Let’s face it: Holiday travel will look different this year. You may have stayed close to home since the COVID-19 pandemic swept the country, but now that the festive season is approaching, you’re tempted to visit loved ones. When booking a hotel, you’re probably asking one thing: “Will I be safe?”

Numerous hotel chains have introduced new sanitation policies in hopes that travelers will feel that way.

Travelers must take their own precautions

When Todd Rooker and his wife, Kristin, recently took a road trip from their home in Scottsdale, Ariz., through three national parks, they felt nervous at the prospect of battling throngs of people. But after having canceled two previous vacations, the couple forged ahead.

“We diligently wear masks and use hand sanitizer when we’re out in public, so we felt any risks could be largely mitigated,” said Mr. Rooker.

The couple stayed at three lodges and three Marriott properties, and were relieved to see many new cleaning and safety protocols in place.

“Every hotel we stayed in had a sticker on the door saying it had been sanitized,” said Mr. Rooker. “In each room, there was a description of which surfaces had been cleaned. There were restrictions on elevator capacity – one family traveling together or two people, if not – and self-sanitizing stickers on the buttons.”

Staff wore masks and the ones handling food or cleaning rooms wore gloves, added Mr. Rooker, who used the Marriott app to check in and out. At one hotel restaurant – operating at 50% capacity – employees took the couple’s temperatures before seating them. Tables were divided by Plexiglass, and signs indicated the surface had been disinfected. Diners accessed the menu through a QR code on their smartphones.

“We felt safe in most places,” said Mr. Rooker.

Cleaning goes from behind-the-scenes to center stage

Before COVID-19, hotels focused on making a great first impression on guests and hopefully get positive online reviews or referrals. Now, travelers expect hotels to be germ-free and safe, not just shiny.

In recent months, hotels have introduced and promoted increased cleaning protocols in an effort to reassure customers: Hilton’s CleanStay, Wyndham’s Count On Us and Best Western’s We Care Clean are just a few programs making their dedication to hygiene known. In addition, the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s Safe Stay initiative offers consumers a list of pandemic safety standards.

New cleaning plans usually include more frequent disinfection of public areas and guest rooms, signage to reinforce social distancing, and commitments to use high-tech cleaning tools, Suzanne Markham Bagnera, PhD, told Medical Daily. Dr. Bagnera is a clinical assistant professor in the School of Hospitality Administration at Boston University.

“Hotels already had cleaning protocols before the pandemic; these are just more enhanced and more visible,” said Dr. Bagnera, a former hotel general manager. “Typically, we would have been cleaning at night and trying to not interrupt the guests; now we're reversing that, and, in many instances, surfaces and high touchpoint areas are cleaned at least hourly.”

Some new procedures hotel guests will see include signage on the front door outlining new hygiene protocols and mandatory mask-wearing indoors, said Dr. Bagnera. Roping or stickers help keep guests apart.

Front desks may provide a safety amenity kit with gloves, face masks, anti-bacterial wipes and hand sanitizer. And high-touch horror stories like filthy remote controls, lamp switches and water glasses have also been targeted.

“A lot of properties are sanitizing remote controls and putting them in plastic bags for each guest,” she explained. “Some have announced commitments to use electrostatic sprayers or UV light. A few weeks ago, a company called CIRQ+ put out new autonomous robots for touchless sterilization.”

Do some research in advance

Dr. Bagnera suggested watching local and state quarantine rules closely, before heading to your destination.

“It's a moving target: Even though you do your research today, a state could make a change tomorrow based on the number of COVID-19 cases,” she said. “Consider if the state you’re going to is low-risk or high-risk and how that impacts your return home. In Massachusetts, we have a list of low-risk states I could go back and forth to without having to quarantine for 14 days.”

Extended-stay brand hotels are a great choice for travelers, because they’re equipped with a kitchen. Stocking your room with groceries and being able to cook is a great alternative when outdoor dining isn’t an option.

Wendy Helfenbaum is a Montreal-based writer and television producer whose work has appeared on AARP.org, PBS’ NextAvenue.org, Stria News, WomansDay.com, Costco Connection, Canadian Living and more. Follow her @WendyHelfenbaum.