By Dereck Norman for The New York Times | August 27, 2021
Following the lead of accommodations abroad, some U.S. hotels are starting to require proof of vaccination for guests and staff.
The lobby at PUBLIC hotel in Manhattan on Wednesday. PUBLIC is among the first hotels in the United States to announce that it will require evidence of vaccination. Credit: Jeenah Moon for The New York Times
As travelers prepare for their next vacation, among the essentials to take along — like a toothbrush, wallet and phone charger — could be proof of vaccination for Covid-19, depending on where they are booked to sleep.
As coronavirus cases surge again across the country, driven by the highly contagious Delta variant, a small number of hotels in the United States have announced that they will require proof of vaccination from guests and staff.
Accommodations such as PUBLIC Hotel, Equinox Hotel and Wythe Hotel, all in New York City, Urban Cowboy Lodge in Big Indian, N.Y., a hamlet in the Catskill Mountains, and Pilgrim House in Provincetown, Mass., are among the first in the United States to announce that they will require evidence of vaccination, via a physical card or a digital verification, from their guests.
The precedent for hotels requiring vaccination is already being set beyond the contiguous United States. In August, Puerto Rico issued an island-wide vaccine mandate that requires guests and staff at all hotels, guesthouses and short-term rentals, including Airbnb, to provide proof of vaccination or a negative PCR or antigen test taken within 72 hours before their visit. If a person is staying longer than a week, they will need to present negative tests to hotel staff on a weekly basis.
Elite Island Resorts, a Florida-based company that runs a collection of all-inclusive Caribbean resorts stretching from Antigua to Panama, announced that all guests over the age of 12 would be required to show proof of Covid-19 vaccination upon arrival beginning on Sept. 1.
“It’s imperative for us to protect the hospitals of these smaller island nations, and while they have had a good track record so far with Covid-19, we must remain vigilant, and all do our part to become part of the solution,” wrote Robert A. Barrett, the founder and chief executive of Elite Island Resorts, in the company’s announcement.
Although European destinations are rolling out various vaccine mandates, hotels are mostly not requiring proof of immunization. In Portugal, however, hotel guests need to show proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test.
In the United States, PUBLIC Hotel, a boutique accommodation on Manhattan’s Lower East Side owned by the hotel magnate Ian Schrager, earlier this month became one of the country’s first hotels to mandate proof of vaccination from its guests and staff. The requirement will begin on Sept. 5, with only medical and religious exemptions.
“We need to beat Covid-19 together,” Mr. Schrager said in a news release that announced his decision. “After all, looking after people is our business. We just didn’t see how to fulfill this responsibility without taking action.”
At Equinox Hotel New York, the first hotel by the luxury fitness company, guests will be required to show proof of first vaccination from Sept. 13. (The vaccine mandate does not apply to staff.)
“Equinox Hotels has always and will continue to listen to infectious disease experts as well as local governments to guide our decision making,” said Chris Norton, the chief executive of Equinox Hotels, in an email.
The American Hotel and Lodging Association, an industry trade group, issued safety guidelines based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which includes encouraging employees to get vaccinated.
“A.H.L.A. urges everyone who is eligible to be vaccinated as soon as possible, including industry employees,” said Chip Rogers, president and chief executive of the association.
While industry leaders may be encouraging vaccination, some hospitality experts aren’t convinced that there will be a widespread movement of hotels requiring vaccination.
“At the current stage, I don’t think we will see broad vaccine requirements by hotels,” said Christopher K. Anderson, a professor at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration.
“At present not even all major hotel brands are requiring their employees to be vaccinated — let alone guests,” Mr. Anderson said in an email. He added that boutique hotels are likely to find controlling vaccine mandates easier than the larger chains.
While guests at Marriott hotels are not required to be vaccinated, proof of vaccine verification may be required by local jurisdictions, according to Sarah Brown, a spokeswoman of Marriott International. And the company is offering incentives for its employees to get vaccinated.
“In March, Marriott announced the creation of the Vaccination Care Program, which provides a financial award to U.S. and Canadian associates at its managed properties who get vaccinated for Covid-19, the flexibility for vaccination appointments and education on the benefits of vaccination,” Ms. Brown said in an email. “Employees receive the equivalent of four hours of pay upon completion of the vaccination.”
After being closed for more than a year, PUBLIC reopened in early June and has seen a significant boom in business, Mr. Schrager said.
Recognizing the risk to business by mandating vaccines, he said the decision was about his responsibility to protect his staff and guests, as well as the future reputation of his hotel.
“There are some people that are not going to be happy with it,” Mr. Schrager said. “I’m not looking to force them to do anything they don’t want to do. But I do have the right to say: If you want to work here, if you want to come here, you have to be vaccinated.”