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I had checked into a high-rise hotel in downtown Seattle when I was unexpectedly disappointed. The hotel in question flies the flag of a well-known upscale brand belonging to one of the world’s largest hospitality companies — one I consider to generally be ahead of the curve when it comes to guest service.
By this point, I had spent some three weeks in hotel rooms in the U.S. and abroad in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, so I knew there would be some key differences from the regular guest experience. I fully expected limited housekeeping and plastic partitions everywhere, as well as virtually every bit of paper and other promotional items removed from the guestroom.
But I was counting on a hot breakfast. City ordinance in Seattle still allows for limited dine-in service, and the brand’s app had indicated the restaurant was open.
Alas, it was not. Sitting in my room, eating a granola bar and a sealed plastic cup of orange juice from a brown paper bag handed to me at the front desk, I began to wonder why the app hadn’t been updated. After all, isn’t one of the major benefits of digitalized property information the fact that it can be quickly updated to reflect changing realities?
More importantly, if the apps can’t be trusted to provide updated information, where can travel advisors and their clients go for accuracy?
Most major hotel brands have put a blanket disclaimer on their websites advising that some services and amenities may be changed or canceled because of COVID-19, but only a handful provide significant details at the property level. Hyatt and InterContinental provided the most exhaustive detail — at least for the locations I visited. But others (like the hotel in Seattle) shared little or outdated information.
I wondered if travel professionals were facing some of the same obstacles with their clients.
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Raphaela Taufa, owner of Tahiti Travel Services, a Tahiti-based destination specialist, has noted the information gap for many suppliers after receiving post-trip feedback from travel consultants. The resulting shortfall adds extra steps for her team; they must not only verify details directly with suppliers, but also monitor for changes.
“For some guests, it is a sensitive subject, because it does have an impact on their experience — they were expecting fully operational facilities,” Taufa said. “[Others are] disappointed about the fact that they cannot see a Polynesian show, or have limited choices in terms of restaurants in a deluxe hotel.”
Given the time, expense and added COVID-19 testing requirements for a journey to French Polynesia, it’s understandable that clients want the most accurate picture of their experience — before handing over their credit card.
Sheri Doyle, founder of Pacific Northwest Journeys, an independent affiliate of Travel Experts, found information at one hotel in California to be correct — but it was not quite thorough enough for her clients to feel comfortable.
"On one hotel's website, they referenced COVID-19 restrictions, but it wasn't clear which of their dining outlets were open [and] when, as well as which had outdoor seating,” she said. “Because California was only allowing outdoor dining, I emailed the hotel to make sure something with outdoor seating would be open when the clients arrived, since they were arriving late."
She adds that many of her clients are instead opting for vacation rentals or cabins instead of hotels.
Carie Jenkins, a travel advisor at Wanderlust Journey, an affiliate of Travel Quest, says that most of the hotels she has booked since their reopening had clearly noted closed amenities prior to arrival — until they didn’t.
“I had one client return from Jamaica who was unaware of some unoffered amenities, and this was not clearly listed,” Jenkins said. “I spent a lot of time digging through [the resort’s] site to find information. Since then, I have specifically checked each property’s individual amenities so we don’t run into that again.”
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Although many hotels have reduced or eliminated services, it’s important for advisors to leave no stone unturned, including asking questions that they normally wouldn’t ask regarding their clients’ needs.
For example, it’s recommended to contact the property directly for information. But for advance bookings, a follow-up inquiry may be needed to ensure information provided at the time of booking will still be true on arrival.
While it results in more background work, perhaps the information shortages created by the rapidly developing public health situation could ultimately be where many clients begin to fully realize the value of a professional travel advisor.
As experts on sourcing travel information, advisors can ensure their clients are among the best equipped to face journeys in today’s exceptionally dynamic travel landscape.