How hotels will need to adapt Duty of Care policies for the coronavirus pandemic

Duty of Care, which for hotels is the legal obligation to ensure the safety or well-being of its guests, has always been an important aspect for hotel operations. Though many hotels are currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, many hoteliers are already concerned with how they will need to exercise Duty of Care once they reopen. Not only will government standards resulting from the pandemic dictate new requirements from businesses, but the public’s expectations for health and safety will also be markedly different than before.

To ensure a smoother reopening for your hotel, we’ve compiled some of the most important considerations when reshaping your Duty of Care policies to meet new public health guidelines. In this article (read on or click to skip to a section):

Standards of cleanliness
Rethinking room amenities
Social distancing and personal hygiene
Food & beverage
Pool, spa, and fitness areas
Temperature checks
Mandated quarantine
Procedures for managing suspect COVID-19 cases
Cross-functional planning and communication
Develop destination standards

 

Standards of cleanliness

Skift recently reported that cleanliness will overtake “location, location, location” when it comes to creating a competitive edge for hotels. In fact, Singapore, one of the leading countries in containing the pandemic, has issued a new certification program called SG Clean, which audits hotels and other tourism establishments on seven key criteria. An “SG Clean” stamp placed prominently at an establishment is intended to give locals and visitors “peace of mind.”

Whether other countries will follow suit remains to be seen, but hotels should audit their cleaning processes to better align them with international standards, such as those provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization. Some recommendations include:

  • Cleaning all hard surfaces (e.g. floors, desks, countertops, tables) with a standard disinfectant, bleach solution, or mixture containing at least 70% alcohol.
  • Cleaning all soft or porous surfaces (e.g. carpets, rugs, drapes) with appropriate cleaning products.
  • Regularly wipe and disinfect high-touch areas such as door handles, light switches, in-room tablets, safes, coffee machines, minibar refrigerators, and TV remotes.
  • Protect printed menus and hotel information guides with plastic covers that can be wiped and disinfected, or consider switching to an in-room tablet, which is easier to clean.
  • Wash all bed linens and towels with a disinfecting laundry detergent, and don’t forget to frequently wash bed scarfs, bedspreads, and decorative pillows that may not be changed out after every guest.

Keep in mind that viruses can live for as long as nine days on metal, glass, and plastic surfaces unless they are cleaned, so be sure to increase the frequency of cleaning for all common areas (including lobby, dining areas, and meeting rooms) and public touchpoints, such as elevator buttons, handrails, and key cards.

Viruses can also survive in droplets for several hours in the air, so ensure that all housekeeping staff clean rooms with appropriate protective gear, including gloves and face masks. Do not allow new guests to occupy the room for several hours after the previous guest has checked out.

In addition to providing staff with protective gear, be sure to train employees on how to properly put on and take off masks and gloves as to not accidentally contaminate themselves.

Rethinking room amenities

Consider reconfiguring your room amenities to be more “low-touch” rather than “high-touch,” especially if they are difficult to clean or replace after every guest. For example, items like pens, notepads, and magazines are often used and left behind by the guest, but not necessarily replaced by the housekeeping staff.

Items like robes and slippers that appear unused should also still be replaced. To make processes easier for housekeeping, you could consider providing amenities on demand to guests, or having guests select the amenities they want prior to check in, so that they can be delivered to the room fresh and sanitized. Also consider adding amenities such as hand sanitizer and face masks as part of your offerings.

Social distancing and personal hygiene

Until a vaccine for this strain of coronavirus is made readily available, public health measures such as social distancing will likely be the norm around the world. Depending on the country and local government, hotels may need to follow specific regulations for public health. Consider the following measures as part of your plan:

  • Provide hand sanitizer dispensers throughout the hotel, particularly in high-traffic areas such as a restaurant or meeting rooms.
  • Create social distance markers in your public areas to control check-in lines and general crowding.
  • Reconfigure your restaurant, lobby, and lounge seating to maintain appropriate spacing between seated guests.
  • Reduce face-to-face interaction between staff and guests wherever possible. Promote contactless and keyless check-in via the use of mobile apps. Allow guests to opt out of everyday housekeeping if they do not want staff coming into their room every day. For room service requests, give guests the option to have contactless delivery, where items are left outside the door.
  • Require that staff wear face masks, or install protective shields (sneeze guards) between areas of guest-staff interaction, such as the front desk, concierge, and valet stands. If guests are also required by local regulations to wear face masks in public areas, be sure to communicate that clearly before and during their stay.
  • Post signage for both guests with recommended public health guidelines, including social distancing, hand washing, coughing and sneezing into a tissue or into your arm, and avoiding handshakes.

Because social distancing is counterintuitive to the typical high-touch hospitality that hotels and guests are accustomed to, you may want to come up with creative ways to make your service more personable. This could include posting pictures of your staff (mask-free, of course) throughout the hotel, sending personalized digital messages before or during check-in, or sharing the profiles of employees on your website. Reiterate to your guests that you are there for them with the same high-level of service while ensuring the safety of everyone in the hotel.

Food & beverage

Although there is no evidence that food or food packaging is a source for getting COVID-19, hotels with food and beverage programs will still need to take extra precautions with their dining service to minimize risk to guests. Some considerations include:

  • Rethink all buffet-style service where guests are allowed to serve themselves. This includes breakfast as well as any complimentary happy hours or lounge/club access with open snacks. For breakfast, consider serving packaged “grab-and-go” meals, or ask the guest to order it the night before to have it delivered hot to the room. For self-serve snacks, offer them individually wrapped, or ask guests to use disposable gloves when serving themselves.
  • Increase your in-room dining options, as guests may want to avoid visiting public restaurants. If you do not offer room service (or even if you do), consider expanding your service by partnering with local restaurants or a delivery service like Uber Eats to open up a variety of options to your guests.
  • Consider offering mini-bar items and complimentary treats (e.g. fruit, snacks) on demand instead of providing it in room. Housekeeping may forget to wipe down that unopened bottle of wine, and unopened snacks may still have contaminants on the packaging even if the food itself is safe.

Pools, spas, and fitness areas

Pools, spas, and fitness areas can still be safe to use, so long as hotels take extra care to maintain social distancing and extremely diligent hygiene standards across all areas. Some considerations include:

  • Regularly test the water in your pool or hot tub to ensure that they meet the safety standards and acceptable chlorine levels. Appropriately treated water should provide adequate disinfection to neutralize the virus.
  • In fitness rooms, frequently clean all equipment with a disinfecting solution containing at least 70% alcohol. Pay extra attention to high-touch areas, such as weight equipment, treadmill interfaces and handrails, and yoga mats and exercise balls.
  • Frequently clean the areas around the pool and fitness areas, such as the changing rooms, showers, and toilets. These are the areas most likely to spread transmission.
  • Be strict in enforcing guest hygiene practices, such as requiring a shower with soap and water before entering the pool/spa facilities, washing hands or using hand sanitizer before using equipment, and coughing or sneezing into a tissue.
  • Forbid anyone who is sick from using these facilities.

Temperature checks

In certain countries, temperature checks have become the new normal in areas like airports, offices and stores. Some health officials argue that it can help the fight against the outbreak, while others have noted that the process can be ineffective for a number of reasons. First, many cases of COVID-19 are asymptomatic, meaning that guests could have the virus but not have a fever. Secondly, the thermometer may show false positives, as people who may have recently exercised or stood under the sun will show a reading higher than normal.

If you are considering implementing temperature checks at your hotel, please be sure to follow all local regulations and guidelines. Some countries like Singapore recommend temperature checks for all employees, so that unwell employees can be sent home. If you choose to check your guests’ temperatures, be sure to have clear documented procedures if someone is found to have a high temperature, such as requiring an additional screening or a consultation with a doctor. These procedures should be clearly communicated to the guest prior to their arrival, especially for international guests that may not be used to public temperature checks.

Mandated quarantine

Even as countries begin to relax their travel restrictions, they may still decide to impose entry requirements for all inbound travelers, such as mandated quarantine or self-isolation. Follow your country’s entry restrictions closely, so that you can inform potential guests prior to their arrival. Things can change quickly, so ensure there is a clear plan for communication to all booked guests. This can include updating your website, sending out email communications, and informing your distribution partners.

Procedures for managing suspect COVID-19 cases

As part of SG Clean’s certification, hotels are required to have documented procedures for managing suspect cases of COVID-19. This includes processes that identify and manage sick personnel, tenants, contractors, suppliers, and hotel guests, including:

  • Arrangement of quarantine areas for unwell or suspected cases;
  • Designation of an isolation route to quarantine areas and transport pickup area;
  • Arrangement of transport to designated healthcare facilities or hospitals;
  • An evacuation plan of the remaining individuals within the property.

Additionally, hotels are required to document procedures for assisting with contact tracing, as well as procedures for cleaning and disinfecting the premises exposed to suspected cases.

Cross-functional planning and communication is crucial

Many hotels are likely running on reduced staff at the moment, and many colleagues may be on furlough and unavailable to work. That’s why cross-functional planning and communication of your new Duty of Care policies is absolutely crucial.

If possible, appoint a designated manager who will oversee the implementation of new measures and ensure compliance. Even if your hotel is currently closed, develop standard operating procedures now and create a training plan for all teams so that you can easily bring your staff back up to speed when the hotel reopens.

Revenue, sales, and marketing teams can currently be working on developing Duty of Care messaging to communicate to the public. Develop a checklist of key channels where you will need to distribute the new messaging. This includes but is not limited to your website (we recommend building a designated COVID-19 landing page), social media channels, GDS channel, and your OTA partner listings.

Work with your local tourism board to develop destination standards

Like Singapore’s SG Clean program, it may be helpful to work with your tourism board or CVB to develop cleanliness standards and certification processes. Not only does this help hotels to more easily develop standard operating procedures within their own properties, it can be a good PR initiative for the destination itself, helping to reassure tourists that it is safe to visit.

Nancy Huang

Nancy Huang

Nancy is the Senior Marketing Director at Pegasus and expert in strategic communication, brand development, and content marketing. She is an admitted travel junkie and loves finding amazing hotel deals when booking direct. Contact her at nancy.huang@pegs.com.

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