to be, in our view, more flexible than ever,” Moati said. “Whereas before they were only focused on overnight stays, after the pandemic they are going to be much more flexible in their use of space.”

Steven Carvell, professor of finance and director of the Center for Real Estate and Finance at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, said hotels need to balance union rules and potential liability when considering ways to be flexible.

He said he’s heard of some hotels being used by students to take virtual classes, or requests for room rentals for parents who need a place for their kids and daycare to spend the day. A New York City hotel, he said, allows film crews to shoot during normal daytime hours when they previously would have had to schedule filming late into the night.

“It depends on the level of desperation at this point,” Carvell said.

Traveling during the pandemic: