Checking in for a summer escape or staycation at one of British Columbia’s mountain resorts or luxury urban hotels is usually a pleasure. But as B.C. reopens to domestic tourism amid the COVID-19 pandemic, caution and concern are the words more expressed as hoteliers implement enhanced hygiene, guest management, and social-distancing protocols.
Take Whistler’s Nita Lake Lodge, for example. When I last stayed at this elegant Creekside hideaway in mid-March just before B.C. went into lockdown, social distancing was still something you did if you’d had too many cocktails the night before. And the lodge’s cozy outdoor hot tubs were packed with après-skiers.
Since those halcyon spring days, “Whistler’s hidden gem,” as Nita is sometimes called due to its tranquil lakeside location outside of the hustle and bustle of Whistler Village, has rapidly adapted the way that it operates to adhere to the new normal. Changes include increased sanitation protocols, using Health Canada–approved cleaning products and protective equipment, and pausing “stay over” housekeeping services. Increased guest seating spacing in all of Nita’s dining locations is now mandatory, and the lodge has introduced a new digital concierge to allow guests to limit face-to-face communication and is looking into digital check-in procedures to streamline guest arrivals and avoid overcrowding the lobby. A more flexible cancellation policy is also now in place.
Most of B.C.’s other large resort hotels are following suit. Housekeeping staff are not entering guest rooms unless specifically requested—and then only if guests are not present in the room. Clear directional signage toward marked areas for guests to stand, and nearly contactless check-in, are the new norms.
At Sun Peaks Grand Hotel & Conference Centre—the still nearly deserted Okanagan mountain resort’s flagship hotel where I stayed over Canada Day—staff are taking hygiene to the next level.
All guest rooms are now cleaned using the same equipment as at many Canadian hospitals—an advanced oxidation process featuring a broad-spectrum UV light and a quad-metallic target that combine to generate natural oxidizers: hydroperoxides, hydroxides, and superoxide ions that can kill microbes, reduce odours and gases, and sanitize soft surfaces.
Urban hotels are also stepping up their pandemic response. At Vancouver’s Fairmont Pacific Rim, temperature checks for guests and employees are now standard procedure, and masks are provided to all guests and worn by all employees.
For Pacific Rim regional vice-president and general manager Jens Moesker, the Fairmont’s signature high-touch service—in what has become a no-touch landscape—is particularly challenging.
“We’ve had to scale back on a few things, like suspending our valet service, while doing some things differently, like placing our restaurant menus on QR codes so guests can scan them into their smartphones,” he says.
Other Pac Rim sanitary and social distancing measures now include cashless payments, limiting the number of guests in elevators, and leaving rooms empty for a 48-hour layover period after guests check out, followed by complete surface fumigation.
“We’ve been very fortunate in that many of our guests appreciate our enhanced safety protocols,” Moesker says. He now considers them part of Fairmont’s new notion of high-touch service: “It’s really about working with the community for the common good and everyone understanding why these measures exist.”
Unlike many hoteliers, Moesker kept the Fairmont Pacific Rim open in a significantly reduced capacity throughout the pandemic. He has some hard-earned advice for other B.C. hotels and resorts only now reopening: “Be mindful that there is a bit of pandemic fatigue out there. This is not about trying to quickly recoup some of the financial losses we have faced over the past few months. This is a long game. A marathon, not a sprint.”
Read more about Travel in the time of COVID.