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The Preverisk Group, an international consultancy group specializing in health and safety solutions for the tourism sector, was appointed by Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism in October to assess hotels in Hurghada, in line with the Structural Reform Program aimed at enhancing the tourism sector’s competitiveness and following an incident at an establishment there. Dr. Ahmed Karam, Preverisk Egypt operations and business manager, discusses the scope of the task with HN and why the group prefers to support, rather than police clients
Preverisk is renowned for working consistently according to the criteria and guidelines set by the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) and the Federation of Tour Operators (FTO), as well as national and international regulations.
What are the most common problems you find when supporting hotels that operate in popular tourist destinations, notably hot weather countries and Egypt in particular?
Obviously, countries with hot climates present more challenges than those with cool ones. However, this can be easily controlled with good equipment and facilities, in addition to good practices being carried out by both management and staff. The latter, is what really makes the difference. Therefore good training and the implementation of best practices are crucial to avoid health problems amongst visitors and staff. Egypt isn’t really any different to most other countries, they all have similar requirements. Preverisk has a different approach to auditing and consultancy services compared to most other service providers. When we begin working with a new client, we take time to build a good relationship with staff and intermediate management. We want them to see us as their advisors, that we are there to help them, rather than acting as inspectors and ‘policing’ them. We want them to understand the reasons behind our recommendations and instructions, rather than just following them. This will lead to better results.
Have any specific or fairly new patterns of problems caught your eye?
We take a ‘holistic approach’ when advising hotels and training their staff. Traditionally, most health issues such as gastric illness, have been associated with food or water issues. However, there are various other sources in a hotel environment which can lead to health issues. Worldwide, Norovirus and other types of viruses are responsible for a lot of gastric illness. These viruses are easily transmitted by way of the environment, or from person to person. Therefore basic cleaning and disinfection protocols and personal hygiene are all extremely important. Pools can be another source of infection if not correctly managed. Recycled waste water, which some hotels use to irrigate their gardens, can be another source. Therefore, hotels need to treat their waste water correctly to ensure good quality irrigation water, otherwise it could also be a source of infection. Another illness, this time not a gastric illness, is Legionnaire’s disease, a serious type of Pneumonia which can be caught by simply taking a shower. As you can see there are many aspects in a hotel environment which need to be controlled.
Why do you think problems in this area persist when so many new innovations in cleaning and hygiene are now on the market?
As mentioned before, it eventually depends upon the human factor and this is why training and the implementation of good practices is key. For example, you may own the safest car on the market, but if you’re a bad driver you can still have an accident.
How much of a part does staff training play in preventing problems? Is enough attention being paid to ongoing training/refresher training?
As I said, staff training and good practices are crucial. Staff need to understand why personal hygiene is so important, why low temperatures are important to keep food for any length of time, why food should be cooked at high temperatures, why disinfectants and other chemicals are important for pool hygiene, why rooms occupied by sick guests need to be cleaned and disinfected thoroughly, etc. We believe that a good understanding of why, leads to better practices.
Egypt has had its fair share of challenges in recent years and is at last on the up, economically. Tourism will play a vital part of its economic recovery. Do you think the country gets an unfair press on hotel hygiene and cleanliness issues and is the industry moving in the right direction when it comes to addressing problems?
It’s a fact that negative press for any tourism destination will have a detrimental effect on market confidence. In the last 25 years we’ve seen this happen to many countries. I can see that the Ministry of Tourism in Egypt is focusing on improving Health and Hygiene standards in hotels all over Egypt and local authorities are determined to achieve really high standards.
You have been hired by the Egyptian authorities to look into the issues with the Hurghada hotel chain following the E.coli outbreak at the Aqua Magic Hotel. What is the scope of your report and what stage are you at with it?
We weren’t actually hired by the Egyptian Authorities to investigate an outbreak, we were hired to provide support to this hotel, as well as 102 other hotels in Hurghada, with regards to any necessary improvements. The Ministry of Tourism hired Preverisk to assess hotels in the Hurghada area. This was the first phase of their Structural Reform Programme which aims to increase the competitiveness of their tourism sector. The same checks will be carried out in the rest of Egypt’s touristic cities with the aim of improving the quality of services offered to tourists and to develop Egyptian hotels evaluation systems. The scope of our programme will include all areas related to public health, not just food hygiene but also water hygiene, pool hygiene, protocols for the prevention of Norovirus, irrigation with recycled water, pest control, staff accommodation and staff facilities. In addition to this, we will also assess the level of staff training and introduce any necessary training improvements.
The Preverisk Group
Dr. Ahmed Karam
Egypt operations and business manager