By Lois Alter Mark
June 1, 2021
Be prepared for a surge in luxury travel. As the holiday weekend proved, people are eager to get back out there and they’re willing to spend more to feel safe and well cared for.
That’s exactly how my husband and I felt when we planned our first hotel stay last week after more than a year at home. I knew we would only feel comfortable at a hotel where we could be sure the highest COVID protocol would be in place and we would be met with the highest level of service.
So we returned to the five star Park Hyatt New York.
As we approached the front desk, we were greeted with a warm welcome from the smiling-behind-her-mask receptionist. She gave us complimentary bottles of water, let us know what was open and how to order breakfast and assured us that if we needed anything at all, we could just call her.
Our visit was so “normal” and such an important transition in making us feel ready to travel again that I reached out to General Manager Peter Roth to get his take on a post-pandemic future.
I’m convinced that luxury hotels like the Park Hyatt will be the reason travel can successfully return to normal. Even though I’m a seasoned traveler, I was surprisingly nervous about staying in a hotel again, and your staff made us feel so looked after, it felt like we had come home.
Thank you for sharing that with me. That is actually very meaningful. We’re trying to create an excellent experience, as always, but it’s only going to be an excellent experience if it matches expectations. And, because of COVID, expectations are very, very different now. This is an oversimplification but, pre-COVID, you kind of knew what the expectation was: “I’m coming to New York for a business deal” or “I’m coming to New York for Broadway” or “I’m coming to New York for culture and shopping,” and how to cater to each one is pretty straightforward. Now, you still have that with a whole other layer of, “Is it safe?” “How does it feel?” “What’s different?” “How should I behave?”
Your staff is very attuned to that and really went out of their way to make us feel safe, which I think is what everyone wants most at this time.
I believe at some point – I don’t know when – safety is going to be tabled stakes and I don’t think we’re necessarily going to be talking about it much because it will just be expected. But at this transitional time, at the beginning of the recovery, safety is huge.
You were closed for 376 days. What went through your mind at that time about the future of hospitality and the hotel itself?
It was different depending on the stage of the pandemic. Leading up to the reopening, we were very preoccupied with and were brainstorming about those thoughts. We gave it a lot of thought. What does reopening and coming back to market look like? When should it happen? How should it happen? Who should be part of it? There were still so many question marks about our business environment so we could not make any decisions in isolation. We needed to have our finger on the pulse of what was happening with citywide restrictions, in other states, in other countries, with the airlines. We considered a lot of data every day and a lot of anecdotal information – speaking to travel agents, corporate customers, local authorities, the hotel association – to measure the temperature of how people were feeling about coming back to the city. We looked at a lot of statistics, how many people were going through TSA every day. We also looked at our hotel and said, well, we certainly know how Park Hyatt New York operated before we closed. Ultimately, that’s exactly what we’re going to go back to, hopefully better and stronger. We realized what mattered most was making guests feel welcome and safe and well looked after and for that we needed a certain number of team members. They were so motivated to come back, it made our job easy.
All the staff members we talked to actually mentioned how happy they were to be back at work and to see guests again. That enthusiasm was reassuring.
We’re in the service industry. We’re people who love people. Think about a pressure cooker. You have all that love for people and love for your job contained in this pressure cooker. And now you can finally release it. So people were very motivated. Another thing that worked for us was having enough staff. All over, businesses are seeing an employee shortage but we are very lucky because what we experienced was a great degree of loyalty to our hotel, to our brand and to our micro Park Hyatt New York family of colleagues. Many staff members had opportunities to move to other cities and work in other hotels, but with one or two exceptions, everyone waited it out to come back and work with us. It’s very humbling and makes me happy.
Did you think about what changes would have to be made?
There were considerations about the capacity of the restaurant and when should we reopen the spa and all these things but that’s almost secondary because that’s just logistical planning. Ultimately, it was about making sure our guests feel that it’s a safe place to come back and we really care about your experience post covid here at the Park Hyatt New York.
You reopened April 1. What’s that been like?
The reopening was planned as a progression in bringing back all services and guest floors. But it’s happened so much faster than we thought it would. The first month of April was a huge question mark. We were moderately busy and opened only six floors. We saw a great demand for suites, which was great because more than 50% of our inventory is suites. In May, we grew exponentially busier week after week, finishing the month way ahead of what we forecasted.
That’s amazing. Why do you think that happened?
If you look around New York City and what’s happening around us, there are a few factors that have helped. There are the increased number of vaccinations, lifted restrictions – and it’s summer. The pent-up demand that everyone in the industry has been talking about for the past six months turned out to be real, not just speculation. People are traveling. It’s mostly domestic but we have had groups from Brazil, Mexico, a few folks from Europe and the Middle East. It’s been nice and busy.
Do you see bookings for September when Broadway opens to full capacity? Will that be another landmark in getting back to normal?
Absolutely. If you think about New York, one of the trademarks that brings people in is theater, Broadway, concerts. Carnegie Hall, who is our partner – they’re across the street – is opening in September, as well, so that’s very important. So the answer is, yes, people are booking. One of the reasons we were proponents of opening in April was because we were convinced that opening early would allow people to book for later on. Nobody books at a closed hotel. So, although we weren’t super busy in April, we saw people starting to book for the summer and fall. We anticipate a fairly busy third quarter.
Do you have a schedule for when The Living Room and the spa will open?
The Living Room will open June 2. The spa will follow a month later. We’ve added a few new programs, as well. Guests of Park Hyatt New York receive a complimentary two-hour bike rental to discover Central Park. We’re also offering Picnic in the Park to promote more outdoor activities.
So you are really getting back to normal.
Back to normal. Absolutely. You know we do anything on request so, right now, spa services are still available in room on request. The swimming pool and the gym are open with reservations. Everything should be up and running at 100% by July 1.
Will everything be opening at full capacity?
We will be following CDC and OSHA guidelines very closely. For now, there will be social distancing built into our seating in our lounge. We will take out every other bar stool at the main bar but it’s not going to affect the atmosphere. If the CDC chooses to recommend that social distancing is maybe a thing of the past, then we will adapt immediately. Overall, we are coming back, in essence, the same way as we closed but what will change is all our menus. Chef created more plant-based bar bites and there’s even a special welcome back cocktail called Triumphant Return.
That sounds great. Speaking of capacity, another thing I think you’re doing so well is the way you’re handling the swimming pool. You’re taking reservations – we had the pool to ourselves for 45 minutes – then cleaning it afterwards for the next reservation. It was such a luxury.
We’ve learned, among many other things, how important it is to be able to adjust to change. We’re operationally – and from a leadership perspective – ready to shift gears within 24-48 hours on almost anything. We’ll keep the reservations system on for now and hopefully we’ll be able to open the pool to its regular capacity soon. The other thing you probably noticed is that we were not allowed to open the jacuzzi or the steam bath so that will come back as soon as we get the green light from the city. In the meantime, it is working well and the experiences are positive so I’m glad there’s been no disappointment with some of the limitations we have. I believe our guests are understanding because they know we work under the jurisdiction of the bigger entities that guide us.
And there was no compromise in the level of service, which I have to believe is the main reason people choose the Park Hyatt New York.
Exactly. We all had a lot of time to reflect on our jobs and our industry and how we go about life in general. I believe the team we have here is now a better team of individuals, and a stronger team and a more intentional team.
How does it feel to you personally to be in New York right now?
New York is a strong city with a strong sense of identity and a strong personality. As intense as the experience of COVID was, because of what New York is, the comeback has been fast and furious in a very positive way. Over the past month, the city has opened, symbolically, almost overnight, like one of those flowers that’s closed at night and you come out to the garden the next morning and suddenly this flower’s opened and thriving. It’s very uplifting.
I agree and I’m glad I got to experience it firsthand because I have to admit it would have been hard to convince me of that. What would you like readers to know about coming back to the city and Park Hyatt New York?
I’d like everyone to know that the midtown experience is vibrant and fresh and exciting and there’s nothing to be afraid of. So that’s sort of an open invitation. What we want to be known for at the Park Hyatt New York is a highly personalized, sophisticated hotel experience and we believe, with the team we have here, we can recreate that over and over for each guest in a very unique fashion. That combined with the excitement of being in New York City is a wonderful recipe. New York is coming back to life and we’re proud to be part of it.