Felicity Long

Felicity Long

It’s no secret that the pandemic has been tough on the hotel industry, so any positive news about European hotel openings provides an optimistic shot in the arm in an otherwise bleak travel landscape.

Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH), for example, is forging ahead with the addition of  several new properties to its roster, including Les Sources de Cheverny in France’s Loire Valley and the Galleria Vik Milano, both of which opened Sept. 1.

Given that new hotels are always a risky business, but especially so when Covid is still a threat here and abroad, I was curious about the timing.

“Two surveys undertaken by SLH show that ‘travel ready’ advocates continue to steadily drive pent-up demand for luxury holidays, despite ongoing uncertainty over international travel restrictions,” said Richard Hyde, managing director of SLH.

“The results show a desire to travel this year wherever possible, adapting travel plans to changes in governmental advice and a preference for smaller hotels where their experience can be managed and customised.”

In the most recent SLH survey, 81% of respondents remained “travel ready,” and of those, 63% will either continue with an existing booking, have changed their trip to another destination or have postponed their trip until the fourth quarter.

As to the American market, given that we are not yet traveling to Europe, Hyde said SLH is well positioned for a strong comeback in 2021.

“With most of our hotels open and ready to welcome travelers when they are ready to explore again, we have started to see bookings increase for the tail end of 2020 and the first half of next year,” he said.

He acknowledged that most immediate U.S. bookings are domestic, but said the company is seeing “quite a bit” of optimistic international bookings for destinations such as Scandinavia and Italy. “Luxury travel is starting to bounce back, and we are optimistic for the coming year.”

The same survey also showed that more than 90% of travelers would feel more comfortable staying in a small, independent hotel moving forward, he said, adding that, on average, SLH properties top out at 50 rooms.

As to what guests can expect in terms of safety protocols, SLH established the Stay Small, Stay Safe program in partnership with the Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC) in July. The GBAC Star accreditation provides third-party validation to ensure hotels adhere to specified, elevated cleaning protocols.

Additionally, specific content related to Covid is now listed on slh.com, helping guests and travel advisors make informed decisions and guide their journey through the site.

“We’re also seeing innovation with technology for ‘high-touch’ guest engagements, which have been very well received,” Hyde said.

For example, Canal House in Amsterdam provides a contact-free experience by inviting each guest to download a new app for in-room facilities, communicating with the hotel team and ordering almost anything during their stay. At Rockliffe Hall in Darlington, England, the spa team created Spa in a Box kits for guests to safely treat themselves to a skincare regime.

“While most of our hotels have begun to reopen around the world, each property is approaching the situation in a conscientious manner,” he said.

In addition to the Cheverny and Milan properties, the 18-room Torre Del Marques in Matarrana, Spain, opened Aug. 29, and SLH has a number of other new hotels set to open in the first half of 2021: Grand Hotel Victoria Concept & Spa in Lago di Como, Italy, in February; Can Ferreretta in Mallorca in March; and the Hotel Castello di Reschio in Lisciano Niccone, Italy, in April.

One final stumbling block for some would-be travelers is fear of transatlantic air travel, but Hyde said the SLH survey showed 74% of respondents said they were willing to fly, and nearly all agreed that additional health checks at airports would ensure the safety of all travelers.