Hotels gearing up for return of business travel

No one knows when the pandemic will end, but hotels are eager for travelers to return and the new Hotel of the Arts wants to be among the first to welcome them back.
Hotel Of The Arts Panel

The hospitality industry has been acutely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, as many travelers have opted to stay away from hotels even when safer-at-home orders and travel bans have been lifted. However, while leisure travel may be slow to resume, business travelers are eager to get back to a normal routine.

According to a survey by consulting firm Oliver Wyman, 73% of business travelers said they would travel the same or more after the pandemic. Of course, unlike leisure travelers, business travelers don’t pay for their trips, meaning they’ll have to wait for their employers to decide when it’s safe to resume travel. At this point, that’s anyone’s guess.

While other hotels have been furloughing or laying off staff in response to the reduction in travelers, the Hotel of the Arts, a new Baymont Inn & Suites by Wyndham being built near the Beltline Highway and Fish Hatchery Road, looks to capitalize on the eventual resumption of business travel as the unique features of the hotel and its convenient location make it an ideal place for business travelers.

Originally slated to open this summer, the 37,571-square-foot Hotel of the Arts has features geared toward the technologically minded millennial customer with community spaces and a bar for work and socialization, though slight adjustments in the building’s design were necessitated by COVID-19. Some delays with materials and personnel also pushed back the hotel’s scheduled opening to around the beginning of December.

Patrick Prabhu, co-owner and general manager, says the four-story property will include amenities such as a breakfast area, an indoor pool, a hot tub, a fitness center, and shuttle service.

Hotel of the arts will have a contemporary, modern-art theme, featuring uniquely designed décor and artwork throughout, including electronic artwork. “We know millennials desire community spaces, so there are multiple around the property including a lobby bar, breakfast area, lobby area, and exterior seating area,” notes Prabhu. The hotel and guestrooms also consist of technological capabilities such as high-speed Wi-Fi, ability to use streaming services from guestrooms, and USB charging ports in all guestrooms.

Because of the heightened awareness about public health and safety measures, Prabhu explains minor adjustments to the hotel’s original design, such as giving up a few guest rooms in order to increase the size of the community space to make social distancing possible, were made. Other preventative measures include barriers between guest service representatives and the hotel guests at check in. Employees who are not behind barriers will be required to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect themselves and the hotel guests.

Wyndham and Baymont have also instituted a program known as “Count on us,” which Hotel of the Arts will implement. This program involves use of PPE by hotel staff, CDC-approved surface disinfectants for COVID-19, and social distancing protocols in the common areas.

Although the hotel was planned and construction started well before the pandemic hit, COVID-19 has affected the hotel industry as a whole, Prabhu says. “On the positive side, our hotel is slated to be a lower mid-scale hotel and these properties have typically performed better than others in a recessionary environment. We will also be operating a bit leaner to mitigate our deficits but expect to be fully staffed by the fall of 2021.”

While Prabhu hopes to see business travel pick up soon, he’s beginning to see increased travel among millennials in the other hotels Wyndham and Baymont operate in the Milwaukee market.

That group could be among the earliest to resume business travel once the economy improves and public confidence grows in a potential COVID-19 vaccine. American Express estimates that as much as 40% percent of business travel is for internal purposes, and although the boom in teleconferencing is expected to result in company budgets for internal travel shrinking, there’s a generational divide in terms of who may be traveling for work again soon. Employees aged 45 and older express greater comfort with doing business via teleconference than younger colleagues, according to American Express, making millennials the group likeliest to resume taking business trips first.

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