What it’s like to stay at a Hilton, Marriott and Hyatt hotel during the COVID-19 pandemic

WASHINGTON — Salivating at the buffet table, eagerly awaiting your sizzling omelette to be done. Cramming into a crowded elevator with a long weekend’s worth of luggage in tow. Debating if you should go for the Peanut M&M’s or Twix minibar purchase.

None of these quintessential hotel moments happened during my three nights staying at hotels in Washington, D.C., this month, and it doesn’t take a public health degree to know why: the coronavirus pandemic.

The pandemic has slaughtered the travel industry, as I’ve written for months now, leaving four out of 10 hotel workers unemployed, more than a thousand hotels still closed as of July and occupancy rates decimated.

We’ll get to this: Is it safe to stay in a hotel amid the coronavirus pandemic?

I wasn’t comfortable staying in a hotel in mid-March, and felt the same through July, despite assurances from the hospitality industry about its cleanliness measures and guests. By August, Washington’s low positivity rate and my burgeoning curiosity inspired me to mask up and see for myself.

The city’s hotel occupancy rate has been below the national average and hasn’t gone past 40% the last four weeks according to STR data, suggesting social distancing wouldn’t be difficult.

Many hand sanitizing wipes, meals and mirror selfies later, I’m here to tell you that staying in a hotel during the coronavirus pandemic felt generally safe, with the caveat that these three hotels don’t wholly represent their respective brands nor the industry at large.

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Hilton ‘CleanStay’ labels in place, but so-so on masks

I called ahead to see if I could get an early check-in at the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Washington, and arrived just after noon. What stuck out to me most during my stay was the lack of diligent mask wearing from both staff and guests.

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