There are always challenges when reopening a historic property, like architecture placement, landmark considerations, and brand standards, to name a few. The Hotel Paso Del Norte, an Autograph Collection hotel in El Paso, Texas, that is managed by Greenwood Hospitality, faced these challenges and more while undergoing a $130 million renovation of a more than 100-year-old property and reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic. After implementing new cleaning procedures and an innovative air filtration system late in the renovation process, the hotel opened on October 8, 2020, and has been operating ever since amid rising COVID-19 cases.
“We just have to be patient—all of us—and improve our product and services every day,” says Carlos Sarmiento, general manager of the Hotel Paso Del Norte. Sarmiento has been integrating procedures and operations since he started with the property in March when COVID cases were just beginning to increase.
One such safety feature is a bipolar ionization air filtration system, which purifies air throughout the property. The system helps mitigate the spread of bacteria and viruses, according to Sarmiento, and it does not harm the property’s historical elements like its architecture and design. Sarmiento adds, “It is the number one amenity that I can offer our guests and our employees. Giving them the peace of mind that they are in a clean environment is more important than any other amenity that I can offer a guest or employee.”
The bipolar ionization system supports Greenwood Hospitality’s commitment “to create a safe workplace and safe environment for our guests,” says Tom Conran, founder and principal of Greenwood Hospitality. Conran says that Greenwood is constantly researching “systems that we need to create a better guest experience from a safety standpoint, as well as ensuring we have safety for our ambassadors who work on our behalf. This is a fairly new system. At this point in time, it’s a fairly significant capital expenditure as well. So, we’re looking at it across our portfolio, as well as working with a number of other services to ensure that we’re doing all of the right things.”
That includes following Marriott’s “Commitment to Clean” standards and recommendations outlined in the American Hotel and Lodging Association’s Safe Stay guidelines, the National Restaurant Association’s ServSafe program, and Ecolab’s Science Certified program, explains Greenwood Hospitality principal William Kohl. For the most part, these recommendations and standards overlap, Kohl says, and Greenwood Hospitality is taking brand requirements and the various best practices from these sources and “brainstorm[ing] on our own about how we can do things differently and still have as normal of an experience as possible.” Kohl says that Greenwood Hospitality has coined this approach “Hospitality 2.0.”
Conran adds that Greenwood Hospitality is “following a number of guidelines that have been provided by the various brands we operate under. At the same time, we have relationships with other companies that provide sanitization services. To that end, there isn’t a day that goes by that we’re not fine-tuning our approach. But brands have been very supportive in providing input and, once again, we’re following all of those guidelines.”
A silver lining that Sarmiento mentions is that because the property’s reopening was delayed, extra time was available to educate the Hotel Paso Del Norte associates on Marriott’s “Commitment to Clean” protocols. “We were able to train all of the employees on the ‘Commitment to Clean’ within the Marriott organization,” Sarmiento says. “That is very important. It is about dedicating the right amount of time and people to clean the hotel daily, especially all those high touchpoints in lobbies, restrooms, hotel rooms, and even the vehicle that we have to pick our guests up from the airport.”
Since opening in October, the property has been operating smoothly, Sarmiento says. “We had the first weekend of business, and it was fantastic in food and beverage. We’re glad and surprised to see how well it went. All of the ambassadors are delighted to be working once again… That gave them and us a sense of pride to be part of such a great historical moment for the city.”
Conran adds, “At this point in time, I believe that our associates are confident that we are providing them all of the necessary precautions…. We are very much transparent with the ambassadors that work on our behalf. We continually communicate with them. If there are any issues at all, they’re taken care of very swiftly and quickly.”
While the property has a total of 351 guestrooms, only about 200 are currently in use because of COVID restrictions. Currently, the hotel is working toward opening many of its amenities; while there are a handful of onsite culinary outlets, several are still closed. What is open, however, is the Sabor Mexican cantina restaurant and the Dome Bar, which sits under a $2 million Tiffany dome install in the 1920s. “We wanted to ensure that we maintained the historical perspective of the hotel,” Conran adds. “These places in this hotel are very innate and offer the guests a one-of-a-kind experience.”