Science | November 15, 2020 1:37 pm

Is a “Love Hotel” the Ideal Pandemic Destination?

Some of the hotels' features make them suited for pandemic preparedness

A love hotel
Could somewhere like this be the best place to wait out the pandemic?
Dr. Koto/Creative Commons

Amidst renewed calls to take precautions against COVID-19, figuring out the optimal way to avoid contracting or spreading the coronavirus can be a logistical challenge. A new article by Charlotte English at Atlas Obscura offers on of the most creative solutions to questions of social distancing you’re likely to see this year. What has English proposed? That Japanese “love hotels” might have another useful function: keeping the spread of COVID-19 down.

First, some context. A 2018 article in Savvy Tokyo describes love hotels, formally known as rabuho, as “the not-so-hidden pay-by-the-hour (or night) pleasure accommodations for couples, secret lovers, and other forms of a one-time celebration of love.”

What does any of this have to do with the pandemic? As English explains, the same qualities that make love hotels discreet and private places also make them ideal for social distancing. Part of the privacy aspects of the hotels means not interacting with staff members face-to-face and doing most communication via intercoms or touchscreens. Features designed to preserve anonymity in one context can help stop the potential spread of a disease in another.

As English notes, the fortunes of love hotels have shifted somewhat over the last few years: after a period of decline, some pivoted to pursuing a tourist clientele; now, with tourism down, the spaces have seen a resurgence in domestic bookings.

One traveler reminisced about getting “airlock room service” during his stay at a love hotel. While that may have seemed overly ornate a few years ago, that feature now seems to have found its moment — an unlikely choice, but also a safer one.