In an industry as hard hit by the global health crisis as any other, hoteliers have had to radically readjust their normal operations to adapt to the moment. While many have now reopened with new protocols in place, others - at the height of the pandemic - have seen their businesses turned from hotels to something entirely different. Among these was the COQ hotel in Paris, which opened its doors to health workers assisting a local hospital.
By welcoming us to his hotel at the end of August, the manager of the COQ Hotel warns us of the disorder we are going to encounter. “A closed hotel is a bit sad,” sighs Florian Bitker. We enter to see some shunted tables on the side. Packages and boxes can be found here and there around the hall. The silence creates an eerie calm - at any other time this place would be very busy. And yet, it is still recognizable for the elegant boutique hotel that it is. You would never know that just a few months ago it served as a makeshift bunker on the frontline of a battle against the pandemic.
On March 16, 2020, facing a wave of COVID-19 cases overwhelming the country, France announced its lockdown measures: a general quarantine which was then among the most severe in Europe. COQ Paris closed its doors to customers on the same day. For the Bitker, leaving was not so easy.
"It took a good week to come to a complete stop," he explains. "A hotel is not supposed to be closed." Speaking of which, a town hall like COQ is supposed to stay open 24 hours a day, welcoming its customers day and night during the work week, weekends and holidays. There was no precedent for the logistics of the process. “We're not supposed to shut off the water or the electricity,” Bitker says. “We don't even have a secure front door.”
It was the first of a thousand unprecedented obstacles. The next one would be even more trying.
March 27: Combat preparation
The COQ would not stay closed for long. Located in the 13th arrondissement of Paris, the hotel sits on a small avenue just off a grand boulevard, a revealingly named boulevard. Ten minutes from COQ along this road is the Pitié-Salpêtrière - the largest hospital in Europe. Not far away is another hospital, a smaller private clinic.
The country had been in quarantine for just over ten days when, on the evening of March 27, Florian Bitker received a call from the latter. “They had just opened five intensive care units in four days and were awaiting the arrival of around twenty volunteer caregivers on their way to Le Havre. [a city in France’s Normandy region], but they did not know where to welcome them.
The hotel manager quickly calls his boss. The owner of the COQ does not hesitate. The COQ will reopen. But welcoming American tourists and housing health workers requisitioned to fight a highly contagious virus are two very different missions.
“I couldn't call the hotel staff back and I risked endangering them,” Bitker explains, “it could only be volunteers.” Opting for a small staff with as much experience as possible, Bitker, then in quarantine, returned to the hotel himself with two managers. As for the reinforcements, they bring all their spouses.
A group of six, they find themselves working out health protocols on their own before the caregivers arrive. “We didn't know how to do it. Health workers know how to protect themselves, how to wash their hands, the protocols. This is their job. It's not ours, ”says the hotelier. “We had to get hold of hand sanitizer and masks when none were available. And we had to find a way for hotel workers and caregivers to avoid crossing paths.
Guided by the advice of parents working in the healthcare industry, Bitker establishes his own healthcare protocols as best he can. The hotel is redesigned and precise rules are put in place. Caregivers and the hotel team will use separate entrances. Specific walkways are set up in the common areas. Four floors are reserved exclusively for nursing staff, while the ground floor will be occupied by managers and their spouses. During this time, caregivers will disinfect their own spaces and the laundry will go in large, airtight garbage bags. Bitker contacts the hotel's regular laundry service - they agree to open their doors and join the fight.
March 29: The reopening
On Sunday March 29, 2020, caregivers arrive at the hotel. It is a group of about twenty young women and one man, aged 20 to 30 years. “They were lovely, extremely kind people. They didn't know what to expect, ”Bitker recalls. But the next day, the hotelier realizes that they will need more than just accommodation. “When they got home around 9pm, they had nothing to eat, restaurants were closed, and supermarket hours were limited due to the lockdown.”
So he picks up his phone and calls all his suppliers. From food to bath products, anyone who can open - in any capacity - wants to help.
"The next day, trucks full of coffee, pastries and soaps arrived at the hotel."
Based in Versailles, the owner of the hotel has also remained active. “Every Monday, he went to his neighbors, who supplied all the salads, pasta, gratins and all kinds of dishes to send to the caregivers. The kids also participated, drawing pictures to decorate the hotel walls and lift the spirits of those who work and take shelter inside.
“People really wanted to help,” says Bitker, who also mentions the support from the neighborhood around the hotel. He smiles. “After seeing one of our photos on Instagram, a local resident organized a food drive. We had so much food that we had to turn all the refrigerators back on.
The collective effort does not stop there. Uber drivers are also joining in the action. Learning of the situation as they drive the manager home, many of them volunteer their services. "Every morning there were cars parked in front of the hotel waiting for caregivers to drive them to the hospital."
Life goes on
For health reasons, caregivers could not have access to the kitchen. Meal preparation then fell to the hotel managers and their spouses who, in turn, slept on site, organizing breakfast as the kitchen would for ordinary customers. For the rest of the meals, they are developing a room service system: they develop the daily menu based on what has been given, share it on a WhatsApp group, and allow caregivers to call reception with their orders.
In order not to infect their loved ones, most caregivers decide not to make the return trip to Le Havre when they have free time, remaining in Paris for the duration of their mission. Hoteliers are the only people they see outside the hospital. “They came home defeated, extremely tired,” Bitker remembers, “they needed to talk, to let off steam. They would sit in the hall entrance - we kept our distance, we all wore masks - and they told us about their days. In Paris, it was a disaster. People died in their arms all day, and most had never seen death before. It wasn't their job. Some had worked in orthopedics before that.
Amid so many tragedies, they also share their good news, the recoveries. “We had a great time,” Bitker smiles. “We were very united. Instead of the usual atmosphere of a four star hotel, it was like a home.
Six weeks later, the number of infections is down sharply, hospitals are gradually emptying, intensive care units are closing and caregivers are returning home.
The COQ hotel turns off its lights again.
The COQ today
The COQ hotel will soon reopen its usual doors. In the meantime, he had found at least a partial solution. Even before the pandemic, Bitker was tinkering with an unconventional idea - an idea that came to fruition just before chaos struck. The idea is something like a motorhome for the entire luxury hotel. And it's certainly useful now. A luxury room integrated into a Volkswagen RV, two rolling rooms are available for overnight reservations, with an activity included in the rate. Guests go up to Paris and a member of the hotel staff chases them away - where to go is a surprise. The location can be a vineyard, a golf course, or a historic site. Upon arrival, hotel staff take another car and leave the guests to their own devices, which includes a kitchen filled with champagne and a pre-cooked dinner.
Written by Manon Lemoine Tomzig, French journalist and editor for Tablet Hotels.
Tablet is your source for discovering and booking the world's most amazing hotels - places where you'll find a memorable experience, not just a room for the night.
When it is time to travel again, if you are planning a trip to Paris, consider staying at COQ Hotel, located in the 13th arrondissement (Gare D'Austerlitz).
This curious query raised many more. Namely, ' What have you done to your pants that necessitates the outil of boiling water ? ', ' Are you too dense to realise that putting your knickers in the sink and then pouring on the boiling water is far more logical ? ' and ' Have I drunk tea from a kettle that was used to clean somebody’s Y-fronts ? '
Medical experts even weighed in. Dr Heather Hendrickson, a Senior Lecturer in Molecular Biosciences at Massey University in Auckland, said : ' It is super super super super gross. ' That’s actually the scientific term. She added : ' Your friend is unlikely to have a large number of highly heat resistant pathogens in his dirty undergarments but we do not know what he does have in there or how sick he might be. ' Oh, there’s definitely something not right.
While Telegraph Travel cannot conceive an occasion when stuffing your briefs inside a kettle will pay off, there are many other devious, less disgusting ways to take advantage of the items found in most hotel rooms.
Better than boiled underwear is a boiled egg. And a kettle could do the job if you’d rather not fork out £15 for an overpriced breakfast ( we’ve even heard of people using them to cook pasta ).
The cheese toastie on the room service menu costs £10. But a loaf of bread and a wedge of cheddar from the local supermarket only costs a few quid. Turn it into melted goodness using your handy in-room iron
They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch ? Not if you nab an extra bread roll, a little bocal of jam and a strawberry yoghurt from the breakfast buffer. Wrap it all up in a shower cap and you’ve saved yourself a tenner.
The British aren’t great when it comes to complaining ( Mrs Richards from Fawlty Towers being the notable exception ), but if you aren’t happy with your room, you’re entitled to say so - and to see the alternatives. Hotels, especially older ones, come in all shapes and sizes, so you might be given a better boudoir. If the hotel isn’t full you might even be get upgraded.
There’s nothing worse than curtains that don’t close properly - they guarantee an unwanted early wake-up call at the crack of dawn. So use a clothes hanger with clips to pin them together.
No in-room speakers ? Put your phone in a mug or glass to dramatically improve the sound quality of your tunes.
Isn’t it incredibly annoying when you want to shave/admire your pretty face after a hot shower but have to wait a good 10 minutes for the mirror to de-mist ? Yes. Yes, it is. Well, free yourself from the shackles of mirror fog. Before you shower ( maybe the night before ) liberally rub a portion of the mirror with a bar of soap. Then take a dry washcloth and buff the soap off. This will keep the mist from condensing on the mirror. And one soaping will last a few days.
Forgotten the plug conformer for your charger ? You could ask to borrow one from reception. Or be really self-sufficient and use a USB port in the back of the TV to charge your device.
Staying in an inner city hotel and wary about someone breaking into your room ? Hang your Do Not Disturb sign on the door and give the impression that you’re still inside having a snooze.
' Consider the unmanned housekeeper’s trolley a smash and grab situation. Pack your bags full of almond butter hand cream and guava face soap with espresso crisps. Take three of everything and get the hell out of the hallway. Even if you do get caught, just say you were out of shampoo, or, even better, out of toilet paper, and thought you’d save them the trouble by grabbing it for yourself. Think of it this way : these amenities are here for you, they are yours. We are in no position to dispute the claim that when you wash your hair you prefer to dump fifteen bottles of lavender and poppy seed shampoo all over your scalp like some gooey shower freak. '
And, if the room doesn’t come with conditioner, or you’ve forgotten your phone charger, just ask at the front desk. Hair products, deodorant and phone chargers are apparently the items most often left behind by guests, so the hotel might have a box of each - but ask nicely.