LAS VEGAS – The voicemail light was blinking when I checked into my room at New York-New York Hotel & Casino during the Strip’s reopening last week.
Instead of a standard welcome greeting or a leftover message a previous guest never retrieved, the voicemail from a hotel employee was about cleanliness.
My room and linens were thoroughly cleaned prior to my arrival, she said, noting the housekeeping seal, which I had broken when I swiped the magnetic key card to enter the room.
“If you would like us to clean your room again during your stay please contact housekeeping,” the message concluded. “Should you need any other amenities such as fresh towels, slipper or robes, housekeeping can provide (them) as well.”
That’s right: daily housekeeping, a staple of a hotel stay, is now done on request.
It’s one of the many changes prompted by the coronavirus crisis. Hotels, like airlines and other travel businesses, have had to institute new health and safety protocols in a bid to keep employees safe and lure back customers as travel restrictions are eased.
The American Hotel & Lodging Association issued “safe stay” guidelines in May and individual hotel chains have been trotting out their own plans. MGM Resorts, which operates New York-New York and a dozen other Las Vegas hotels, developed a seven-step safety plan and includes a link to the plan on the sticker affixed to each room door.
To get a firsthand look at what it’s like to stay in a hotel during the pandemic, I stayed at three different hotels over three nights while covering Las Vegas’ reopening. In addition to New York-New York, I checked into Caesars Palace, part of casino gaming giant Caesars Entertainment and The D Las Vegas, an independently owned hotel on Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas. All trips were paid for by USA TODAY and the stays were anonymous.
Hotel policies across the country will vary, of course, and the precautions you find in a Vegas mega-resort will likely be different than those at a budget motel, luxury inn or convention hotel across the country, with some of the changes dictated by state and local regulations. There are variances even within Las Vegas: the Venetian still offers daily housekeeping in each room.
The themes will be similar, though.
The biggest surprise to me: Once inside the rooms, in Las Vegas at least, nothing seemed dramatically different from a pre-coronavirus stay. There were ice buckets, glasses or cups for water, the same old mini-shampoo bottles and prehistoric telephones and alarm clocks.
The only thing I noticed different at New York-New York besides the amenity kit was a black and gold cardboard cover over the remote control, long deemed one of the germiest items in a room.
“Cleaned for your safety,” it says.
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The lobby: Temperature checks are required before you get a room key. At The D Las Vegas, I went through a metal detector-cum-temperature scanner at the entrance to the hotel. I scanned my wrist, registered 98.7℉ and was on the way to the front desk. At New York-New York, an EMT scanned my forehead with a contactless thermometer at the entrance to the check-in line. At Caesars Palace, guests using the front desk go through a thermal scanner, while those checking in at kiosks have their temperatures taken by a contactless thermometer.
I never registered a temperature higher than 98.7℉. If I had, I would have been tested again after being given a chance to cool off. If I still had a fever, I would be given a COVID-19 test at Caesars and New York-New York and evaluated by a medical professional at The D, all to determine whether I could check in, hotel representatives said.
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USA TODAY Travel reporter Dawn Gilbertson has her temperature checked before she enters the check-in line at New York-New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas during its reopening in early June.
Hotels are promoting mobile check-in and kiosks for express check-in, but traditional front desks are still there and I used them at two of the three hotels. At New York-New York, there were acrylic partitions, like those you see at the grocery store, separating me from the front desk agent.
Social distancing signs were everywhere on floors, easels and video screens in the lobby and on the way to the rooms.
New York-New York had a sign at the entrance to elevators saying masks are required if you’re traveling with hotel guests outside your group. If you don’t wear one, it says, wait for a private elevator. No one enforced the policy during my visit, though. Caesars had signs saying dictating a maximum of four people per elevator, though no one was counting. At the D, a representative asked to see my room key and punched the number in for me at the bank of elevators.
New York-New York and Caesars have their version of a good housekeeping seal of approval, a sticker on the door declaring the room clean. Caesars’ red sticker says: “Cleaned and sealed for your protection.” The sticker on my 68th-floor room in the Forum Tower was either not affixed tightly enough or a prankster ripped it off because I found it on the carpet in front of my door.
Guests checking into Caesars Palace in Las Vegas will find this red sticker affixed to the door so they know their room has been clean and sanitized. Daily housekeeping is not provided, at least for the time being.
Amenity kits or free face masks and gloves: A red pouch was waiting on the desk in my room at New York-New York. Inside: two periwinkle cloth face masks with the hotel’s name stitched in the bottom right-hand corner; a 2 oz. container of Locke Teddy hand sanitizer, a pen that doubles as a stylus to use on touchscreens and a silver tool for opening doors with a stylus for pushing buttons. The tool looks like a cross between a bottle opener and a key chain.
Guests checking into New York-New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas and other MGM Resorts during the coronavirus pandemic will find a new in-room amenity: a pouch with two face masks, hand sanitizer, a stylus and a silver tool you can use to open doors.
The D was handing out white face masks with its logo. Caesars had employees handing out generic face masks at its entrances. Guests do not have to wear them at most places in the hotels I stayed in, and many didn’t when I was there. A Caesars security guard estimated 80% weren’t wearing one on opening weekend.
Daily housekeeping by request, if at all: Like New York-New York, Caesars and The D had notices about changes in housekeeping policies. During express check-in on a kiosk at Caesars, this message popped up: “In alignment with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for social distancing, housekeeping will not be provided for guest stays of more than one night. Trash removal and towel refresh will be provided upon request only.”
At The D, the room key holder had a note in it that said housekeeping service would not be offered but that guests could request additional linens and towels to be delivered to their rooms.
Bill Hornbuckle, acting CEO of New York-New York parent MGM Resorts, had hinted at housekeeping changes when he discussed the chain’s reopening plans on a conference call with Wall Street analysts in late April.
“If I’m a guest in Bellagio, I want to know that my room is pristine when I go in,” he said. “And during my stay, unless I want and need clean towels, I’m probably not going to let a guest-room attendant or other service personnel in my room.”
Bell service: I checked my bags outside Caesars Palace so I could wander around in case my room wasn’t ready. (It was.) The bellman was so rusty from the hotel’s 2 ½-month closure he forgot to give me my ticket and nicely tracked me down in the lobby. When I called for my bags, the bell desk told me to stay in the room, explaining that employees knock and leave guests’ bags outside the door for them to retrieve. The bellman who delivered my bags, wearing gloves and a mask, dropped them just inside my door because I opened the door and greeted him with a big tip.
Parking: Nobody wants to go into your car and vice versa during a pandemic so valet parking was suspended at each of the hotels I stayed at. (It remains available in some places, including The Venetian.) Self-parking is the only option at most places in Las Vegas and around the country – at least for now – and it’s free in Las Vegas, unlike before coronavirus.
Room service: There was no room service available at Caesars and The D doesn’t offer it, but New York-New York resumed theirs on opening weekend. You won’t find one of those clunky, faux-leather bound menus in the room, though. There’s a QR code to pull up the menu on your phone. And, yes, it’s still pricey.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Hotel safety during COVID-19: What we learned at 3 Las Vegas hotels