Savia Palate (PhD Candidate, University of Cambridge)
June 2020, writing from a quarantine hotel in Ayia Napa, Cyprus
When booking hotels, you are often asked: What is the purpose of your trip? This time, and contrary to usual responses, such as “leisure,” “business,” “visiting relatives/friends,” the answer would be “to quarantine for fourteen days.” For the first time, and for thousands of people returning to Cyprus during April and May 2020, following the outbreak of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic and the lockdown in many countries around the globe, their arrival would not lead to a “return home” nor would it entail an immediate encounter with familiar faces. Instead, for fourteen days they will be staying in a hotel, unknown to them until they enter the country.
Indeed, the consequences of the pandemic, even though still hard to fully comprehend, started becoming visible since the early days of global lockdowns challenging a wide array of economic, social, and political sectors, including the devastating effect on mass tourism. No one could predict a halt of global travel in the twenty-first century, and yet the outbreak of a spreading disease has confined planes on the ground and put locks on hotel doors. For those countries depended on tourism economy, this burden could be a plaque in itself.
For many places around the world, quarantine is accommodated in designated facilities by the state, with these facilities often being hotels. With the Oxford English Dictionary defining hotel as “an establishment providing accommodation, meals, and other services for travellers and tourists,” the typology of a hotel flexibly allows them to turn into suitable quarantine sites: the provision of small rooms of adequate size for short and long-term accommodation along with some common areas that you may or may not enter. This shift, beyond its social project in alleviating the spreading of the disease, came as an alternative to mitigate the pandemic-imposed collapse in the upcoming tourist season, which in places such as the island of Cyprus, unavoidably could be detrimental.
With the state compensating accommodation at a fixed rate (including room service, three meals a day, unlimited non-alcoholic drinks, and for many, an upgraded Wi-Fi), several hotels, foreseeing their almost inexistent tourist season for summer 2020, eventually became part of this effort that even though at a lower profit margin from their usual numbers could still be a means in sustaining their businesses. While initially delimited in the Troodos mountain region, quarantine hotels ended up being all over the island, with some of them offering sea views, entertainment activities, and luxury accommodation.
Be Your Own Maid
Adversely to the usual pleasures of staying in a hotel, where you do not have to clean but expect a neat and spotlessly clean room on a daily basis, the quarantine hotels supply the guests with an abundance of cleaning products to cover hygiene and cleanliness matters. Nobody is allowed to enter any of the rooms, and, therefore, the visitor has to take care of cleaning their own room.
For some, the popularised image of hotels as clean and luxurious spaces of leisure becomes stigmatised during their occupation by seemingly undesirable, and potentially diseased, subjects in quarantine. However, this stigmatisation is counterbalanced by their promotion as architectures of emergency that cordially contribute to a global effort to soothe the ongoing crisis. After all, the state grants the disinfection of these hotels after the quarantine ends.
The corridor is no longer solely a circulation space, but functionally becomes the main exchange post between the visitor and room service. All of the meals, or anything else requested by the guest, are left on a chair outside the room. By the time you open the door, the service personnel have already left. In return, the guest leaves all their trash and leftovers below the chair with a regular cleaning service collecting everything four to five times per day. On the rare occasion of a guest seeing the hotel’s employees, they are all wearing gloves and masks, keeping the designated distance from the guests’ doors.
The hotel room’s refrigerator is full of water bottles, soft drinks, juices, milk, and a kettle for the visitor to please themselves with unlimited coffee and tea. In case any of these run out, the visitor can call reception, and more would be found on the chair outside their door very shortly.
Hotels Under Siege?
The hotels are guarded and controlled by army personnel as none of the quarantining visitors can leave their room at any time and for no reason. Card keys are deactivated so that no one can leave the room; ID cards are held by the hotel until the guests' permitted departure day; and, outsiders are not allowed to enter the hotel for any reason.
This control is further enhanced with police patrolling outside the hotel border to make sure that quarantine regulations are cross-checked.
Sociality in the Balcony of a Quarantine Hotel
Quarantine can be a hard-time experience for those who undergo it, as it embodies loneliness, boredom, while in cases of sickness, the symptoms can increase this emotional discomfort. Subsequently, several hotels, encompassing also marketing purposes, would organise events at night, including bingo, DJ nights, or live music to ease the dramatic effects of the quarantine. Additionally, young people identified ways to socialise in the balconies turning on their own speakers, chatting at a high volume, or even re-inventing games to make them appropriate to their current physical restrictions.
With the majority of the people in quarantine hotels currently being between the ages of 18-22, a population group that is characterised by an active presence on social media, helps the publicity and image of these hotels, supermarkets, and suppliers. The take up of the hotels and other corporations providing supplies to these hotels, of this collective project amid the global pandemic blurs the lines of purportedly social efforts in overcoming the crisis in an inevitable encounter with the capitalist spectacle inescapable for the tourism industry.