NYC hoteliers navigate ‘tricky’ quarantine mandate
NYC hoteliers navigate ‘tricky’ quarantine mandate
14 SEPTEMBER 2020 8:40 AM

A recent New York City mandate requires travelers from more than 30 restricted states to self-quarantine for two weeks before accessing lodging accommodations, which will cause some hurdles, possibly deterring guests, hoteliers say.

NEW YORK—On 18 August, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an executive order requiring travelers from more than 30 restricted states to self-quarantine for two weeks prior to checking in at hotels and short-term rentals—a mandate hoteliers said will hurt their business.

Under the order, hotels and short-term rentals are required to collect coronavirus quarantine forms from guests traveling from high-risk states, and guests who do not comply with regulations could be charged with a misdemeanor.

As of 9 September, 35 states and territories are on New York State’s restricted state list.

Sean Hennessey, founder and CEO of Lodging Advisors and clinical assistant professor at NYU’s Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality, said hotels are not being required to verify the information that customers are providing, but the order introduces several logistical challenges for hotels.

It takes time to implement new policies and training for any system to work smoothly, he said.

“There could be a challenge based upon being able to present the information in a number of different languages since New York is such a multilingual hotel market,” he said. “It also raises questions about how to process or deal with advanced deposits, non-refundable reservations.”

Guests also are likely to feel inconvenienced by the additional time it takes to check into a hotel, he said.

Additionally, if a guest arrives from a hot-zone state and fills out a form, “it’s going to be tricky for hotels to politely turn away the guest,” he said. “When you’re the bearer of bad news, it leaves the impression that it’s the hotel being unpleasant to the guest rather than (the city). That represents a delicate issue.”

The order will pose challenges again when hotels begin to reopen and bring back staff, adding new variables to that ramp-up period.

Hennessey noted while it does increase the complexity of managing a hotel, he doesn’t see the mandate as the deciding factor for whether hotels will be successful or not in the coming months. He said it could have a marginally negative effect on the recovery of the hotel business, but it’s a small hurdle compared to the broader issues.

Hotelier reactions
Randy Taormina, VP of operations at Dream Hotel Group, which reopened Dream Downtown in New York on 21 August, said the property is asking guests where they have been, where they are from, and their purpose for traveling to New York.

“It becomes challenging to be honest with you, to continue to do all this with a smile on your face and (making sure) your staff uses this in the right way and a respectful way so people aren’t A.) put off or B.) (thinking) why are they asking me these questions?” he said.

He said guests have mostly been receptive to the questions and there has been very little pushback.

Taormina said it’s just another factor deterring people from coming to New York City, though he believes it is necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Most of Dream’s guests currently are from New York, which helps limit some challenges, but demand from the big tech companies might not return as a result, he said.

“If people want to get here, they’re going to get here for a reason or find a way to do it, but families and businesses that realize that their employees may encounter an issue … I think that’s why travel is down. That’s what’s hurting the tourism needed in New York, to be quite frank,” he said. “People are afraid of that, and rightfully so. For 14 days, that’s a lot.”

Brian McSherry, chief operating officer at New York-based M&R Hotel Management, said visitors might not want to quarantine for 14 days just to stay in the city for one week, for example.

“To some degree, it does kill the business coming into the city,” he said. “But we make the most of it.”

He said when the order was signed, a set of guidelines rolled out to hotels and his teams are complying with those. When guests arrive at the check-in desk, employees are asking where they are coming from. If it is one of the restricted states, “then we require them to fill out a very simple form; we take the form, and they check in to the hotel,” he said.

During night audit, M&R’s New York hotels are required to scan a copy of the form and send it to the government, he said. It’s then up to the government to communicate with the guest to find out if they have quarantined or are quarantining, he said.

However, if a guest says they are from Upstate New York, for example, they aren’t required to fill out a form.

“There’s no reason for us then to go through the process. We don’t ask for proof; we ask for a statement from the guest on where they’re coming from,” he said. “If the guest (truly didn’t want to comply), there’s easy ways around it, in other words.”

All policing is completely up to the government, he said.

“Our responsibility ends at check-in,” he said. “(But) If they refuse to comply to fill out the form, then the government has asked us to reject them at the desk. So far we have not had one incidence of that.”

He said it’s important to note that if a guest does fly in, they are required to go through a checkpoint at the airport in addition to when they arrive at the hotel. To streamline the process, he suggested a process should be considered in which a guest who goes through verification at the airport is given a control number that then could be presented at the hotel and entered into a system.

By then, the guest would “already be vetted,” he said.

Most of the demand in the city has converted from air travel to drive-to, McSherry said. He said M&R has five hotels near John F. Kennedy International Airport, “and surprisingly they’re running 98% occupancy.” International travel is coming back little by little, he said, but restrictions like this make it more complicated.

He said he doesn’t think the mandate is catastrophic and understands it’s been put in place to help protect the health and safety of the city.

However, the government’s lapse is in not understanding that the hospitality industry is interrelated with other venues and travel partners, he said.

“Working together is the only way we’re successful. Airlines, buses, cruise ships, we need them all to get the guest here. We need the Javits Center, the theatres, Lincoln Center, Madison Square Garden, just to provide entertainment for the guest. We need restaurants, bars, private social clubs … and hotels provide a comfortable place to stay. But as an industry, we’re co-dependent on each other,” he said.

“To have one or two (of those venues) operating is not helpful. When you put restrictions on all the other travel partners, whatever that is, whether it’s 14-day isolation, 25% (occupancy at) restaurants … not until we are able to at least partially open everything will New York City come back from a travel perspective,” McSherry said.

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