Food, Travel and Tech

This luxury resort is open for swanky social distancing retreats—take a look inside

Laura Begley Bloom, special to CNBC

While some states are beginning to reopen from lockdown as the Covid-19 pandemic marches on, the travel world has been slower to start back up. According to an industry report, nearly 75% of hotel rooms in the United States are empty and millions of people who previously held hospitality jobs are unemployed. But some hotels are starting to open their doors with creative measures in place to attract guests while helping keep them safe.

Case in point: Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, a luxury escape set on 2,000 acres in the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania. After being closed since March 18, the resort is reopening Friday to just 40 guests for some extreme pampering — complete with butlers and private activities designed to keep guests away from each other.

Rates for the so-called "Find Your Oasis" package are $999 a night.

Social distancing retreats are "the new luxury," according to John DiScala, the founder of travel blog JohnnyJet.com. "Before, luxury used to be about having interactions with other people and having service. Now luxury is all about not seeing anyone."

At Nemacolin, once guests have made a reservation, a "butler" will be in contact to create a customized itinerary of sequestered activities, from shooting clay targets during a one-on-one session at the resort's Shooting Academy, to watching movies solo in the resort's theater to having private use one of the resort's tennis courts, museums or shops. 

Before they arrive, Nemacolin guests will receive an amenity packet designed for the coronavirus era — complete with a mask, a bottle of hand sanitizer and a variety of sanitized snacks and drinks. At the hotel, parking will be pre-assigned and there will be a keyless, no-interaction check-in procedure.

Mask Nemacolin guests will receive

Guests will stay at the resort's Falling Rock at Nemacolin, a hotel on the resort property, in rooms with king-size beds, marble bathrooms and balconies overlooking one of two golf courses. (During normal times, Nemacolin has 323 rooms with several different types of accommodations spread throughout a number of buildings, including the Chateau Lafayette inspired by the Ritz in Paris, France, a lodge, townhomes, private houses and even a pet resort and spa that offers high-end boarding for furry guests.)

Guest room
Guest room bathroom
One of Nemacolin's two golf courses

As for dining, the onsite restaurants will remain closed for now, so guests will get high end picnic baskets or they can have meals delivered to their room.

Butler with social distancing picnic lunch

"So instead of having those grilled cheeses at home that so many Americans are doing right now, you're going to have a chef-prepared meal that will knock your socks off from the comfort of your secure room," Christopher Baran, director of sales and marketing, tells CNBC Make It.

For safety, upon arrival and throughout their stay, guests will have their temperature checked.

Rooms and surfaces will be deep cleaned with enhanced cleaning techniques, using products and protocols that meet EPA guidelines and are approved for use against viruses, bacteria and other airborne and bloodborne pathogens. Particular attention will be paid to high-touch areas in the rooms and throughout the property. For instance, guest elevator buttons will be disinfected at least once an hour, according to the resort.

Staff will wear face masks, gloves and appropriate levels of personal protective equipment (PPE), according to the resort. (Nemacolin brought back 300 of its employees to help with the resort's reopening.)

Any booked facilities will be sanitized after use.

Falling Rock at Nemacolin

Nemacolin worked with Dr. Gavin Macgregor-Skinner, an infectious disease expert from Penn State and former Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer with the CDC, who trained employees on infection prevention and control.

"It's important for resorts and hotels to be able to think about how they can operate in this new environment and having a robust plan for dealing with some of the social distancing that's going to be necessary to minimize the risk and to avoid outbreaks is going to take comprehensive planning," Amesh Adalja, MD, FIDSA, a spokesperson for the Infectious Disease Society of America and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells CNBC Make It.

As far as sanitizing, Adalja, points out that there's no magic fix when it comes to cleaning a hotel. "I don't think that there's really any worry or concern about what types of cleaners a given hotel or resort may be using," says Adalja. "Just the fact that they are doing it is sufficient."

Adalja — who is from Pittsburgh and knows the area but does not work with the resort — also points out that where Nemacolin is not located is not a virus hot spot.

"Nemacolin is taking social distancing and limited guest interaction to the extreme — but an extreme that is necessary as recovery from the virus progresses," says Alex Miller, founder and CEO of UpgradedPoints.com, which recently did a survey that found the average hotel elevator button has 737 times more germs than a household toilet seat.

Still, a recent Deloitte survey showed that only 25% of Americans feel safe staying in a hotel.

Even some experts are skeptical. 

"I wouldn't be able to relax," says JohnnyJet.com's DiScala. "Now is not the time to travel. Stay home."

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This story has been updated to include further information on Nemacolin's sanitizing practices. 

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