By Katy Savage
As Gov. Phil Scott allows Vermont lodging facilities to reopen, inn operators are preparing for a new normal.
Many summer events that draw thousands of tourists have been postponed or cancelled this year and many are anticipating reservations will be down significantly as the guest experience changes drastically.
The Woodstock Inn is taking reservations starting June 16 under its own extensive set of protocols to keep employees and guests safe. All guests will be required to have their temperatures checked upon arrival and be asked to complete a health questionnaire. Any guest with a temperature higher than 100 degrees will be asked to leave the property and won’t be able to check in. Employees will also receive daily temperature checks and guests will be asked to wear masks in public spaces.
Courtney Lowe, the vice president of marketing and business development at the inn, said staff members have spent two months preparing the guidelines, which he said are based on the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s protocols.
There will be no in-room housekeeping at the inn, per the protocols, and restaurants will provide grab-n-go dining options only. Lowe said staff members will be cleaning high-trafficked areas more aggressively and the inn purchased electrostatic sprayers to disinfect large areas, including public spaces and guest rooms.
Despite the regulations, Lowe was hopeful guests wouldn’t be deterred from traveling.
“The weekends will probably still have the strongest demand,” Lowe said.
Lowe said most of the summer business, including weddings and conferences, have been postponed or cancelled, but he was hopeful that fall business would be busy.
“The fall looks relatively busy for group business at this point,” Lowe said. “As for the leisure business, we are projecting slow growth, but also have some optimism that there is pent up demand from the stay at home orders within our northeast drive market.”
Lowe was also optimistic for the 2021 wedding season, which he said is “significantly ahead” of last year and the year before, which were both record years for weddings at the inn.
The Woodstock Inn, the main economic driving force for Woodstock and surrounding towns, closed March 16— about a week before Scott’s mandate for lodging facilities to close to prevent the spread of covid-19. Scott announced May 15 that inns could start taking bookings May 22, but only if they follow a set of hefty guidelines.
Check-ins from May 22-June 15 are only for Vermont residents, under Scott’s guidelines, unless those from out of state sign a document saying they’ve met a 14-day in-state quarantine requirement. Lodging facilities can only be filled to 25% capacity and operators must maintain a full guest log for 30 days, including contact information. Gatherings of 10 or more people are prohibited and only one party at a time can use elevators.
Some are still grappling with what the changes will look like.
Courntey DiFiore, the communications, public relations and social media manager at Killington Resort, said staff members were still finalizing lodging details for reopening the Killington Grand Hotel.
Patty McGrath, the owner of the Inn at Long Trail in Killington, said she’s taking reservations starting June 19, but she’s not sure what protocols the inn will take yet.
“We are using a wait-and see-approach to see what others are doing,” she said. “We expect that this is not going to be a vibrantly busy summer.”
McGrath said she was eager to reopen, but concerned.
“I think all of us would love to reopen and get everything back to normal,” she said. “I’m not sure that’s realistic and not sure what normal is going to be looking like.”
McGrath said she might not open Rosemary’s Restaurant this year, depending on dining regulations.
Scott extended Vermont’s state of emergency until June 15 as he announced the economy would continue to reopen in phases. Retail operations were allowed to reopen starting May 18 under guidelines.
It’s still unclear when restaurants will be able to serve guests again. Some are petitioning the governor to allow restaurants to open for outdoor dining as nearby states, including New Hampshire, have allowed.
While Scott has indicated that outdoor dining could be included in the next round of openings as soon as the end of this week, it hasn’t happened as quickly as some had hoped.
Birch Ridge Inn owner Bill Vines of Killington said he was uncertain about the future of his inn and restaurant business.
Vines said the inn is always closed in the month of May for maintenance, but people usually plan future stays this time of year. “Normally the month of May we are receiving 1-3 reservations a day for future stays,” he said. “There has been none of that activity so far. At this point in time, reservations are way down. The general public, as best I can tell, has not begun the process of making reservations for leisure travel.”
Vines was anticipating a change in guest expectations this year and in future years.
“People are going to want to stay places they can trust,” Vines said. “I think guests will pay more attention to sanitation, much more attention to process. They will want to stay in properties that focus on that. Exactly how that all plays out, is going to be a great exercise over the next couple years.”