What are NJ hotels like these days, and could the Delta variant change things?
Hotels in New Jersey and across the United States continue to be short-staffed and some services like housekeeping have been cut back, but even amid the surge of the Delta variant of COVID-19, AAA reports that those who want to travel are still taking trips and checking in for overnight stays.
If those reservations stretch across multiple days, AAA said in a recent videoconference that a room might only be cleaned every third day while a single guest or family is occupying it, and some towels might be mismatched or show wear and tear.
But in between occupancies, the cleaning standards hotels are now holding themselves to are higher than ever, with an emphasis on sanitizing surfaces and an increasingly contactless experience.
Still, AAA National regional manager John Lubanski said many travelers will be staying mindful of the current COVID situation upon arrival, and they may want to judge things for themselves.
"Every guest can kind of do their own little inspection when they get to the room," Lubanski said. "The first thing you want to think about is if the room smells fresh. Does it look fresh? Does it look well-put together at that time?"
Lubanski said that the one thing travelers tell AAA they want the most right now is third-party validation of cleaning procedures. That means, not only knowing that rooms are clean, but also how well a particular hotel's cleaning procedures have worked to this point.
He added that the type of hotel a person stays at these days will likely be an indicator of the experience they will have. Higher-end destinations will still offer everything they always have, while hotels built more for convenience may have downsized.
So now is not the time to go bargain hunting.
"There are some hotels that have really dropped some rates, and they're almost desperate for revenue, and we've seen a lot of issues at some of those properties," Lubanski said.
Debra Calvert, AAA Club Alliance managing director for merchandise and auto travel, said some common things hotel guests might see are grab-and-go or table service food offerings instead of buffets, and room service that gets delivered to your door but perhaps not brought all the way inside your room.
And speaking of inside your room, don't be surprised if the minibar is empty, if the carpet's been removed, or if old standbys like notebooks and printed menus are no longer present.
It's possible that some hotels may have opted to temporarily close pools and gyms as well. AAA recommends calling ahead to confirm which amenities will be available, and to remain flexible.
AAA has maps of COVID travel restrictions available, and cautions that some in-hotel restrictions could be tightened back up if Delta worsens.
"As cases from the Delta variant rise in specific areas, hotels may return to mask restrictions or start to limit their capacity, or even require vaccinations for hotel stays," Calvert said.
Despite all this, the availability of COVID-19 vaccines has driven consumer confidence higher month after month, according to AAA, leading to increases in bookings, sales, nights booked, and average daily room rates.
But CDC guidance should remain instructive for anyone hoping to get away for a while, as should personal comfort level.
Something else that might help, Lubanski said, is signing up for as many contactless services as possible — and even then, packing your patience.
"Now is the time to be using those smartphone apps for these hotel brands, because you might be able to bypass that long line that's at the front desk entirely, and go right to your room," he said.