The hosts roll out the welcome mats. Where are the guests?

Lu Feiran
Hotels, guesthouses and rural homestays are poised to resume business, but filling rooms again is proving more complicated.
Lu Feiran

The Maishe-Floral Guesthouse looks busy on the surface. Staff check the rooms, sterilize all facilities against coronavirus and undergo daily checks to make sure no one has the virus.

Outwardly, the hotel in Shanghai's Pudong New Area might appear to be business as usual. But, in fact, the guesthouse is guestless. Occupancy is zero and there are no pending reservations in the next few days.

"We reopened on June 1, but up to this week, we have received only one reservation, which was from a family living nearby," said the manager of the guesthouse, surnamed Wang.

It's a sign of the continuing post-lockdown struggle in the hospitality industry. Accommodation venues were among the most severely impacted when Shanghai shut down in its battle against COVID-19. Those in the industry reckon it will be a long road back, dependent on a return to normal in tourism, exhibitions and business travel.

Maishe-Floral is located near the Shanghai International Tourism and Resorts Zone. Before lockdown, the three-story guesthouse enjoyed a booming business because of its convenient location and cozy, private environment.

Guests could either book a room with a shared living room, kitchen and dining room, or book an entire house for themselves. The guesthouse provided shuttle service to the Shanghai Disney Resort – a top excursion priority for guests.

"Before Shanghai was hard hit by the pandemic, about half of our guests were from outside the city, while the rest were local families wanting a get-together venue," Wang said.

The guesthouse closed in late March when Pudong initially launched a massive lockdown. Even after the restrictions were finally lifted, Wang said she didn't expect a full swing back to normal because most scenic areas in the city have remained closed and most provinces are still requiring a seven to 14-day quarantine for people who arrive back from Shanghai.

"It's not easy for locals either," Wang said. "According to current guidelines, guests are required to hold 48-hour PCR (polymerase chain reaction) negative certificates, and they have to undergo disinfection before entering the guesthouse. We are only accepting guests from non-risk areas."

Wang said the hotel is pinning its hopes on July.

"We expect by then that the pandemic could be completely controlled and tourists will be back," she explained. "That's very important to us."

The hosts roll out the welcome mats. Where are the guests?
Ti Gong

The guestless Maishe-Floral Guesthouse in the Pudong New Area is pinning its hopes on July.

Hers is far from the only venue grappling with the somewhat uncertain environment.

The 1121 Homestay on Hengsha Island in Chongming District was forced to close its doors just days after finally reopening on June 4.

"We suspended operations on March 1, much earlier than our counterparts downtown," said its manager, surnamed Gong. "And we've had no income since then."

Gong left Hengsha when the guesthouse closed, never expecting at the time that she wouldn't be able to return for three months.

The 1121 Homestay opened for business in 2016. Prior to the resurgence of the pandemic, the guesthouse was very successful. It provided not only accommodation and farm food, but also rural activities such as fishing, horseback riding and outdoor barbeque parties.

Gong did a lot of work to prepare for its reopening in June. She gathered the freshest vegetables, stocked up on crabs and sterilized all the rooms and public areas.

"Chongming issued guidelines on post-pandemic operation, and we strictly followed them," Gong said. "When we reopened, we didn't get a single booking. And then we were told to close again, pending another inspection. We're still awaiting that."

Compared with guesthouses and homestay accommodation, upmarket hotels seem to be coping a bit better with recovery.

The PuLi Hotel and Spa in Jing'an District told Shanghai Daily that it restarted taking room reservations and offering food and beverage takeaways this month. Spa and gym services are also on the verge of reopening.

The hotel said it has undertaken new marketing strategies to adapt to the current environment. It is using online streaming channels to give virtual tours of its facilities, attracting more than 13,000 viewers. In the initial effort, nine rooms were booked.

"The current situation in Shanghai limits our operational abilities to some extent," said Olivier Zatka, general manager of the PuLi Hotel and Spa. "We are still facing inconsistent food supplies due to supply chain issues around the world. Therefore, creative thinking is critical to us now."

The hosts roll out the welcome mats. Where are the guests?
Ti Gong

An employee of the PuLi Hotel and Spa tidies the hotel up.

Meanwhile, Marriott International said more than half of its hotels in Shanghai have reopened.

"We find that the age structure of our customers has changed in the past two years, so we are developing more services targeting families and young couples," said Sammy Ng, area vice president of Marriott International East China.

"These groups will be passionate about taking short-distance trips once the pandemic wanes," he said. "We'll further develop products that combine both the hotel experience and sightseeing activities."

The city government has issued a series of policies aimed at supporting tourism, accommodation and civil aviation industries impacted by the pandemic. They include tax cuts, allowances and temporary social insurance waivers.

"We hope that these policies are implemented smoothly so that we can overcome the challenges we face," Ng said.

The hosts roll out the welcome mats. Where are the guests?
Ti Gong

An employee of a Marriott hotel in Shanghai disinfects the door lock and handle of a room.

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