What It's Like to Open a Hotel During the Coronavirus Pandemic (Video)

With travel more or less frozen due to COVID-19, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that hotel openings are a rarity in this day and age. But for Phil Hospod, a New York-based hotelier who recently started his own hotel management company, the hospitality business never stops. He’s still planning on opening his newest endeavor, the highly anticipated Wayfinder Hotel, in Newport, Rhode Island at the end of the spring season — though it comes with a unique set of challenges.

The Wayfinder Hotel in Newport, Rhode Island
Courtesy of The Wayfinder Hotel

“I’ve gone through a few openings at this point in my career, and hotel openings always feel like organized chaos, even in the best of situations, because you’re balancing a variety of demands,” said Hospod, a Columbia graduate with a master’s degree in real estate development. “Whether it’s from your operations team or construction team, or maybe you’re trying to get your website up and running, there’s always something that pops up. But in this situation, there are a lot more items that are out of our control.”

Chief among those problems is procurement.

“Our mattresses are stuck in New York [and] we’ve got cushions for our restaurant that are stuck in Massachusetts,” he explained. “But I think what we’re going to see is more flexibility and forgiveness from everyone. I mean, you need a mattress.”

The Wayfinder Hotel in Newport, Rhode Island
Courtesy of The Wayfinder

Hospod is finding that while individual items may get held up in the acquisition process, it pays off to get creative and think locally about solutions. For example, he says, signage for the hotel is being produced within Rhode Island by area artisans, rather than abroad, both for the convenience factor — the workers can walk over to deliver the finished product, minimizing the number of hands that touch it — and in order to stimulate the local economy, which Hospod knows is a cornerstone of their business.

“Everything we’re doing isn’t just transactional and commerce-based. It’s about being a part of the neighborhoods we’re building in, and I’m seeing that more and more in the hospitality world,” he said. “It starts as a business idea, but the truth is, we’re longterm partners in the promotion and support of our neighborhoods. It’s really exciting to see that what we say is important to us is actually important to us.”

With the lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic unclear, Hospod knows the hospitality industry’s path to full recovery won’t be easy, but he’s striving to work with the people of Newport to ensure that their city continues to prosper.

Ultimately, Hospod says, the hotel industry’s return to normalcy will require some incremental changes in order to get people comfortable with travel again. “We’re going to provide a hotel room that’s immaculate and clean, as well as a streamlined check-in process,” he explained, noting that the opening of the hotel may have to be in blocks as the property procures necessary items on a rolling basis. The lobby could open first along with a few rooms, then other rooms as they become fully furnished — you just have to come with an open mind.

The Wayfinder Hotel in Newport, Rhode Island
Courtesy of The Wayfinder

“The art is being framed in a couple of different places, and instead of having seven pieces of art in the room, if we open with three and then install the other four a month later, that’s going to be OK.”

The Wayfinder Hotel, managed by Hospod’s company, Dovetail + Co., is set to open in late May or early June of this year.

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