How to Survive Hotel Quarantine (in a Pandemic)

COVID-19:

As the global COVID-19 pandemic enters its second year, a growing number of people around the world face the following dilemma: how to survive hotel quarantine. Keep reading for tips on booking the right room and some of the things you should pack!

Background

Initially, travelers returning home during the COVID-19 pandemic could quarantine at home.

But as home quarantine initiatives failed to stem the rising tide of transmissions, more and more governments are either forcing travelers to quarantine at government-run quarantine centers.

Or they are allowing (or forcing) travelers to quarantine at designated hotels. And if there are no direct flights, this can result in having to undergo quarantine more than once.

ovolo-hong-kong-room--with-king-sizebed
Ovolo Hotel in Hong Kong with king-size bed. Photo Credit: Donna Campbell.

Take PR Executive Donna Campbell, who was relocating from Macau to Bangkok, Thailand, for example.

Because there were no direct flights, she had to go by way of Hong Kong. And that meant undergoing a 14-day quarantine in Hong Kong followed by another 2-week quarantine in Thailand.

Donna stayed at one of the Ovolo Hotels in Hong Kong, which was offering a unique Quarantine Concierge Package. And she stayed at Le Meridien Bangkok, a 5-star hotel in Thailand.

In fact, the experience highlighted just how differently different governments were dealing with the epidemic.

“Hong Kong is much more relaxed and not as strict as Bangkok is,” Donna says,

“All you have for Hong Kong is the quarantine bracelet that you have to [put on] once you arrive at the hotel.”

However, in Thailand, Donna was met at the airport by a hotel employee, her shoes and luggage were taken away to be sanitized, and she was taken to the hotel by hotel limousine.

Furthermore, her experience at the hotel was “much more comprehensive and stricter due to tighter government controls,” Donna says.

Where Quarantinees Stay

landmark-mandarin-oriental-entertainment-suite
If you’ve got the money, the 1,798-square-foot entertainment suite at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong will run you US$6,599 a night.

In some cases, governments have drawn up a list of hotels that returnees can stay at. For example, in Hong Kong, the government has a list of hotels where residents returning from overseas must book rooms.

In fact, only those returning from other parts of China are exempt. And “other parts of China” is defined as mainland China, Macau, and Taiwan. To clarify, these returnees can self-quarantine at home.

However, everyone else must book a room at one of the 36 hotels on the government’s official Designated Hotels for Quarantine list. But the list will be adjusted in mid-February.

Meanwhile, the government in Thailand has come up with a list of Alternative State Quarantine (ASQ) Hotels.

However, it only applies to the following types of people …

  • Family members of Thai nationals
  • Foreigners with valid certificates of residence
  • Foreigners with valid work permits
  • Crew members
  • Students in educational institutions.

In Bangkok, travelers have far more choice than in Hong Kong. For example, there are currently 124 such properties on the list.

More importantly, many of them have balconies. And some of them are serviced  apartments, which means they also have kitchens.

In addition, there is a limited number of Alternative State Local Quarantine (ASLQ) hotels in such other parts of Thailand as …

  • Buriruam
  • Chiang Mai
  • Koh Samui
  • Krabi
  • Pattaya
  • Phuket
  • Prachinburi

Changing Rules

Ovolo Central Hong Kong in Hong Kong offered a “Quarantine Concierge Package,” which proved popular with hotel quests. Inexplicably, the hotel has been removed from the government’s list of Designated Hotels for Quarantine.

Complicating the matter is the fact that government rules and regulations are constantly changing.

For example, the list of approved hotels in Hong Kong has changed more than once. And this has resulted in a considerable amount of confusion and inconvenience for hotels and travelers alike.

In fact, numerous returnees had booked rooms prior to Christmas for stays to commence in January only to learn that the hotels they had booked rooms at had been removed from the list.

Not only did that force people to scramble to make new bookings. In addition, many hotels had required advance payment in full. And getting a refund could take time.

Making matters worse, the duration of quarantine was increased from 14 to 21 days!

“I had done a lot of research into the hotels on offer by reading all the recommendations in the Facebook quarantine support group and emailing different hotels,” says Karen Lawler, an American citizen living in Hong Kong.

“Initially, I booked the Ovolo in Central [on Hong Kong Island], but the government came out with a new list while I was away, and I scrambled to find a new one – the Hotel Indigo Hong Kong Island.

“Then the government changed the quarantine duration from 14 [to] 21 days. Then Indigo canceled my reservation although I still can’t understand why – quite sketchy.”

Singapore Sling?

Swisshotel-the-stamford-singapore
A room with king-size bed at the 5-star Swissotel, The Stamford, Singapore. Photo Credit: Louise J. Tagliante.

But not all countries offer a choice to travelers needing to quarantine at a hotel.

Unlike Hong Kong and Thailand, Singapore doesn’t have a list of approved hotels. Instead, travelers needing to quarantine are assigned hotels by the government.

There is no choice as to the hotel in Singapore,” says Louise J. Tagliante, who has been a permanent resident of the Lion City for 26 years.

“They are all managed by the Singapore Government. You line up with other arriving passengers, are loaded onto a bus, and you have no idea where it’s going.”

Hotel Horror Stories

western-meal-served-at-regal-oriental-hotel-hong-kong
This “Western Meal” served at the Regal Oriental Hong Kong consisted of white rice, boiled vegetables, and cherry tomatoes swimming in mushroom soup. Photo Credit: Alan Price.

Interviewing people that have undergone quarantine and monitoring an on-line quarantine support group, I have been struck at what a crap shoot booking a quarantine hotel can be.

While some people have praised the responsiveness of staff and the quality of the food, others have complained that they have been totally left to their own devices.

For example, many people have complained of rooms that had not been properly cleaned.

Would you believe hairs in the sink, on the floor of the shower, and on the pillows?

Does that mean the bathroom had not been properly cleaned and the bed linens hadn’t been changed?

When temperatures plunged into single digits Celsius (the 40s and lower in Fahrenheit) during a cold snap in Hong Kong, most hotels didn’t have heating.

When one hotel guest complained, she was told to boil water in the kettle (used to make coffee or tea) to heat the room.

And another guest was charged a fee to rent a blanket, which he said was “paper thin”.

In addition, there have been complaints about trash removal, no cleaning supplies, and unresponsive staff. The list goes on!

But most of the complaints have been about food. Some hotels have been relying on outside caterers. And the food is not only inadequate. In addition, the menus are often unimaginative. And the food arrives cold.

Worst of all: there is no choice!

But it doesn’t have to be this way … IF you do your homework ….

How to Choose the Right Hotel

dinner-kerry-hotel-hong-kong
Five-star Kerry Hotel in Hong Kong has gotten rave reviews for its yummy meals. Photo Credit: Karen Lawler.

Don’t leave things to Lady Luck! The first step to surviving hotel quarantine in a pandemic is choosing the right hotel.

Top 10 Hotel Booking Tips

  1. Choose your hotel wisely. Some hotels require full payment in advance and won’t refund your money if you change your mind – even if your flight is delayed or canceled. So read the conditions carefully before you book!
  2. Get a room with a large window and a good view, preferably one that opens for fresh air. If possible, get a room with a balcony!
  3. Check the size and layout of your room. Does it have the furniture you need – a desk, an armchair, a table? Is there enough floor space to exercise or do yoga?
  4. Make sure your hotel accepts deliveries – from both friends and delivery services. You won’t want to rely exclusively on hotel meals. And there will inevitably be things you forgot to pack!
  5. If you’ll be quarantining in Hong Kong during winter, make sure your hotel has heating. Otherwise, you might want to bring a portable heater – or buy one on line.
  6. Choose a hotel close to where friends or relatives live (or work) so they can bring you things.
  7. Make sure the hotel has high-speed Wi-Fi. Otherwise, invest in a good quality SIM card.
  8. Come prepared with cutlery, a corkscrew, dish washing liquid, laundry detergent, reading material, a first-aid kit, disinfectants, adapters, and other essentials. Plus: a yoga mat, crossword puzzles, sudoku?
  9. If have any other special requirements (such as a special diet), reach out to the hotel BEFORE you arrive. For example, one hotel guest negotiated in advance for her window to be unlocked so she could get fresh air.
  10. Join quarantine support groups on Facebook to get feedback on the hotels you are considering staying at. Ask for pictures of their rooms (and compare them to the pictures on hotel websites). And check out what they have to say about the quality of the food, the cleanliness of the room, the responsiveness of staff, and other key issues.

For More Information …

This post is the first in a series on surviving hotel quarantine in a global pandemic. Coming: Hotel Quarantine Survivors!

4 Replies to “How to Survive Hotel Quarantine (in a Pandemic)”

  1. This is a fantastic article! Wow, I hadn’t thought of a lot of what you have written here about. As I start to set up my year for travel, I will keep a lot of this in mind! Thanks!

    1. Glad you found it helpful. Actually, I hadn’t thought of most of these things until I started interviewing people and monitoring a quarantine support group. It totally blew my mind1

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Stuart! Hopefully it can help some people that are going to have to undergo quarantine.

Leave a Reply