The Brown Palace Hotel & Spa closed for the first time in its 128-year history because of the pandemic and reopened on 10 June.
DENVER—In its 128 years, The Brown Palace Hotel & Spa has endured “the great depression (and) both world wars, among other challenging times,” GM Nick Moschetti said. It never closed until temporarily going out of service this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an email interview with Hotel News Now as part of a Q&A with a GM series, Moschetti said it was “a very hard situation to be in the GM position of this beautiful historic icon and be the first one to have to temporarily suspend operations.”
Moschetti shared how the Brown Palace endured the pandemic to make it to its 10 June reopening.
Q: Your hotel reopened on 10 June—how has business been since reopening? Is the type of business coming into the hotel different from what it has been historically as a result of the pandemic?
A: “The business has been better than initially expected but still very soft relatively speaking. Generally, in the summer months, the city of Denver has occupancies in the 80% range; we have been averaging around 40%. Without large conferences happening at the convention center, the travel restrictions on corporate travelers and the continued unknown of the future, we are seeing a definite shift in business from prior to the pandemic. We have seen more drive-in and local leisure travelers who are looking to have a unique experience closer to home.”
Q: The Spa at Brown Palace reopened in May—it seems unique for a spa to reopen before the hotel. Can you talk a little bit about that process and the thinking behind opening the spa before the hotel? How have services and protocols at the spa changed?
A: “The reason the spa opened first was directly related to the state of Colorado allowing spas to open. Originally, the hotel was slated to reopen on (1 May), but that date was postponed for a variety of reasons. The spa has had to change and adapt the way we service our clientele in many ways. When you think about the intimacy and relaxation of a spa service, it is very challenging to ensure that the experience is still captured with the new protocols in place. We have had to eliminate the use of our locker room experience temporarily to ensure that social distancing is achieved. All patrons must wear a mask and have their temperatures checked prior to receiving a service. Overall, the spa experience has changed, but our spa director, John Quarles, has done a fantastic job of keeping our staff safe and providing our customers with a relaxing and enjoyable experience. Currently, we are offering most all of our signature treatments, including massages, manicures, pedicures, hair and facials.”
Q: The property reopened in June with limited food-and-beverage operations. Which outlets are open and why?
A: “We have opened our outlets based on expected customer levels. One of the quintessential parts of the Brown Palace experience are our beautiful restaurants and lobby tea. We felt that it was important to open as many of our outlets as possible to ensure our customer experience is on par with what they have come to know over the last 128 years. Currently, our Ship Tavern, Lobby Tea, Churchill Bar, Lobby Breakfast and In-Room Dining are open.”
Q: Are all 241 guestrooms now open to guests or is there anything that’s been done differently with the guestrooms to accommodate guests and other types of business?
A: “All 241 guestrooms have been open to sell. However, we recently took two of our floors out of inventory to complete a previously planned renovation of our eighth- and ninth-floor premium rooms. In order to minimize items that are touched by multiple guests and difficult to disinfect between room turns, we have removed items such as coffeemakers, irons, etc. We have made these items available by request in order to keep them available but reduce the potential for contamination.”
Q: Were you able to reopen with as many staff members as you had on board when the hotel closed, or did you have to let some people go because of the pandemic?
A: “As we bring staff back, they complete comprehensive training on cleaning and disinfecting in this new world. We emphasize and train on proper handwashing techniques, how to properly clean and sanitize hard surfaces, and the frequency at which to do so. Also, in each department, our associates undergo training specific to their role to ensure they are comfortable with the new expectations. We also focus on what (personal protective equipment) must be used and in what situations.
“Since the reopen, we have added staff in stages as our business levels have increased. We are up to about 35% of our staff back so far, and hope to bring more back as time goes on. Unfortunately, there have been positions we have identified as not coming back and have had to let some individuals go as a result. These decisions have been the most difficult.”
Q: How have hotel rates been affected during the reopening?
A: “Upon reopening, we offered some highly discounted rates to attract the leisure traveler who wanted a Brown Palace experience, at a rate they may not have ever seen before. The response was very positive, and the hotel enjoyed some strong occupancies as a result. As supply and demand have changed in the market with new hotels coming back, we have adjusted rates to remain competitive while still showing value to our guests. Demand has maintained, which has allowed us to grow our rates.”