With leisure travel making a comeback, Jad Shamseddin, COO of Aleph Hospitality, explores ways in which hotels and resorts are regaining trust, particularly when it comes to hygiene.
A few weeks ago, as travel restrictions started to ease, I suggested to a friend that we take a short break with our families somewhere in the region like we used to do before the pandemic. My simple suggestion led to a two-hour discussion on whether it was safe to do so, especially with regard to the hotels/hotel brands that we had shortlisted. Can we trust a local brand? Will the hotel be clean? What if the resort does not practice Covid-19 hygiene protocols? How do we manage if one of us gets Covid-19?
As one would imagine, these are some of the many questions that are currently being asked by millions of travelers around the globe. The definition of brand loyalty has changed dramatically amid the pandemic. It is now as much about communication of the hygiene practices that are practiced at the hotels and the assurance of their safety and sanitation levels.
Regaining market share
To date, thousands of studies have been conducted around the world to assess the impact of Covid-19 on customers’ perceptions and expectations, and what hotels need to do to regain market share. Overall, the findings highlighted the fact that communication and hygiene protocols are key elements in winning travelers’ confidence. The vast majority of guests said that they would expect each hotel to outline its safety measures. When it comes to areas of concern, elevators and guest rooms are at the top of the list, followed by doors, gyms and restaurants. Occupancy limits and touch-free technology are also priorities in building confidence.
Rethinking housekeeping operations
Interestingly enough, other studies have revealed that more than half of hotel guests are willing to pay more to stay in hotels with proven hygiene protocols. Consequently, rethinking operations and redesigning housekeeping operations using technology is the only way forward.
Covid-19 protocols for hotels
Besides the most common practices, like placing clear signage, instructions, sanitisers and mask dispensers all over the hotel, as well as enforcing social distancing and using digital menus, hotels have been obliged to follow certain protocols, including but not limited to:
• Contactless check-in and the elimination of common physical touchpoints • The elimination of high-touch items in guest rooms, like mugs and glassware • Partitions at reception and in restaurants • Enhanced cleaning standards and dedicated “cleanliness” teams, using hospital-grade disinfectants, with increased frequency in sanitization and disinfection of common areas and guest rooms.
• Enforcing PPE for staff and guests.
• Disinfection of incoming products, luggage, etc. using new and enhanced cleaning technologies, including electrostatic sprayers to sanitize surfaces.
• Enhancement of the ventilation systems to change air in the hotel more frequently, using air purifying systems that are effective against viruses in the air and on surfaces.
• Cancelation of buffets.
• Amenities in rooms, such as stationery, iron and hairdryer, provided only upon request.
• Minibar items supplied upon request only.
• Rooms only cleaned when guests are out.
• Rooms sanitized after checkout then kept vacant for hours before they are occupied by the next guest.
• Turndown service provided upon request only.
• Used or unused disposable utensils in the room, such as takeaway cups, replaced after checkout.
Covid-19 Protocols for Resorts
Resorts, usually operating with large numbers of staff and guests, have also been forced to adopt additional strict hygiene protocols:
• Sunbeds around the pools and beach are thoroughly cleaned and sanitized after every use and kept two meters apart to maintain physical distance between guests.
• Pools have introduced limited capacities.
• Valet parking has been discontinued, replaced by free self-parking.
• Non-resident customers are required to bring their own towels.
• Kids’ clubs have closed or operate with limited capacity.
• Bar parties have been canceled.
Moreover, due to the nature of the hospitality industry being people-centric, staff training and awareness on practicing hygiene protocols is equally important. Hotels have introduced daily health checks, ideally using mobile applications, to ensure that the situation is contained in case a positive case is detected among staff.
Due to drop in demand, and consequently revenues, hotels were required to lay off employees, which resulted in heavier workloads for the remaining staff. However, some companies have introduced the role of a hygiene/cleanliness manager to enhance their protocols, to support in managing workloads and regain customer confidence. The role focuses strictly on preventive actions, protocols and crisis management.
How major hotel brands are reacting
At the corporate level, Marriott, for instance, partnered with the universally recognized Ecolab company to use their products for sanitizing and disinfecting. IHG partnered with Cleveland clinic, Ecolab and Diversey for the same purpose, while Hilton introduced its famous CleanStay program in partnership with Reckitt (Dettol manufacturer). Co-branding was introduced and widely communicated by these brands.
In conclusion, while it is imperative to implement new operational practices and measures, housekeeping protocols, staff efficiencies and technology enhancements to keep up with changing Covid-19 requirements, it is important to remind ourselves that hotels remain experience driven and should avoid turning into hospital-like venues. The post-Covid-19 era will continue to witness increased concerns about hygiene protocols, but hotels should not ignore the need to provide memorable experiences as Covid-19 restrictions ease even further.