In-room Covid-19 testing is a hotel amenity on the rise in the new year

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A nasal swab Covid-19 test used by Helix Urgent Care.
A nasal swab Covid-19 test used by Helix Urgent Care.

Hotels and resorts have been somewhat slow to adopt Covid-19 testing protocols for guests, but as the pandemic stretches toward the one-year mark, the concept of testing as an amenity is starting to gain traction.

Among those that have pioneered the concept of on-property testing are Spain-based chain Room Mate Hotels, which in September unveiled plans to make complimentary rapid antigen Covid-19 tests available to its guests portfoliowide, and Soneva, which operates luxury resorts in the Maldives and Thailand and announced mandatory guest testing upon arrival this past summer.

Such comprehensive on-site guest testing programs, however, have generally remained few and far between, with many hospitality players relying on national, regional or local pretravel testing mandates -- such as requirements calling for proof of a negative PCR test result within 72 hours of departure -- to serve as the guest-testing component of their Covid-19 safety plans. 

But according to Dr. Teresa Bartlett, senior medical officer for the claims management firm Sedgwick, pretravel testing requirements are far from foolproof.

"Testing is only good up until the moment you take the test," said Bartlett. "A person could have contact with a positive individual any time during the 72 hours and during their travel or even in a cab or public transportation upon arrival. It would be best if [hotels and resorts] had testing on-site again when guests arrive to ensure they are negative."

Bartlett acknowledged that for hospitality operators, introducing Covid-19 tests as part of the guest experience can be tricky, with on-site testing policies at risk of being seen as "an invasion of privacy."

Still, with the widespread rollout of Covid-19 vaccines projected to take the better part of 2021, a growing number of hospitality operators appear willing to take that chance, positioning on-property testing as a competitive advantage.

In early December, the W South Beach announced that it had partnered with New York-based medical concierge group Sollis Health to offer on-site Covid-19 PCR testing exclusively to guests and staff.

Under the program, W South Beach guests are able to schedule a test using a QR code available in their room, get tested on the hotel's ground floor and receive their results within 24 hours.

A meetings room at the Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa, where Helix operates a testing program for hotels guests that can provide results in 48 hours or less.
A meetings room at the Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa, where Helix operates a testing program for hotels guests that can provide results in 48 hours or less.

Another Florida property, the Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa, has similarly beefed up its Covid-19 response via a testing partnership with local medical provider Helix Urgent Care.

"As we looked toward the holidays, I began thinking that we should start doing some on-site Covid-19 testing because most of our guests are coming in from states that may have travel restrictions for their return," said Roger Amidon, general manager at the resort. 

Launched around Thanksgiving, the Palm Beach property's on-site testing program operates out of a meetings room three days per week, with guests able to take a nasal swab Covid-19 test and receive results in 48 hours or less. According to Amidon, Helix Urgent Care accepts most major insurance. Without insurance, the cost per test is approximately $125.

"There is a sense of confidence and comfort that comes with knowing you can get a test," said Amidon. "And it's convenient. Our guests don't have to leave the resort, go to some urgent care that they're not familiar with and wait in line there. They can make an appointment, maybe the day they check in, they can get a Covid-19 test, and two days later, before they check out, they have the result."

Amidon added that by outsourcing all testing operations to an established provider like Helix, the resort is absolved from guest privacy issues.

"I do not get any test results whatsoever, because of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act," said Amidon. "Though if someone does test positive, that guest is obligated to tell us, and we're hoping that they would."

In addition to being essentially uninvolved in testing logistics, the resort hasn't had to make any investment to ramp up the program.

"I've been asked the question, 'How much do they charge you?'" said Amidon. "But they don't charge me anything. And I'm not charging them. It's zero investment, zero profitability, but it offers pure convenience for our guest. It was really easy, and I do wonder when more hotels will start doing this."

More are certainly on the way.

In mid-December, Marriott International announced that it would be making a new roster of optional Covid-19 protocols available for meetings at select Marriott-branded hotels in the U.S. Set to be available to planners for meetings and events at Gaylord Hotels and Resorts properties in Florida, Tennessee, Texas and Colorado this January, the protocols include Covid-19 testing administered by a third-party testing provider on-site.

Likewise, Wynn Resorts CEO Matt Maddox has said the company plans to open its own on-site Covid-19 PCR testing lab in Las Vegas, with testing expected to be required for all employees and any guests planning to visit a nightclub or attend a show, convention or other event. That lab is projected to be up and running sometime in January.

"Typically, our resort, along with many other hotels throughout the country, rely on group business," Amidon said. "We're looking to get to the other side of Q3 and Q4 and have that group business start to come back in. And anything that is going to give planners a sense of confidence will be a big help. They're going to want to know that the people they're putting on the road can get a test, if they need one." 

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