Getting ready to book an overnight trip with a stay at a hotel? Things will be different as hotel protocols have changed due to COVID-19. Here’s what you can expect with your hotel experience today.

Changing cancellation policies

In 2020, hotels relaxed their cancellation policies, with many offering full refunds for last-minute cancellations, even on nonrefundable reservations. With bookings now picking up, don’t necessarily expect this high level of flexibility as hotels inch their way back to pre-pandemic policies.

For instance, IHG had penalty-free cancellations in 2020 but began enforcing the terms and conditions of nonrefundable rates in 2021.

Marriott, another brand with a lenient cancellation policy in 2020, says it will begin enforcing individual hotel cancellation policies that are in place at the time of the booking for guests making new reservations for arrival dates on or after June 1, 2021. So be sure to read the fine print of your reservation before hitting “confirm booking.”

Emphasis on safety and health protocols

Arriving at the hotel, you’ll instantly notice some changes. Valet parking may be suspended. The staff may be donning masks and require you to wear one in the public areas, such as the lobby, elevator, hallways, and dining areas. You may see communal beverage stations being replaced with hand-sanitizing dispensers and signs promoting social distancing.

Instead of lining up in front of the reception desk, you may be encouraged to use a self-service kiosk and conduct “contactless” check-in using the hotel’s app. If the property has keyless entry, the app may give access to the guestroom as well.

Some hotels may do health screenings, including temperature checks, and ask for proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test to make sure local regulations are being followed.

More sanitization, less housekeeping

You’ll likely see masked staff cleaning the public areas with increased frequency and enhanced technologies being used, such as electrostatic sprayers, to sanitize surfaces throughout the hotel.

Before your stay, the housekeeping team will do a thorough job of cleaning your room, including disinfecting high-touch areas that may have been overlooked before the pandemic, such as door handles, light switches, and the remote control. Hotels are trying to be obvious about these additional cleaning initiatives to make guests feel comfortable. For instance, Hilton now places a room seal on the door to indicate that guestrooms haven’t been accessed since they were cleaned.

Despite the extra cleaning efforts in public spaces, many hotels have limited or suspended housekeeping services for guestrooms to reduce contact between staff and guests. If you do need housekeeping services or extra linens and toiletries, you’ll likely have to make a special request.

In guestrooms, less is more

In 2020, hotels removed superfluous items from guestrooms like bedding that may not be laundered very often (think decorative throw pillows and throws) as well as the minibar and coffee station. You also may notice that pens, notepads, menus, and magazines have been replaced with disinfectant wipes and bottles of hand sanitizer.

You can expect an increase in touch-free technology – whether through an app or voice activation – to control the temperature, lighting, and TV as well as communicate with the hotel staff and order room service.

So guests can enjoy some amenities in the privacy of their room, some Hyatt properties are offering in-room workouts on TVs, fitness equipment (e.g., weights, exercise bands, and yoga mats), and spa kits delivered to the room.

By the way, you should anticipate that some of the services and amenities you previously enjoyed, such as pool, spa, fitness centers, and restaurants, to either be temporarily closed or operating at a reduced capacity.

Food and beverage, reimagined

A lot of hotels have cut down on food and beverage services and are promoting contactless room service deliveries to minimize guests’ interactions with people outside their group. A number of the major brands also are offering guests ways to order food online, something a few started before COVID-19. For example, Four Seasons has allowed guests to order room service from the brand’s app since 2015.

Instead of a breakfast buffet, many properties are providing a prepackaged, grab-and-go style meal that guests can either bring back to their room or pack up and take with them as they head out for the day.

For hotels still operating sit-down restaurants, you can expect there to be spaced seating and that you may be ordering your meal using a QR code-based menu instead of through a service attendant.

Bottom line: While the new hotel experience may not have as many of the special hospitality touches we were accustomed to before the pandemic, the modifications brands have implemented can help us feel more at ease as we transition back to travel.

Want to learn more about the changes hotels have made? Information about cancellation policies, safety and hygiene standards, edits to services – even updates about loyalty rewards programs – can be found using our Travel Vitals™ tool. Simply plug in the names of any hotels you’re eyeing and it will give you a full, easy-to-skim breakdown so you can confidently plan your next overnight stay.

You can also check out our pro tips for keeping safe during an overnight stay.