After a long spell of bad news for travelers, things are looking up. Thanks to dropping COVID-19 numbers across the state and nation, adventure seekers are hitting the road (and airports) again, and occupancy rates are bouncing back faster than predicted.
Though many pandemic-related restrictions and requirements have been lifted, some protocols still remain. Under the California Hotel & Lodging Association’s latest reopening guidelines, fully vaccinated hotel guests and visitors are not required to wear masks while in indoor common areas, but masks are required indoors for the unvaccinated. In a handful of counties, however—including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Alameda, and Contra Costa—indoor mask use is required by all, regardless of vaccination status. Despite such mandates, many in the industry have a positive outlook.
"Hotels are resilient,” according to Pete Hillan, a spokesperson for the California Hotel and Lodging Association. “They're really good at understanding their marketing and what their guests' needs are. Hotels will come back stronger from the pandemic experience, both in how we approach guests and how we support our employees."
Within the improving big picture, though, there have been a few hiccups. While travelers have been venturing out in droves since last summer, hotels are facing a historic labor shortage—the same staffing crisis that's affecting restaurants, retail, and other industries.
"Our hotel industry lost a significant amount of workers during the pandemic—unfortunately, some permanently," Hillan says. "Hiring new workers isn’t like flipping a light switch. They need to be trained in their craft, learn health and safety practices, and, in some cases, be brought back based on union seniority. All of that takes time."
According to hotel industry statistics, when the pandemic hit in spring 2020, American hotels laid off approximately 6.2 million employees. At the start of 2021, they had hired back only about 50 percent of their pre-pandemic staff.
For travelers, that means at some hotels, services may be limited. Lobby bars or restaurants may not be open. Shuttle service to airports or shopping areas may not be running or may have reduced hours. Check-in lines may be slightly longer.
"We’re doing our best to set expectations with the traveling public about the level of service they can expect," Hillan says. "We don't want to have missteps now that discourage travelers in the future."
Hotels are easing problems caused by staff shortages with creative workarounds, such as encouraging guests to reuse their sheets and towels, or asking guests if they'd like to forgo housekeeping services during their stay. Some have discontinued room service and replaced it with food-delivery apps like Door Dash. Still others are relying on self-service check-in and checkout. (One way you can prepare before you arrive: If the hotel has an app, download it. The app can smooth your check-in and help access some amenities, like restaurant or even pool reservations.)