Starting Monday, guests will again be able to take the glass-walled elevator ride up 60 floors to the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel at Comcast Center, where freshly cleaned television remotes, a concierge-like app to lessen contact with staff, and powerful new air filters will greet them. But will those new features be enough to bring guests back to the hotel?
“There’s a lot of pent-up demand of people who want to get out and have the ability to travel,” said Four Seasons general manager Ben Shank. “We’re really fortunate to be in an area” where people can drive in from all over the East Coast.
The Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia, which occupies the top 12 floors of the 60-story Comcast Technology Center, will reopen to guests on Monday after suspending operations on March 20 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The hotel, which opened in August 2019, resumes operations after an announcement that Philadelphia will cancel all large public events through February 2021, and at a time when business travel is at an extreme low.
The Four Seasons, along with the Rittenhouse Hotel and Sofitel, is among several luxury hotels braving a restart as the pandemic rages. The hotel industry has faced major economic losses since March. Notices posted by the state Department of Labor and Industry show that Philadelphia hotels have laid off hundreds of workers during the pandemic. The Four Seasons alone laid off 179 employees at the end of May, records show.
Luxury hotels need more guests to reach break-even points because of their costly full-service offerings, such as spas, said Chip Rogers, president and CEO of the American Hotel and Lodging Association. “When luxury hotels can’t provide those services, because there’s just not the revenue, it makes it very difficult for them to separate themselves from other hotels.”
In January, Rogers said, the hotel industry across the country had over 900,000 open jobs that it was having trouble filling. “Now, more than half of the people that were working at the beginning of the year are not working in our industry today, which is devastating.”
Hotels generally rely on high occupancy in their rooms and restaurants to make money. But even when they’re closed, hotels still have to pay fixed costs like taxes or debt service, which can be higher for newly opened locations, noted Rogers. “Sometimes it makes sense to stay open to bring in whatever revenue you can to pay those fixed costs,” he said, “because you have to pay them whether you have revenue or not.”
Ed Grose, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association, described the Four Seasons’ reopening as a good sign for the local hotel industry.
Still, he tempered that optimism by noting that occupancy levels remain around 30% to 40% for area hotels, when the summer usually brings them to twice that much. “This is a very unique situation, in that hotels do not [typically] suspend operations,” Grose said. “For many, it’s the first time in history.”
Visits to the reopened Four Seasons will look a lot different than they did before the pandemic.
All guests and workers will now be required to wear face coverings and undergo daily temperature screenings. Once guests go through these screenings, they will receive a color-coded certification pin that changes each day, said Shank. Temperatures are taken at the ground floor entryway of the hotel so that any guests who don’t pass won’t be exposed to anyone in the 60th-floor lobby.
There are social distancing floor markers throughout the entryway and other common areas at the hotel, but they do little to protect against the risk of sharing the hotel’s high-speed elevator with other guests. While Shank noted that a staff member will be posted by the elevators in the entryway to enforce a four-person maximum per ride, there isn’t enough room in the elevators themselves to have four people spaced six-feet apart, let alone staff members available to monitor the situation on every floor of the hotel.
Despite the difficulty of mitigating risk in the elevators, the hotel will try to limit close-contact elsewhere. All guests are encouraged to check in using the Four Seasons app, which is connected directly to the staff at the Philadelphia location. Through the app, guests can chat with workers about check-in details or other needs and arrange services in a socially distanced way.
Housekeeping services must now be done while all guests are out of the room, and include a renewed focus on cleaning high-touch surfaces, like remotes, which will be labeled with special sanitation markers after cleaning. The hotel’s ventilation system uses air filters that meet the COVID-19 filter recommendations of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Shank said.
While the restaurant and bar remain closed beyond in-room dining options, the Four Seasons will start phasing in some services in its salon and spa. In the first week, hair and nail treatments will be available, with plans of massages to follow.
Shank said guests can also continue to “feel the zen” in the crystal-infused relaxation rooms, where chairs are separated by glass partitions. Because of mask requirements, the hotel currently has no plans to offer facials.
The gym and pool areas will be open as well, at lower occupancy levels, with only 13 guests allowed in the gym at a time and 25 in the infinity pool. Every other machine will be turned off at the gym to prevent guests from exercising next to each other. Ample hand sanitizer will be available.
“We have a really large staff-to-guest ratio,” said Shank in response to a question about how the hotel would keep services and facilities in these areas clean and safe. “So we feel good about being able to offer that fully contactless and personalized experience.”