Here’s What It’s Like to Renovate a Hotel Amid a Pandemic

By Rayna Katz - Writer

27 September 2021

Overseeing a large hotel renovation is no easy feat. Complicating matters: a pandemic.

But that was the exact charge that faced Aaron Kaupp, Regional Vice President and General Manager at The Carlton Tower Jumeirah (formerly the Jumeirah Carlton Tower), when the hotel’s 18-month renovation wrapped up in July.

The $137-million makeover, which necessitated that the hotel be closed, choking off all revenue streams, created a new foyer and reception, health club and spa, flagship restaurant, lobby bar and lounge, ballroom and meeting rooms. The Carlton Tower’s guest room count was also reduced from 216 to 186 to make way for larger accommodations, including a new three-bedroom Royal suite with the option to privatize the full floor.

It was a huge effort and one that will greatly influence the hotel’s future operations. Here’s how Kaupp and his team made it happen.

HotStats: Renovating a hotel during the best of times is a huge undertaking. What was it like renovating and reopening a hotel during a pandemic?

Kaupp: We are creating a hotel for the ages, one that will outlive the virus; as such, we have built it for this purpose. [So even though] we have been in this pandemic for many months now, the guest experience we offer cannot be sacrificed. We must offer the same sense of luxury indulgence and magic that makes people return to grand hotels again and again, even while adhering to COVID-19 safety standards and practices.The key components of what makes a hotel great are unaffected by the pandemic. A smile can be noticed through a mask; a warm welcome can be felt no matter the headlines; and beauty in design and craftsmanship will always be appreciated.

HotStats: This was the biggest renovation in the property’s history. Why do such a big update now?

Kaupp: The London property had not been updated in some time. Our goal is to further develop Jumeirah’s global brand presence and make a strong statement within the industry. The all-encompassing renovation, creating a European flagship, is testament to that ambition.

HotStats: And it’s worth your while to pursue the European market, as profit bounces back—albeit tepidly. According to HotStats data, GOPPAR—unsurprisingly—came in at just €1.62 from January to August of 2020, but in that same time period this year, it rose to €8.20.

Here’s What It’s Like to Renovate a Hotel Amid a Pandemic
Here’s What It’s Like to Renovate a Hotel Amid a Pandemic

London, meanwhile, recorded GOPPAR of £25.28 in August 2021 compared to £-6.67 in August 2020 and £81.61 in August 2019.

Are there some challenges you face and lessons you learned in the process?

Kaupp: There have been many practical considerations that have affected our timeline, of course, with construction slowing at times, supply chains affected and new safety protocols put in place on site. But I believe that this, too, shall pass and we have created a hotel and legacy that will outlast not only this difficult time for the world and the industry but indeed, us all.

HotStats: What do you see on the horizon in terms of hotels being able to operate profitably amid the pandemic?

Kaupp: It is human nature to yearn for travel. While this situation [COVID-19] has been shocking, I don’t think the desire to experience different cultures and connect in person will ever go away, and businesses are itching to get back to meeting in person—when it is safe to do so.This situation has taught us a valuable lesson in taking care of ourselves, furthering a good work/life balance and spending time with friends and family and hotels. That will ensure the long-term profitability of the business.

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Rayna Katz

Rayna is a Folio-award nominated, and detail-oriented veteran editor and writer specializing in travel, food, hospitality and more. Having also covered commercial real estate, she's able to make complex subjects understandable and even compelling. Grammar and punctuation mistakes don't get by her, and freelance writers she's managed have praised her ability to make them feel valued. In short, she's considered easy to work with and a talented journalist.

David Eisen

Director of Hotel Intelligence and Customer Solutions for HotStats