Even with the Pitkin County Board of Health’s decision Thursday to allow commercial lodging to reopen at 50% capacity Wednesday, many staples of the Aspen hotel scene are waiting a few weeks until officially welcoming out-of-town guests.
For The Little Nell, Aspen Skiing Co.’s five-star, five-diamond accommodation at the base of Aspen Mountain, the COVID-19 pandemic caused an earlier closing than originally planned, but its June 12 reopening date was already in the works regardless of public health orders.
“We’re definitely undergoing a lot of preparation to ensure the safety and cleanliness and social distancing and respect among staff and guests,” explained May Selby, director of public relations, adding that the hotel recently rolled out what the brand has dubbed The Little Nell’s Nurturing and Safety Program.
But it’s actually a renovation project that’s the reason for the June 12 opening, she continued.
“We’d always planned on being closed for our lobby remodel,” Selby said. “Limelight [Aspen] is the same date as us — they open June 12. Our plan is to have Ajax Tavern June 5.”
The board of health on Thursday elected to allow restaurants to open with limited operations beginning Wednesday, as well — although those limitations will be based on an eatery’s ability to maintain the state’s recommended guidelines of 8 feet between tables and parties no larger than six people instead of a percentage of building capacity.
Those guidelines — released by the state Thursday but subject to Gov. Jared Polis’ official approval, which his office has said he plans to announce Memorial Day — will apply to hotel-owned restaurants such as the Ajax Tavern.
And for the W Aspen, which plans to take advantage of the Wednesday permissible opening date, that means the on-site entertainment, as well as room service.
“We’re looking like we’re going to open up here on Wednesday, on the 27th — and that’s at a 50% occupancy in regards and accordance with Pitkin County,” said front desk operator Seth Pederson. “We’re going to try to get our wet deck going as well; however, it’s going to be limited space, and it’s going to be in accordance with social distancing and regulations — but we’re looking at how it’s going to work.”
Regardless of a target opening date — the St. Regis Aspen and Hotel Jerome also plan to reopen at 50% capacity on June 12 — there is much preparation that goes into creating an environment that is both welcoming and safe in the era of COVID-19, Selby noted.
That’s particularly true for the food and beverage and housekeeping departments.
“For room service and dining, it’s a pretty highly requested, sought-after department,” she said. “We’re going to have them in what we call pods — we’ll have a certain member per pod, and they’ll be assigned to a floor and room range within that floor. We’ll have them work in weeklong shifts, rather than a few days here, a few days there.”
When it comes to sanitation, the hospitality industry has to practice extra caution not just with policy but also products, warned Mike Kubasiewicz, president of Dwell Pro Inc., in emails to the Aspen Daily News.
“If you do your research, you’ll find there are a vast number of snake oil salesmen trying to get in on this surface cleaning extravaganza,” he wrote. “Merely showing workers in [personal protective equipment] walking into a dwelling is no longer satisfactory for reassurance. I am currently cleaning hotels throughout Pitkin County and beyond. The product I use currently is MDF 500. [Ultra-low volume] sprayer or electrostatic sprayer — those are now the standards for this virus.”
In addition to the economic blow of a 50% capacity limitation, many high-end hotels are reeling from the extensive list of summer event cancellations — many of which utilize their catering services.
“Since so much event business has gone by the wayside, we want to see how we can support with our five-star service and our banquets team. We’re developing a to-go program for food,” Selby said, adding that one new aspect of that endeavor will include a picnic package. “Ajax Tavern will have some of our favorites.”
Pitkin County Public Health on Saturday released a list of guidelines for the commercial lodging industry — which, for now, will exclude Airbnb and VRBO units not professionally managed — and further specifics are expected to emerge as sector-specific focus groups working with the county continue dialogue.
For instance, in addition to the 50% capacity limit and on-site restaurant limitations, all staff and guests — when in common areas on the property — will be required to wear facial coverings. Additionally, pools, hot tubs and gyms will remain closed. Like other industries before that of hospitality, lodges will have to file a COVID-19 safety plan with the health department before reopening, which will be available online (www.covid19.pitkincounty.com) Tuesday.
“We are awaiting additional guidance from the state of Colorado on any changes to the public health order, which are expected during the governor’s press conference on Monday, May 25,” the public health department posted Saturday on its Facebook page. “Based on this information, it could potentially change lodging operating requirements. We will share that information when it is available.”