BY Pamela Pagano & Lillian Roy

“The pressure of the pandemic was really getting to us,” says Raphaëlle Dbouk, after spending the weekend on vacation. “It was refreshing to be outside of the environment of our home.”

But this was no ordinary vacation. Dbouk and her family live in Montreal and spent the weekend in Montreal.

This was a hotel staycation.

With borders closed and international travel discouraged, the feeling of being a tourist has almost become unfamiliar for many.

“From the minute we were packing we were so excited,” says Dbouk. “It reminded us a lot of travelling.”

While taking precautions for the virus, Dbouk focused on enjoying her time at the hotel, not focusing on the pandemic.

“Forget that you’re in Montreal,” she says. “You’re going to a hotel, you’re gonna get some good food, […] it’s a boost for their morale.”

Hotel bathrobes on a hanger.

The calmness of a Ritz-Carlton Hotel room. Photo by Pamela Pagano.

Marriott International, Inc. lost $267 million in 2020, following a profit of more than $1.2 billion in 2019. The company has over 7,000 properties in 133 countries, including Montreal’s Ritz-Carlton.

“I think what every hotel tried to do is to stay relevant,” says Katia Piccolino, director of sales and marketing at the Ritz-Carlton.

This five-star hotel is one of many in the city that has introduced staycation packages. For the Ritz-Carlton, the package includes breakfast in bed, $50 hotel credit per night, and discounted treatments at the hotel’s spa.

Piccolino believes it is a good incentive for Montrealers who always wanted to try the Ritz-Carlton but never had a chance to.

“We really made it comfortable,” she says. “It’s a home away from home.”

Infographic showing losses in the hotel industry in 2020.

Due to the global pandemic, Marriott International, Inc lost $267 million worldwide in 2020. Media by Pamela Pagano.

The Ministry of Health and Social Services (MSSS) does not have an issue with staycations if safety and sanitation measures are followed.

Measures mentioned by the MSSS include remaining in one’s region, booking a room with only your household bubble, keeping a distance of two meters from other bubbles, washing hands regularly, and wearing a mask in public areas.

“With the Ritz-Carlton, the first mandate was to make sure from day one that we follow the Marriott commitment to clean,” says Piccolino. “The hotel had to be sanitized, had to be pandemic proof.”

Sanitization care kits are placed in each of the Ritz-Carlton’s hotel rooms. These include items like masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer. Aside from the kits, there’s a disinfector for a phone or passport at the front desk along with multiple sanitization stations.

Wine bottles are lined up next to a bottle of sanitizer.

In order to comply with health guidelines and ensure the safety of guests, hotels must take extensive sanitization measures. Photo by Lillian Roy.

“The curfews here still stand, there’s no wandering,” says Piccolino. “We have to do our duty and make sure that everyone that comes here is safe.”

Piccolino explains that it’s a matter of trusting people. Like the MSSS recommends, the hotel only allows guests to book a room from the same household bubble. This includes one’s family, romantic partner, or roommates.

“Every hotel I went to was always with the same person, my work wife,” says Julia Grandoni, a Montreal TikToker. Though not family, Grandoni stays with her co-worker every Friday.

“I’ve taken [a staycation] several times in this pandemic,” she adds. “Just to get out of the house and have myself a mini vacation.”

The lobby of the Ritz-Carlton hotel.

Lounging and drinking tea in the Ritz-Carlton’s Palm Court offers guests a different experience than being in their own living rooms. By Pamela Pagano.

“I think it’s a very positive thing to change your environment,” says Melanie Jade, nurse and founder of Nomadic Nurse Agency. “I’ve done it and I think it’s important, plus you’re helping a local business.”

As someone who continues to work on the frontlines throughout the pandemic, she recommends that people be responsible before booking in order to prevent an outbreak at the hotel. She suggests quarantining before going and getting a private COVID-19 test.

“People are unfortunately a little bit more careless right now because they’re fed up,” says Jade. “But it’s not the moment to be careless.”

Jade explains that she is not worried about Montreal’s hospitality staff, rather she only worries about the possibility of irresponsible guests. People who don’t respect COVID-19 measures.

You can either be miserable about what you can’t have or enjoy what you can do. You can become a tourist in your own city.

“I’m more worried about the nature of their steps before they go to that hotel,” says Jade.

Taking proper measures is another form of supporting the hotels one stays at she explains. The hotels cannot afford to close their doors should an outbreak occur.

“If you have the finances to do [a staycation] and you take the proper measures prior to going […] I think that this is fine,” says Jade. “At a certain point our mental health is critical.”

Montreal clinical psychologist, Howard Schwartz, agrees.

“[The pandemic] is a terribly debilitating situation,” he says.

One’s mental health can benefit by taking a vacation in town. He believes keeping a positive attitude while doing local activities is key.

“You can either be miserable about what you can’t have or enjoy what you can do,” says Schwartz. “You can become a tourist in your own city.”

Aside from booking staycations at local hotels, Montrealers are finding plenty of ways to play tourist in their own city. Video by Lillian Roy.

“The pandemic really did increase my anxiety,” says Ariana Berardi, a Montrealer who recently spent a weekend at Hotel Bonaventure with her mother. “I really needed to take those two days to just decompress.”

Even with no beach and no bright sunshine, Berardi did feel like she was on vacation. She explains that the relaxing atmosphere helped with her anxiety.

“It was a way to disconnect and recharge,” she says. “I would 100 per cent recommend it if you have to get away.”

Berardi was not afraid to contract COVID-19 during her staycation due to the many restrictions and protocols the hotel put in place.

“I felt super safe,” she says.

Ariana Berardi uses the outdoor pool at Hotel Bonaventure.

Berardi relaxes in Hotel Bonaventure’s outdoor heated pool during her 2021 hotel staycation. Photo courtesy of Ariana Berardi.

“I’m just excited for things to go back to normal, a new normal,” says Piccolino. “I know we’re fed up of hearing that but it will be a new normal.”

Piccolino explains that though the pandemic did slow down the hospitality business, she thinks many, including herself, miss the hustle and bustle hotels used to have.

As for Dbouk and her family, they brought that energy to their staycation.

“After packing we got in the car, we blasted the music,” says Dbouk. “We were like alright, we’re ready, let’s go!”

Main photo by Pamela Pagano.
Published April 26, 2021.