Demand declines force hotel shuttle service changes
A decrease in demand, revenue and staffing capacities has led some hotels to rethink shuttle services, which has included reducing hours of operation and enhancing sanitation.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Some hotel guests are still requesting the use of shuttles. But with limited staffing capacities and lower occupancies at some properties, the operation of this traditional service looks a little different than it did nine months ago.
Scarlet Weiss, director of sales and marketing at the Sheraton Suites Orlando Airport in Orlando, Florida, said her property operated a 24-hour shuttle service before the pandemic.
“But due to the decrease in demand for the service, occupancy in the hotel and staffing capacities, we dropped this down to running the service from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.,” Weiss said in an email interview.
Additionally, the Sheraton Suites Orlando Airport can only take five passengers at a time to ensure proper social distancing, whereas before the pandemic it was able to accommodate 10.
Steven Reed, GM of the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Tucson Airport, part of Focus Hospitality Management’s portfolio, said when considering cost-cutting measures, the shuttle service was one item that needed looked at head on.
“The hotels in our portfolio with shuttle services have gone through a decrease in operations. At one point, we did stop transportation at one of our properties; this stop was due to the major decline in occupancy and revenues coming into the property,” he said.
But because the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Tucson Airport has a contract that requires it to offer that service, it had to keep it. Reed said guests are still requesting the service, too. And right now, the management staff are drivers of the shuttle, he said.
Prior to the pandemic, the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Tucson Airport’s shuttle would take guests to places within a five-mile radius of the hotel. Now, it only transports guests to and from Tucson International Airport and the surrounding smaller/private airline companies, Reed said. Additionally, it only allows one person per row of seats at a time.
Reed said there’s a $12 charge each time the shuttle enters the gate of the airport’s paid parking area.
“If we’re only taking one person there and already have a lot less occupancy, we’re having to make up for it. We have to limit those services quite a bit (for the contracted company),” he said. “We were able to save some funds on vehicle insurance, fuel and the costs of entering the paid parking area.”
Thomas Fraher, GM of The Don CeSar in St. Pete Beach, Florida, managed by Pivot Hotels & Resorts, said in an email interview that there is no limit to how many people can ride the shuttle, which takes guests to and from The Don CeSar and its sister property Beach House Suites. But, generally, passengers are in groups of two to three, and with the layout of rows, Fraher said it can normally “safely accommodate two different ‘family’ groups.”
“However, all passengers are asked if they feel comfortable with the number of passengers boarding the shuttle,” he said.
Best practices for safety, sanitation and communication
Weiss said her property ensured that all staff was trained on both Marriott International’s and local county COVID-19 protocols, such as mask mandates for all guests and employees at every point of contact.
“We also implemented a sanitation process after each shuttle service run, which was added to the daily checklist of duties,” she said.
Weiss said it was a challenge to ensure the messaging of these changes was up to date on both its direct website as well as third-party sites.
“One method we found (that) was particularly effective was communicating the changes via the confirmation email. We also made sure we updated our own websites and third-party websites, as well as our social media channels,” she said. “We reached out directly to frequent top airline affiliated partners, accounts and repeat guests of the hotel to keep them updated on ongoing changes. We also found the Marriott International tools and resources a good source to stay current on cleaning protocols and best practice for transportation and messaging to guests.”
Reed said his property’s shuttle is sanitized with CDC-approved products in between runs.
“When we are performing a run where it involves both a drop-off and pick up, we do not allow entry into the vehicle until our staff has sanitized the vehicle once the departing guest has exited. Proper PPE is required during the transportation process for all guests and staff as well,” he said.
Reed said his property had to be completely open and transparent about its goals for keeping guests safe. Guests understand these changes, he said, and there has not been any backlash.
Fraher said his property requires the shuttle driver and its passengers to wear a mask, and hand sanitizer is available to guests on board as well.
Because its shuttle has automatic doors, that eliminates a guest and driver touchpoint. However, the driver still wipes down the van’s interior “several times a day,” he said.