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Reno hotels increase safety, lower expectations for revenue rebound

The Whitney Peak Hotel in downtown Reno has installed sneeze guards at its front desks and a hand sanitizer station in the lobby to increase its safety amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Courtesy photo

EDITOR’S NOTE: The NNBW reached out to several Reno hotel-casino properties for comment on this story and to discuss planned safety measures; those companies either declined to comment or did not respond.

RENO, Nev. — As states nationwide begin creaking their economies back open, hotels are preparing for travelers to start showing up at their doors. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, however, how can guests know they will stay safe during their stay?

To answer that question, the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) in early May announced industry-wide COVID-19 safety guidelines called “Safe Stay,” designed to “prepare America’s hotels to safely welcome back guests and employees as the economy reopens.”

The guidelines include social distancing measures, enhanced cleaning products and practices, and increased transparency. Specific measures include contactless check-in, hand sanitizer stations and health and hygiene signage in high-traffic areas, and keeping housekeepers out of occupied guest rooms unless specifically requested.

In Northern Nevada, hotels and resorts are working hard to follow — and in some cases, exceed — the new way of life.

Whitney Peak Hotel in downtown Reno is going “above and beyond” the AHLA’s national cleaning standards, said general manager Eric Olson.

“People traveling want to feel safe, and in hotels you want to make sure you’re providing that hospitality,” Olson said in a phone interview this week with the Northern Nevada Business Weekly. “We’ve always been a really safe property and we want to make sure people feel comfortable. We’re following those guidelines and we also have a couple other things we’re doing internally.”

The hotel installed sneeze guards at its service desks and will be using electrostatic disinfectant machines in rooms and elevators. The Whitney Peak has also removed high-touch items out of rooms, such as service menus.

The downtown hotel also is looking into possibly doing “gapped cleaning” of rooms to increase safety for its guests and staff. The process, Olson said, would mean that a room would sit for 24 hours after a guest checks out before a housekeeper enters for cleaning.

Though hotels are considered essential businesses, the Whitney Peak made the decision to close in mid-March following Gov. Steve Sisolak’s shutdown of the state, Olson said. He said the property wanted to be “ahead of the curve” and dial in its safety and sanitation practices. The Whitney Peak was scheduled to reopen on May 18.

“At least at the start, it’s going to cost a little more to do business, and our revenue will probably be down for some time,” Olson said. “But, hopefully it pays off.”

The Renaissance Reno Downtown Hotel, meanwhile, has remained open throughout the pandemic. Vicki Savini, general manager of the Renaissance, said that decision was driven by the hotel’s ability to serve as a hub for airline crews coming to Reno-Sparks, as well as for area medical crews and first responders.

She said occupancy levels have been in the 30% to 40% range, though they are “continuing to climb out from where we were a month ago.”

All the while, the Renaissance has implemented the industry-wide safety guidelines, going the extra mile by putting sneeze guards at its front desk, using electrostatic disinfecting machines and installing new air filters.

“We’ve always kept a tight ship, but this is definitely propelling the hospitality business into a new level of cleanliness,” Savini told the NNBW. “We have been diligent on taking this time, while occupancy is low, to get into every nook and cranny and do deep, deep, deep cleans on our guest rooms, all of our public areas, the restaurant, our deck, everything.

“We will be moving into a whole new protocol that I think we’ll all gladly welcome.”

Despite remaining open, occupancy has not been high enough for the Renaissance to keep much of its staff employed. The hotel had to furlough 80% of its staff, which, prior to the pandemic, is generally a full crew of 170 people, Savini said.

That’s in line with what the hotel industry is experiencing as a whole. According to new Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, 75% of hotel employees have been laid off or furloughed, as the sector has lost more than 7.6 million jobs.

Though the travel and tourism pipeline has dried up in Northern Nevada and across the country, both the Renaissance and Whitney Peak are hoping to eventually bring back most, if not all, of their staffs.

Savini said the Renaissance is looking at market indicators for the best time to bring more staff into the fold.

After all, “when people do come back, we want it to be worth their time and give them good shifts so they can reap the benefits to bring back to their families,” she said. “In the meantime, there is no sense in changing how someone is sheltering in place for their safety until we know a little bit more.”

As for a hotel industry outlook, experts estimate it will be at least until 2022 before hotels return to their 2019 occupancy revenue and levels, according to the AHLA.

“We’re not going to be hitting once foreseen budget numbers,” said Savini, noting the Renaissance’s revenue is currently at break-even levels. “We are setting expectations realistically and paying a lot of attention, not just here on the property, but what’s happening around the state and country.

“It’s hard to say, but we don’t intend, at this point, to rebound to 100% of what was expected.”

To that end, the Whitney Peak is going to treat the rest of 2020 as a “rebuilding year,” Olson said.

“We want to make sure we can get on our feet and get back up and running,” he continued. “And then we’re hoping once there’s a vaccine and ’21 rolls around, we’ll be to normal if not ahead.”