Should Fully Vaccinated Guests Still Have to Wear Masks at Hotels?

The American Hotel & Lodging Association doesn’t think so and has issued new guidelines to hotels in response to the CDC’s latest mask guidance.

Should Fully Vaccinated Guests Still Have to Wear Masks at Hotels?

Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts—including the Hualalai on Hawaii‘'s Big Island—has a global mask policy that requires all guests age 10 and older to wear a mask in public indoor spaces.

Courtesy of Four Seasons

After the CDC stated last week that those who have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 no longer need to wear masks in most settings, the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) has updated its mask guidelines for the hotel industry.

In spring 2020, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, AHLA developed a set of best practices for properties to adopt in order to protect staff and guests from coronavirus transmission, also known as its Safe Stay initiative.

“In light of the recent CDC announcement that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in most settings, our Safe Stay guidelines will relax mask requirements for guests who are fully vaccinated,” Chip Rogers, AHLA president and CEO, said in a May 17 statement.

How will hotel staff or guests know who is vaccinated or not? The short answer is: They won’t.

“At this time, we are not asking hotels to require proof of vaccination status, but we do ask that all guests and workers, vaccinated or not, respect and honor these revised guidelines. Unvaccinated guests should wear face coverings at all times and practice physical distancing,” Rogers added.

To date, 47 percent of Americans have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 37 percent are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC’s vaccination tracker. As of last week, all adults and children ages 12 and older are eligible to access the vaccines.

What the CDC’s latest mask guidance means for travelers

On May 13, the CDC issued updated guidance for those who are fully vaccinated, stating that fully vaccinated people can resume activities that they did prior to the pandemic and can do so (mostly) without wearing a mask or physically distancing.

Travelers, however, are still required to wear a mask on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation when traveling into, within, or out of the United States, and when in U.S. airports and transit hubs. Fully vaccinated people must also still comply with state and local rules and regulations as well as those implemented by private businesses regarding mask wearing, social distancing, and other health and safety protocols.

Hotels can implement whatever policies they see fit for their employees and guests. The AHLA’s Safe Stay guidelines are voluntary and not set in stone—they are meant to serve as an industry standard.

The organization is also recommending that fully vaccinated hotel staff continue to wear masks, at least while indoors.

“As we await further direction on how CDC guidance applies to business, hotel employees should continue to wear face coverings indoors for the time being and follow local business and workplace guidance,” AHLA’s Rogers stated. “For vaccinated employees working outside, or not in close contact with others, our guidelines will permit hotels to implement protocols easing face covering requirements.”

The Washington, D.C.–based association represents all segments of the U.S. lodging industry and stated the country’s vaccination campaign offers “hope for recovery after a devastating year.”

“As an industry we support innovative solutions to encourage our workforce and guests to get vaccinated, and call on all Americans to be vaccinated before removing face coverings,” AHLA stated.

It is not yet immediately clear how individual and large hotel companies will respond to the organization’s new guidelines.

On its COVID-19 health and safety page, Marriott International still states that face coverings are required for guests and associates in all indoor public areas. Hilton, too, is requiring face coverings in all indoor public areas in all of its U.S., Caribbean, and Latin America hotels.

Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts has a global mask policy that requires all guests age 10 and older to wear a mask when in public indoor spaces and when receiving service in their guest room. Masks are also strongly recommended for children age 2 to 9 years old, and the luxury hotel company notes that in some jurisdictions, more stringent mask regulations may apply, such as requiring masks for children age 2 and older and mandating them both in indoor and outdoor public areas.

Ace Hotels still says it requires all guests and staff to wear face coverings in public areas, as do most other individual hotels and larger corporations we checked with.

>> Next: The Best New Hotels in the World: The Stay List

Michelle Baran is the senior travel news editor at AFAR where she oversees breaking news, travel intel, pandemic coverage, airline, cruise, and consumer travel news. Baran joined AFAR in August 2018 after an 11-year run as a senior editor and reporter at leading travel industry newspaper Travel Weekly.
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