The emergence of this mysterious virus from Wuhan is all that anyone can think about nowadays. It has impacted travel throughout the world, for which nearly every hotel will continue to feel the effect well into summer. Stemming from numerous emergency planning sessions for the properties we manage through our consultancy, below is the rough preamble of what we have proscribed to help hoteliers get through this global ordeal.
Preparation is essential, not only in terms of what we do hygienically, but also in how we build our business. Whatever the actual severity of this virus, the fact remains that it is not our call as hoteliers to make a decision either way. Rather, our responsibility is to our team members and guests to ensure that the environment that we present is as safe and peaceful as possible and that we are appropriately prepared for all erratic revenue fluctuations.
1. Having an ill team member come to work because ‘they need the money’ or ‘their work is so vital to the operation’ represents a risk that you can longer afford.
Recommendation: All senior team members should meet with their colleagues and advise everyone to stay home if they are not well and err on the side of caution. To successfully accomplish this, hourly employees need to be reassured that they will not lose their pay. This may require a change in policies regarding pay-for-work that should be discussed with HR and Finance. Consider having every worker sign a code of conduct that reflects this mindset.
2. Investigate jobs that can be completed from home or a remote location.
Recommendation: Sales leaders should work from home where possible and limit their availability on property to ‘as needed.’ You should look into remote reservations services. With training, it is possible for them to answer all of your telephone reservations.
3. Your approach to greeting guests, fellow employees, suppliers and all others should minimize direct contact.
Recommendation: While it is hard to break the habit, handshaking should be temporarily eliminated. Think elbow bump! While normal guest service calls for coming out from behind the front desk to greet customers, we should now keep our distance and explicitly explain the rationale for this. Your visitors will appreciate it.
4.Cleanliness is essential, particularly in public spaces. Room cleaning has to be equally vigilant. Moreover, all of your staff must relearn how to wash their hands, considered the top way to combat the virus.
Recommendation: Install hand sanitizer stations in the front lobby as well as at the entrance to restaurant, spa and fitness center. Sanitizing in the fitness area should be requested of users before and after their workouts. If you operate automated check-in kiosks, sanitize them hourly. Review procedures for all cleaning with priority given to handrails, public washrooms and the front desk area. Remind all team members to wash their hands upon arrival at the workplace, rather than just using hand sanitizer. Lastly, while hoteliers typically shun visible cleaning crews operating while guests present, in today’s panic the opposite may be true.
5.Be flexible and understanding to guests’ nervousness regarding the virus, affecting how they interact and how they book.
Recommendation: Staff training in restaurants should include empathy for guests who might not want to sit close to others and being prepared to anticipate requests to be well-spaced in the dining room. Show added flexibility in terms of cancellations. As a matter of policy, you should discuss full refunds versus credits for future use with individuals and groups. You may also want to review your cancellation policy with OTAs.
6. Monitor rooms’ occupancies and manage staffing levels accordingly.
Recommendation: Although many properties are currently in the slow season, the jury is still out as to how long the threat of this virus will impact local businesses in the near-term. At this juncture, improvements may not be anticipated until the summer months. This will require day-to-day vigilance. There are no immediate answers here. The impact may be marginal, or it may be something more significant. Prepare for the worst and be pleasantly surprised if events turn out otherwise. Personally, I am anticipating that once some form of ‘all clear’ is given, there will be a surge in travel bookings as transients hope to plan last-minute summer vacations and group operators look to get back on pace.