This story was first published on Departures.com in August 2020.
The coronavirus pandemic will be with us for some time to come, but after a harsh spring of near or complete lock downs, many businesses, hotels included, began reopening their doors to guests. Luxury hotels in particular placed a premium on new policies and procedures put into place to protect the health and well-being of both guests and staff alike.
In a world of mask requirements and frequent hand sanitization, capacity limits and spacing requirements, how does hospitality change, and how can a luxury experience still be conveyed? High-end hotels are built on smiles and charm, and a do-anything-you-need ethos. What happens when that is, at least to some degree, taken away? After months following strict isolation measurements, I wanted to see what changed across a range of domestic destinations, focusing on the country’s west and southwest, and how the world of luxe travel has adapted.
Belmond El Encanto—Santa Barbara, California
Nestled into the hills of Santa Barbara, the Belmond El Encanto’s guestrooms are individual bungalows spread across acres of beautiful gardens and landscaping, making them already ideal for a social distancing environment. Belmond’s signature dedication to attentive service and eager hospitality manages to shine through as staff members from check-in to check-out take efforts to be responsive, and even doting, to each person’s needs.
Guests complete a Covid-19 questionnaire at check-in to the property, staff members wear gloves in addition to masks, and when the state of California allowed the property to operate its fitness facility, usage was by appointment only. Pool chairs are spaced out with reduced capacity, and each chair is thoroughly sanitized between uses. With its spa closed, a range of spa products are provided in-room to guests, including hand sanitizer.
While enjoying the view from the property’s open air patio, a pleasant breeze passing overhead and perhaps a martini in hand, all worries and stress are ushered away, speaking to Belmond’s ability to cater to the whims of guests, mask wearing and distancing and all.
The Lodge at Pebble Beach—Pebble Beach, California
Service at The Lodge at Pebble Beach stands out immediately, as mask-and-glove-wearing greeters escort arrivals into the lobby for check-in, after which an attendant in a golf cart whisks away guests to their room, located in a series of different buildings scattered among the grounds. Guests are asked about Covid-19 symptoms and contacts during check-in, and are given a PPE welcome kit, including gloves and masks, as well as information about the property’s safety procedures. The pool and the gym both require appointments, and room service is left at the door, enclosed in sealed to-go boxes. Housekeeping is only provided during stays for guests who request the service.
Indoor restaurants have been shifted outdoors to the extent possible, for instance, with the resort’s The Tap Room now offering an outdoor locale along the 1st green, a novel viewing opportunity. QR codes are provided as menus, and while it may seem as if food could be an afterthought at a property built on its golf, its locale, and its history, to the property’s credit, that sentiment couldn’t be farther from the truth. For anyone who wants to get a short-notice dream stay at Pebble Beach, including coveted tee times, there’s never been a better or easier time to book than now.
Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills—Beverly Hills, California
The Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills is renowned for its swanky five-star appeal, showcasing an elegant, classic styling, with rooms sporting plush, oversize beds, as well as marble floors and glossy-finished wooden doors and cabinets trimmed in gold. Glove-wearing staff members not only show guests to elevators, but press buttons for them if desired, eliminating a point of contact. Stocked minibars are replaced by on-demand delivery of items with iPad ordering.
With strict mask requirements in place throughout the property, disposable masks can be found for usage at the front desk, the pool, which operates on limited, spaced out capacity, and The Rooftop by JG restaurant, which is open under restricted capacity as well. When the fitness facility is able to open by California mandate, usage is by appointment only, and placards are placed at every station, allowing exercisers to indicate to staff which equipment needs to be sanitized for the next person. Doting staff, and guests still eager to see and be seen, even under the guise of masks and from a distance, ensure the lavish world of the Waldorf remains intact.
Viceroy Snowmass—Snowmass Village, Colorado
The less pretentious sister city of Aspen, Snowmass Village offers all the mountain access and activities, with plenty of luxury to match, in a more downplayed and perhaps welcoming environment. The Viceroy Snowmass is located adjacent to the newly finished Snowmass Base Village, the proper hub of the ski town now packed with restaurants and shops. It’s also home to the Snowmass Bike Park, an exhilarating experience with 3,000 vertical feet of purpose-built downhill trails. The Roaring Fork Valley, which includes Snowmass, is one of only seven IMBA Gold-Level Ride Centers in the world, so there’s no need to reserve the mountains for wintertime alone.
The Viceroy Snowmass itself keeps guests’ rooms sealed shut with a strip indicating the room has been cleaned and sanitized, and hasn’t been entered since. The fitness facility is open by appointment only, restricted by time-sensitive key cards, and the spa is currently open for treatments, following temperature checks, guest questionnaires, and signed waivers. Guests must wear masks throughout the duration of a treatment, and communal areas such as locker rooms are closed. Elevators are restricted to one person or family per ride, and the outdoor pool and bar area, touted as hike-in and hike-out during warmer months, is open with spacing.
The Advenire, Autograph Collection—St. George, Utah
Most travelers only become familiar with St. George, Utah, while driving either to or from either Las Vegas or Salt Lake City, or branching off to head to Zion National Park. While there are accommodations in the park itself, as well as a fleet of options in Springdale, The Advenire is a smart choice for its boutique amenities and proximity not only to Zion, but to a bevy of state parks, including Snow Canyon and Sand Hollow, the latter of which is known for ATV rides amid the sand dunes and jet skiing on the reservoir, both prime outdoor and distance-approved activities.
The Autograph Collection property blends together the modern with a touch of homey, antique-styling that feels more like an inn or a guesthouse; the name means “to arrive” and the property was inspired by the historic Big House of Erastus Snow, located within shouting distance of where the hotel now resides. Utah currently allows for indoor dining, though for those who don’t wish to take part, the hotel’s Wood Ash Rye may pack up a picnic to-go and suggest a prime spot for an outdoor meal. The gym features spaced out equipment, and guests receive hand sanitizing wipes upon check-in. High touch areas are sanitized and cleansed frequently throughout the property.
HooDoo Moab, Curio Collection—Moab, Utah
Only five miles from the entrance to Arches National Park, the HooDoo Moab is well positioned to help travelers take advantage of one of the nation’s true spectacular treasures. The property is named for the tall rock spires formed by erosion that Bryce Canyon National Park is famous for, and that Utah showcases in several other locales as well.
The hotel lobby displays spacing signs on the floor to help guests maintain distancing, with sanitizer stations and frequently cleansed touch points. Its outdoor, poolside patio bar is open and serves distanced guests adjacent to the hotel’s rocky-landscaped outdoor pool and lounge area. Attentive mask-wearing staff are eager to discuss ideal hikes and strategies for making the most of not only Arches, but also Canyonlands National Park, another grand national park located next door. As opposed to the rustic cabins or roadside motels that make up much of accommodations on the strip of road from Arches into town, the HooDoo is a welcome reprieve of smartly-styled rooms.
Stone Canyon Inn—Tropic, Utah
Minutes away from the entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park, the Stone Canyon Inn is equipped with a fleet of private bungalows. Choices of individual abodes technically range from tree houses to cabins and cottages, offering a unique option to suit any taste. Between the direct access to the scenic views and hikes of Bryce and the surrounding area, and the personal accommodation space, it’s an ideal escape for traveling in the current climate.
Private bungalows feature fireplaces and standalone bathtubs, combining socially distancing in the new sense of the word, and in the old sense, where there’s nothing but vast swaths of wilderness surrounding guests. In addition to Bryce, Tropic is also an ideal jumping off point for the nearby Kodachrome Basin State Park as well as Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Capitol Reef National Park.
Four Seasons Resort Jackson Hole—Teton Village, Wyoming
Walking into this property, warmly welcomed at once, is to see the property’s proactive Lead With Care initiative hard at work. Everyone entering the hotel is given a temperature check, though friendly greetings and easy procedures ensure it’s a seamless experience. Digital check-in can be completed in advance, reducing the need for interaction in the lobby, while roped off areas, spacing stickers on the floor, and one-way walking paths for entrance and exit ensure a distanced environment.
Guests are further provided with Covid-19 amenity kits stocked with gloves, masks and sanitizing wipes. Inside the room, which may feature a fireplace, large soaking tub, and balcony, high-touch points such as phones and remotes have placards atop or adjacent to them indicating they’ve been sanitized. The pool area is kept under a capacity limit, while the gym has been spaced out, and is constantly cleansed. Guests may call housekeeping when leaving the room if they desire their room to be cleaned while avoiding interaction.
With a mountainside locale in Teton Village, it’s simple to head outdoors for fresh air, and activities including biking and hiking in the warmer months, and skiing and snow sports in the wintertime. Minutes away from Grand Teton National Park, the majestic mountains beckon, while the property’s luxurious confines await at the end of the day, equally beckoning. It’s a place where stress melts away, even in the midst of a pandemic, because guests can be confident that hotel staff have thought of every possible way to keep them both safe and satisfied.
Red Reflet Ranch—Ten Sleep, Wyoming
There may not be a more socially distant luxury retreat in the continental United States than the Red Reflet Ranch, a working ranch set upon 30,000 acres of land. The property is akin to a summer camp for adults and puts guests at ease, a world away from pandemic concerns in the idyllic, wide-open Wyoming surroundings.
The property consists of four private, multi-bedroom chalets, ensuring maximum distance and removal from the world. Stays are built around a loaded list of activities, ranging from world-class fly fishing and horseback riding, to ATV and dirt bike riding, a lake water park with Tarzan swings and zip-lines, a huge indoor horse arena, and more. Red Reflet—reflet means reflection in French, and signals the beautiful red cliffs reflecting in the lake below the resort’s main lodge—even built its own private airstrip, welcoming private plane jetsetters in from larger and more accessible hubs. The husband and wife duo who own and manage the property live on premises, and are keen to help guests maximize their stay and enjoy their unique expanse of land.
Heavenly nighttime skies also await, ensuring guests feel as small in the scheme of things, and as far removed from the bright lights of civilization, as possible. Action-packed ranch stays with private accommodations may be the ultimate in pandemic-proof travel.