The hotel industry has been one of the hardest hit from the Covid-19 crisis. According to the American Hotel and Lodging Association, hotels have lost more than $40 billion in room revenue since the pandemic hit the U.S. and are currently on pace to lose up to $400 million in room revenue. But silver linings exist everywhere, and certain properties are overhauling not just their rooms and public spaces, but how they operate in an effort to reopen and host guests safely and in accordance with CDC guidelines. Here, in the Northeast corner of New York’s Shelter Island sits Seven – Shelter Island Guest House, an award winning boutique bed and breakfast owned and operated by former SoHo gallery-owner Beth Swanström, which reopened in mid-June. With little touches like independent picnic breakfasts, high-tech thermometers in the lobby and fragrant USB-powered sanitizer, it’s not just Covid-friendly, but stylish to boot. Here, in Ms. Swanström’s words, is how they did it.
Tell me a bit about your property.
Seven is a boutique bed and breakfast on Shelter Island, on the East End of Long Island, New York. Built in 1902, Seven was formerly known as “the Annex” to the Oxford Hall Hotel. In the early 1950’s the hotel burnt down and the Annex was transported (by oxen, up and over the local public golf course) to its current location, one block from Crescent Beach on Shelter Island Bay. In 2013 I bought the inn and fully renovated the five ensuite guest rooms, transforming the Annex from a traditional guest house into an internationally award-winning bed and breakfast.
What was going through your mind during the onset of the Covid-19 crisis? What were your initial thoughts on when and how to reopen safely?
Honestly, I was very uncertain about reopening. In an effort to follow the CDC guidelines, I began considering either renting the entire property to one family for the summer season, or renting the property for two-week intervals, opening only one or two guest rooms. I felt that operating a classic bed and breakfast with five guest rooms at a time was going to be questionable.
Since those days, how have your plans for reopening changed amidst any guidelines put forth?
We elected to do a soft opening with one family occupying two guest rooms. This family had stayed with us in the past, so we knew them well and felt comfortable having them in the inn. We trusted them to stay safe, and even though they had come from Manhattan to the island, they would still need to respect the suggested guidelines by wearing masks indoors and maintaining social distancing. This gave us a certain level of security for our local community. In mid-June the quarantine was lifted. We were all in this together, navigating the new normal so we could begin to feel comfortable to fully open to the public.
What were some physical changes you made to the property in accordance with the guidelines?
Seven has a simple, well-designed layout. The windows and doors are usually wide open in the common areas with sunlight pouring in and fresh air flowing. In addition, guests have individual air conditioning units in each room. This old school alternative to central air has been beneficial during Covid-19. To accommodate for social distancing, we placed signage to remind guests and we removed extra seating on the front porch and in the dining room.
What were some subtle changes you made – possibly to service or check-in – to reopen safely?
We immediately modified our formerly European-inspired breakfast buffet, instead opting for takeaway picnic baskets. Each morning guests awaken to the scent of freshly baking baguettes and chocolate croissants. Each guest room receives a plentiful breakfast beach basket carefully filled with fresh fruit, juice, gourmet style yogurt, local organic granola, a wedge of tasty Manchego cheese and hard boiled organic eggs. We also provide guests with colorful individual thermoses of coffee and tea. The breakfast beach basket has become very popular. Our guests really enjoy it. Self check-in has always been in place at Seven. Now more than ever, guests appreciate the hands-off approach. We continue to say hello and answer questions but personal contact is limited to keep staff and guests as safe and comfortable as possible.
What was the biggest challenge in reopening?
Everyone is coming out of quarantine mode so our biggest challenge is motivating guests to maintain social distancing. It’s a delicate balance. We don’t want to insult anyone as it’s perfectly natural to want to step closer to engage when you feel comfortable. Accordingly, out of respect and the safety of everyone in the inn, we politely take a few steps back, gently encouraging them to distance.
What’s one thing you thought would be a challenge in reopening but has actually been surprisingly easier than anticipated?
Sanitizing our guest rooms. Seven has always had a reputation for attention to detail and immaculate guest rooms. To compensate for Covid-19, an ultraviolet lamp is placed into each guest room (in-between reservations) to sterilize each room. This has given us confidence that not only is the guest room immaculate, it’s also safely disinfected.
What has been guests’ reactions so far to your modifications? How would you say the summer is going?
So far, so good. The new normal is certainly taking hold. Guests are feeling a sense of ease and security during their stay, sometimes forgetting there is a global pandemic going on. All is well.
What changes or concerns are still top of mind?
Everyday we have new guests, and everyday we’re making adjustments to ensure that our level of safety is not being compromised. This is not the time to relax standards.