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What “Hospitality” Really Means During a Crisis

By AFAR Staff

04.09.20

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The Four Seasons Hotel in New York was among the first to throw open its door to health-care workers.

Courtesy of Four Seasons

The Four Seasons Hotel in New York was among the first to throw open its door to health-care workers.

Hotels and restaurants have become a model of grace and generosity even as they face one of their biggest challenges in recent history.

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A few months ago, we sat down to talk about the hospitality trends that would shape travel this year—something that would serve to complement our annual Stay List, a roundup of the best new hotels in the world. We discussed how hotels had been helping us make more meaningful connections (both with our surroundings and with our fellow travelers). We covered how properties have been embracing sustainability, inclusivity, and diversity in new and inspiring ways.

We observed that accommodations were doing more to cater to families and larger groups (with hotels that offer Airbnb-style flexibility and apartment stays with resort amenities like housekeeping and breakfast delivered to your door). And we noted a fun trend in “daycations,” where you could drop in and use a hotel pool or coworking space as a daytime escape. We planned to tell you about some of our favorite nontravel brands that have entered the hospitality space recently (hey there, Equinox and Muji).

But then, the world changed. Few industries have felt the effects of the coronavirus pandemic as severely as the hospitality sector. Our beloved hotels, resorts, and restaurants have had to temporarily shut or reduce capacity at historic levels as the world shelters in place to slow the spread of COVID-19. The financial impact on these businesses and their employees is, and will be, devastating. That’s exactly why we have been so moved by the outpouring of grace and generosity the hospitality industry has exhibited at a time when it’s suffering right alongside us. 

They’re showing us what hospitality really and truly means.

We all know that this pandemic is changing us—and travel—in ways we haven’t fully grasped yet. The following examples give us hope that many of those changes will be for the better. 

Feeding the world

Chef José Andrés’s World Central Kitchen is working to feed vulnerable populations and health-care workers.

You can’t talk about how the hospitality industry has helped to nourish those in need without mentioning José Andrés. Before the COVID-19 crisis even reached the United States, the chef and activist mobilized his nonprofit World Central Kitchen to feed quarantined passengers and crew members aboard the Diamond Princess and Grand Princess cruise ships. Since then, he’s also partnered with Feeding the Frontline, providing meals to medical workers in intensive care and emergency room units at 11 Los Angeles–area hospitals. Feeding the Frontline is part of World Central Kitchen’s larger #ChefsforAmerica outreach effort, an initiative aimed at delivering fresh meals to vulnerable citizens and feeding frontline health-care workers while putting restaurant workers back on the job. There are currently programs in place in Boston, Washington, D.C., L.A., Little Rock, Miami, Madrid, New Orleans, New York City, and Oakland. 

World Central Kitchen’s #ChefsforAmerica initiative is putting restaurant workers back to work feeding people affected by the coronavirus crisis.

When he was forced to close his own restaurants in D.C. and New York, Andrés turned six of them into community kitchens, where he’s now offering meals at low or no cost to locals. Once they reopen, he’s pledged that health-care workers will eat for free for the rest of the year.

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While it’s nearly impossible to match Andrés’s level of generosity, hotels and restaurants around the world are also doing their part to give back. Castle Hot Springs, a luxury resort in Arizona’s Bradshaw Mountains, is selling subscriptions to fresh produce grown on its one-acre farm and donating all profits to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Phoenix. Mammoth Lakes Tourism partnered with U.S. Foods to organize drive-through food banks for the community, while the Kimpton Fitzroy London serves complimentary breakfast or lunch to National Health Service workers, emergency services teams, service industry employees, and residents in need.

Castle Hot Springs in Arizona is donating all the proceeds from produce subscriptions to its farm products.

Several other spots—including Aulani in Oahu, Boschendal in South Africa, Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, Hilton hotels, Hotel Figueroa in Los Angeles, Swissôtel Chicago, and Vail Resorts—are donating excess food to everything from local hospitals and food banks to schools, charities, and community organizations.  

One of New York’s top restaurants, Eleven Madison Park, is now operating as a soup kitchen. Together with nonprofit Rethink Food NYC, the staff produces thousands of meals a day to be delivered for free to hospital workers and clients of Citymeals on Wheels. Bird in Hand, a pub in Bristol, England, is doing something similar, repurposing its kitchen to provide nutritious, home-cooked meals to National Health Service workers and vulnerable locals free of charge.

Additionally, Butler Hospitality—the largest food and beverage provider for hotels in New York City—is now serving up to 100,000 meals per month to patients and those on the front lines, while Katz’s Deli is partnering with Henry Street Settlement to donate matzo ball soup to one lower-income housing complex or senior citizen center in Manhattan each day. In Falls Church, Virginia, 2941 Restaurant has partnered with Food for Others to donate 250 prepared meals per day—and keep 20 staff members employed during the mandatory restaurant shutdown.

Sheltering those in need

Marriott has partnered with American Express to launch Rooms for Responders, complimentary room nights for health-care workers and frontline responders.

While many hotels have been forced to temporarily close their doors to regular guests during the coronavirus pandemic, thousands of properties have volunteered to open back up to first responders and health-care workers, as well as to COVID-19 patients.

More than 15,000 hotels—representing 2.3 million rooms—have signed on to a Hospitality for Hope initiative launched by the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA). The program maintains a database of properties offering to provide temporary housing to emergency and health-care workers or to serve as alternative care facilities, such as emergency hospitals or quarantine shelters. 

The idea is to connect the available rooms to federal, state, and local governments, as well as with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and local emergency management and public health agencies, so that they can be called on for use as needed. It’s what’s to be expected from an “industry of people [used to] taking care of people,” AHLA president and CEO Chip Rogers said in a statement.

On April 8, Marriott Bonvoy launched Rooms for Responders together with American Express and JPMorgan Chase to provide up to $10 million worth of hotel stays—or approximately 100,000 room nights—at no cost to frontline health-care workers. The program is focused on U.S. cities facing some of the biggest coronavirus outbreaks, including New York City; Newark, New Jersey; Washington, D.C.; Chicago; Los Angeles; Detroit; Las Vegas; and New Orleans.

Marriott also recently launched a “Community Caregiver Program” for medical workers that offers special rates to first responders and health-care professionals who want to book rooms at hotels near the hospitals where they work.

Additionally, Hilton and American Express have teamed up to donate 1 million hotel room nights to frontline medical professionals. Beginning in mid-April, they will make rooms available free of charge to doctors, nurses, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, and other frontline medical staff who need a place to stay or who need to isolate from their families through the end of May.

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Rooms will be available at a variety of Hilton brands, including Hampton by Hilton, Hilton Garden Inn, DoubleTree by Hilton, and others. The hotels will be staffed by team members who have received additional health and safety training.

Airbnb is working with hosts to offer up housing to first responders and health-care professionals.

There are numerous additional examples of hotels providing shelter. Last month, the Four Seasons on 57th Street in New York City, which is located near several hospitals, was among the first to open its doors to medical personnel, doctors, and nurses.

The Oxford Hotels & Resorts group is making 1,100 of its rooms in Chicago (which includes the properties Hotel 166, Hotel Julian, and Hotel Essex) and 250 rooms in San Francisco (at the Americania and the Good Hotel) available to house asymptomatic guests, those who need to quarantine, and first responders.

Hotels are hoping to help in other ways, too. Banyan Tree in China is showing its appreciation to the health-care community by offering 5,000 complimentary room nights to medical workers who can redeem a complimentary two-night stay with breakfast at its properties. The Wyndham San José Herradura in Costa Rica is housing stranded tourists free of charge.

Airbnb has also unveiled an initiative to help house 100,000 relief workers, first responders, and other health-care professionals by encouraging hosts to offer their properties for free and waiving all fees on stays.

Helping us help others

Marriott and Hilton are giving guests the opportunity to donate their loyalty points to relief organizations such as UNICEF and the American Red Cross.

A number of hospitality groups are stepping up to help their guests contribute to relief efforts related to COVID-19. Large hotel companies, including Marriott and Hilton, are letting guests donate their loyalty points to several organizations, including UNICEF and the American Red Cross—and even to their own associates who lost their jobs when the travel business plummeted. Meanwhile, American Airlines is offering frequent fliers 10 AAdvantage miles for every dollar donated to the American Red Cross during the pandemic through April 30. 

Mexico City–based culinary icon Enrique Olvera created a relief fund for migrant workers in the United States who have fewer rights and health-care options during the pandemic. Uber in New York added an in-app option to donate to local restaurants, and it’s matching contributions with a donation of up to $5 million to the Restaurant Employee Relief Fund, set up by the philanthropic arm of the National Restaurant Association to support the thousands of restaurant employees who have lost their jobs. 

ROAR Africa hopes to spread awareness about the illegal wildlife trade with a competition for a four-night stay at a luxury safari lodge.

Conservation-minded travel outfitter ROAR Africa will be launching a social media campaign on April 14 that intends to spread awareness about the illegal wildlife trade. Participants have four weeks to share their own wildlife images on social media with the hashtag #TimetoROAR, and a winner will be selected at the end of the competition for a free four-night stay at a luxury-level Great Plains Conservation safari camp. 

Elsewhere on the African continent—where tourism dollars that often act as a lifeline for remote communities have all but stopped—Natural Selection created its COVID-19 Village Support program in Botswana. Participating guests can donate funds that help the safari lodge company transport food to remote communities in Botswana; $75 will feed a family of six for one month. The initiative will also support buses that take villagers in remote communities in need of health care through dangerous elephant corridors to reach clinics for treatment.

We’re all in this together

This is a trying and painful time for so many. But there is something comforting about the fact that this crisis touches us all—a globally shared experience—and that we can band together to find ways to help. 

The hospitality industry is reminding us that this is a time to focus on the things that matter most and to let acts of kindness and humanity give us hope for the future.

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